A day in paradise

13 07 2010

My decision to travel to Panama happened by default. I had taken a 35 foot fall while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, which resulted in a contusion to my left foot and thus out me on crutches. Having been proudfully conquered, I returned home and began to ponder alternatives. “Hmmm, I’ve been wanting to travel and improve my Spanish,” I said to myself. Of course, this was the opportunity I needed. I almost always go climbing as a first option, thus I’d postponed such a culture and language-rich voyage. Somehow too, I thought I would be able to see monkeys and bright birds in a jungle thick rain forest. How I was going to do that was undetermined, nevertheless, it was a dream of mine. Plus, Panama was more affordable than Costa Rica and cost less to fly there. Plans were hatched with Habal Ya Spanish School and I was on my way!

When I arrived, (taking buses and taxis straight to Boquete), one of my taxi drivers told me about “un refugio para los animales,” explaining that I could see monkeys and other animals there. He of curse said the key word and that was all I needed to hear. The very next day, I went  to check it out for myself. It was a Sunday and they’re typically closed then, but by the graces of Jen, they let me in. I had a thorough briefing by a helpful and obviously enthusiastic volunteer (thanks Fidel!) and then was off to discover Paradise.

I began to walk down a little corridor with beautiful green hanging vines and delicate white flowers. I rounded a corner and was pleasantly surprised to have my first ever face to face encounter with a Capuchin Monkey.  The little guy was in a nicely constructed shelter, with plenty of room. In it were big branches, a wooden box he seemed to like to play on, a tree house, a small and bright hanging toy and plenty of green matter. The flora was so nice all around me that I thought I was literally in the jungle! I stayed with the monkey, who’s cage had a sign in front explaining that he’d been rescued from an unfortunate situation and that his name was Manolo. I was scared at first at how he’d react to me, but he kept coming over inquisitively and turned his back to me as if he wanted me to reach through the chicken wire walls and scratch his back. I nervously stuck my finger in there and was relieved when he didn’t bite it off. Then Manolo turned around and grabbed my finger with his soft black hand and held it like a child would.

That’s when I fell in love with Paradise gardens! I stayed with Manolo for two hours, then walked around taking photos and introducing myself to the other animals for another couple of animals. It was amazing to be in a spot that had many of the same animals and vegetation as the jungle, but the guarantee of being able to see them, and all while hobbling around on one foot! That encounter so touched me that I decided immediately to volunteer in the mornings three days a week. Then I could return to this Paradise as long as I was in Boquete, taking my Spanish classes! I don’t know in the end if it was fate or a coincidence that put me here, but I feel really blessed for this amazing opportunity! Me encanta El Jadin Paraiso!





Hello from Debbie

7 07 2010
Hi everyone.  My name is Debbie and I am volunteering here for a couple of weeks.  I will be guest blogging while I’m here and hopefully, I will be providing a different perspective from the other bloggers since I’m very new to this kind of volunteering.  We heard about Paradise Gardens months ago from some other travelers that we met on the road in Honduras.  Honduras is 3 countries away but they were still so excited about this place
My husband and I have been here for about 24 hours but thanks to all of the great folks, we feel so comfortable like we have been here for months.  I’m not sure what I was expecting before I arrived but Paradise Gardens has blown me away with the beauty of the gardens, fountains, animals and people.  I could tell within minutes that a ton of love has been put into the facilities and the animals.  Even without the animals this place is really special but, of course, the animals are the stars of the show and they seem to know it.
I spent the day yesterday getting acquainted with everyone and everything here.  I was immediately taken with some of the big personalities…Sam, Minolo, Muffin.  They seem to thrive on human contact and love to show off.  The cats are great, too, but have that typical feline pretentiousness.  They know that they are gorgeous and seem happy to just prance around like supermodels just looking beautiful and fierce.  Ok, so I’m not a cat person….I’ve just always felt that they think that they are better than me.
So far the highlight of the last 24 hours for me has been my one-on-one time with Minolo, the little Capuchin monkey.  I’ve always loved dogs because they really know how to welcome a person.  Minolo gave me the best welcome that I’ve received in months.  He was literally bouncing off the walls with excitement (and my head, my back and my arms).  He christened me with pee and poo but I’m just going to believe that is his way of showing how much he likes me.  That little guy has a ton of energy.  If we could bottle it and sell it, this place would be rolling in money.
Yesterday afternoon was incredibly busy with visitors.  I was told that this was the busiest day that anyone here has seen.  There were over 50 visitors in one day!  I got the crash course on the visitor introduction and had a trial by fire.  I hope I didnt give anyone too bad of information.  I will keep listening to the experts, though, so that in a few days I will be able to give the whole schpeel myself.
……many hours later
I never had a chance to make my post from earlier so I will continue it.  Today was even more exciting than yesterday.  We were full this afternoon with volunteers and the afternoon ended up being incredibly productive.  We finally got access to a ladder and the guys made the most of it clearing out the aviary.  It looks like a completely different place and now guests will be able to actually see the birds instead of just seeing the shrubbery.
They also put some work in on a new, more permanent cage for muffin.
There was more big excitement when someone brought in a tarantula that they rescued from their garden.  It seemed very healthy so we took it down to the ravine for a big release.  At first, it didnt seem to want to leave the safety of the Tupperware but eventually it crawled away.  Hopefully it will be safe and happy in the ravine.
The checklist is almost completely checked off so Jen will be busy tomorrow morning making a new one.




Introductions Galore: Athena, the jaguarundi kitten

4 06 2010

Remember, I mentioned last week that we were writing new introductions for all the animals? We prettied them up and posted them on all the enclosures so people could read about the animals as they saw them. We are also working on a new guidebook as the one we have now is very out of date, many of the animals in it have been released or passed away and we have many new animals that are not mentioned in it.

But while we are working on that I will share with you a few more of the introductions we have written up…

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Hestia, the calico kitten and Athena, the jaguarundi cub, asleep on their perch.

Hi! My name is Athena!

I am a jaguarundi, a relative of the Ocelot and Jaguar, just a little smaller.

A farmer near Boquete was plowing his land for a new field and accidentally ran over my den. When he noticed that he had run over my den he immediately stopped the tractor and turned off his headlights. My mother had carried off my other brothers and sisters (we were too small to walk) but she was too scared to come back for me. The farmer waited nearby watching to be sure no other animals hurt me but my mother didn’t come.

The next day the farmer took me to Paradise Gardens. At first I had to be bottle fed but now I eat raw meat. I will be released when I am bigger so I need as little human contact as possible. Please don’t talk to me or come close to my cage! Since I have no human interaction I have 2 house kittens as companions. They are older than me and we play together. We are also learning to hunt by chasing mice in the aviary. We have caught a few. Luckily we are small enough that we can’t catch the birds (although we’d like to!).

When I grow up I will be a solitary hunter until I am a mother. Then I will be a caring mother and feed my young until I have taught them to hunt on their own. I will live 10 to 20 years.

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Athena is growing much bigger and more fierce now, although she is still smaller than the kittens she lives with. They are all becoming fierce hunters and although the kittens are faster and more adept Athena is fiercer. She will go after birds without hesitation whereas the kittens are cautious, and she dominates the food bowl… the kittens don’t get to eat until Athena has chosen her piece of meat and dragged it off.  However Athena is also very attached to her kitten friends (they are named Artemis and Hestia) and she cries when they are both out of the cage. Her cry is this tiny peep, again and again, not at all like a cat’s meow. It’s earned her the nickname “Peeps.”





The Coati Kid

3 06 2010

Argento, the baby coati here at Paradise Gardens, checks out a volunteer's ear... nope, no grubs in there!

Just over a month ago a baby coati (a coati kid, hehe, get it??) was brought in by some local children. He was tiny and adorable. We thought he was a she and named “her” Argenta, a few weeks later we discovered our mistake and changed the name to Argento. The two kids who brought him in explained to us his story: his mother was killed for meat and eaten for dinner by our family. Our parents wanted to keep him and raise him to eat. But he’s sooo cute. I don’t want to eat him!

definitely too cute to eat! No more baby coati steaks for me.

So, his cuteness saved him. He got bottle fed here at Paradise Gardens, and now gets fruit, veggies and eggs as well as the bottle. We also take him out the ravine where he gets to run around and use his long nose to root around in the dirt for bugs and worms. Yum! His favorites are beetles, but if they’re dead, or pretend to be, he won’t touch them. He is a climber, and in fact coatis are pretty much made for climbing. They have super flexible ankles and nice long, sharp, tough claws. The claws allow them to latch onto a tree (or in Argentos case, a human leg, his favorite climbing post) and the flexible ankles allow them to climb headfirst down a tree trunk. You know the cliché story about a cat stuck in a tree and the owner calls a fireman to come get the kitty down? Well cats can’t climb down trees well because their ankles aren’t flexible enough. Our kittens here love to climb up trees (they think they can get to the birds that way, they haven’t realized that the birds are not attached to the trees and can just fly away) but then when it comes time to come down they hesitate and meow, and usually try to take one step downward and then crash/jump the rest of the way. Good thing cats always land on their feet. Actually there are two types of cat with tree-descending ankle flexibility – the margay and the Clouded Leapord. Here at PG we have a margay named Lottie, more on her later!

Anyway, back to coatis. They are super adorable. That is my opinion but not only my opinion, pretty much everyone agrees with me. Argento (and all coatis) has a long pointy snout (a nickname for coatis is hog-nosed racoon) and its flexible and moves up and down when he sniffs. Adorable! As you probably guessed from the nickname, coatis are related to the racoon. You can tell when you look at Argento from his circles under the eyes, his coloring and his striped tail, although the stripes are much more subtle than those on a racoon (although some people really can’t see the similarity and ask if he is related to an anteater… nope!).

Argento learning to climb trees in the aviary

We have a whole troupe of coatis back behind the house, they live in the ravine and sometimes come up to grab snacks from the gardens. They (and Argento) love bananas. In fact it seems that all the animals here prefer bananas. Bananas for bananas. No idea why. Someday Argento will be released behind the property so that he can join the troupe that already lives back there. Coatis in the wild nurse for about four months (Argento is only about 2 months old) and then stay with their mothers for up to two years. Males then separate from the troupe and wander solo, only joining back up with the troupe for mating. Males will also eat the baby coatis, usually the mothers defend their babies from the adult males. Since Argento has no mother to defend him from the baby-eating male coatis we will keep him here until he is no longer a baby (up to two years, when he would naturally separate from his troupe, but really we will have to wait and see just how fast he grows and he will be released when he seems ready to not only forage on his own but also to defend himself against full grown male coatis).





Sloth Passes Away

2 06 2010

We are all very sad to announce the Vicegrip our 2 toed sloth passed away on Saturday after a 5 week struggle to recover from a vicious dog attack. I miss her very much, taking care of her was the best part of my day.

Vicegrip in the garden choosing her breakfast

She will be missed by everyone here at the rescue.

Here are some sloth facts…

Sloths are divided into two groups: 2-toed, and 3-toed. Interestingly both groups in fact have 3 toes on each foot, but the 2-toed only has 2 claws on its front feet. Both types of sloth tend to live in the same area. They feed almost entirely on leaves, which contain few calories, so they move slowly to conserve their energy. These interesting animals are under threat from poachers, and risk attack by dogs or other animals.





Looks To Die For: Beautiful and Posionous here at Paradise Gardens. Part One: Devil’s/Angel’s Trumpet

1 06 2010

Paradise Gardens was originally designed as a personal home and gardens. A pretty spectacular home and gardens but personal anyway. And the designers/builders didn’t envision having animals running all around the place. So there are some poisonous plants here.

Today a couple came who had helped Paul and Jenny build this place and they took the time to point out all the poisonous plants. Many we had already known about. Devils Trumpet I learned about in Ecuador and then again in Colombia. Wikipedia says that its official name is Brugmansia and the proper nickname is Angels Trumpet.  In Ecuador and Colombia I was warned about teas, candies or powders made from the plant and used as an assistant in theft. Basically once you’ve ingested the plant or the byproduct of it you are completely willing. You loose your “voluntad” or your will, and do anything anyone tells you. It goes like this: some nice old lady offers you a candy on the bus, you accept. You eat it, you don’t remember anything after this, you wake up in the hospital or on the street, or you don’t wake up. If you do wake up what you don’t remember is this: the nice old lady asked you for all your jewelry and your wallet and you gave it to her. She asked you to take her to the bank and close down your account so she could have all the money in it. You did. Then she asked if you would take her to your house and give her your computer, your mom’s jewelry, your brothers ipod. You think all this is a great idea (or maybe you don’t think at all) and give all your things away. Then she leaves, leaving you wondering around clueless and will-less, victim to anyone who comes by before the drugs wear off. Or so they say. Wikipedia says that Angels Trumpet (so called because the flowers look like trumpets) is used for shamanic highs… I met someone who made themselves a tea of it (I’m not sure what part of the plant but apparently all parts are toxic and contain the intoxication inducing tropane alkaloids and atropine) and the “shamanic high” they got was awful. He said he would never want to go it again. But according to locals you can put a flower under your pillow to have wacky dreams.

Dangerous beauty: the Angels Trumpet here in Paradise Gardens Aviary

Anyway, the point of all this being: it’s a super strong toxic plant. And although some people use it to get high it’s not highly recommended (hehe… highly recommended… get it?). It is toxic to animals too. And maybe even more so. Consider the size of the monkeys here. Not big. Imagine if this plant can kill a human, or make a human nutty. Then what would it do to a capuchin? And the capuchin’s are the ones we are worried about here. If you pick a flower and are walking by Billy and Monty’s cage they will snatch it from you in an instant. And then chew on it. And we take Manolo out to play all around the gardens. The main things he likes to do are pull peoples hair, jump on your head and put things in his mouth. Anything small enough, especially flowers and shiny things, goes straight into the mouth. He is like an infant except he has sharp teeth and can run and climb. You may be able to “child-proof” your house by putting the glass things up high, the small bits and peices – the chokeable things – in cabinets or on top of the fridge but there is no way to monkey-proof the gardens. And then once he gets something (I had left a chocolate kiss on the table once, instantly into his mouth) it is much harder to get it away from him than a baby. First off he can jump up on top of things (namely trees and buildings) that you just cant get too. Imagine an infant with spider man building jumping skills. Also, even if you can get a hold of him, he is not above biting people to keep his trinkets and keep them in his mouth. So anyway, today we spent learning a little more, from the experts who planted this garden as well as Wikipedia and Google, about the deadly plants we have here. More to come soon…

Manolo wants this orange from a tree in the aviary. He couldn't get it down.





Moving Day!

26 05 2010

Yesterday several of our babies got new homes here at Paradise Gardens!

The possums, as our newest arrivals had been in the nursery (aka the laundry room) for their first week here. But they are beginning to be able to crawl, and they are not needing as much help anymore with pooping, so we decided it was time they had a bigger enclosure as soon as possible. That way they could have some play space when they are ready to play, they could learn to climb and even hunt bugs we put it. The nursery was altogether too small for them to grow much more in. There are always a few empty enclosures around Paradise Gardens, either babies that have gotten big enough to move into a larger enclosure, animals that have been released, or animals that have been switched (for example, soon we will be able to put Manolo in with the other two Capuchin monkeys, Monty and Billy and they will all go into a larger enclosure freeing up two small ones).

There was an empty enclosure perfect for the baby possums. It had been the home of Argento the Coati when he was smaller but he had since been moved into a larger enclosure on the porch where he could run and climb more. His old cage was pretty much perfect for the opossum babies for two reasons: one, it was big enough for them to play and grow for at least another month, maybe two, but not too big for them to get lost in now while they are still so tiny, and two, its in a corner where people don’t go as often and where its a little darker and quieter. They will be able to sleep all day long and wake up and play at night, like they would in the wild!

Possum orphans new home here at Paradise Gardens

We put a box and a blanket for them to sleep in their new enclosure, a few branches and boxes for them to climb and play on, and a plate of milk and banana. They haven’t been eating on their own yet but we thought they might be ready, so we only fed them once in the morning, once in the afternoon and then left our the milk and banana overnight. As nocturnal animals we hoped they would wake up and eat up in the night, while we were asleep. In the morning Jen checked their milk and banana plate… and it was all gone! And they didn’t seem interested in the milk we usually give them first thing in the morning, so it seems they are adjusting to eating almost completely on their own. Now we will need to catch bugs so they can learn to catch and eat those.

We had two other big moves yesterday. The kittens have been too big for their cage for a week or two now, they had room to crawl and climb and jump but not to all out run. We had somewhat remedied this by getting them out into the aviary from eight to ten every morning, before guests arrived, and letting them run, chase each other, perhaps maybe someday actually catch a mouse. And we had a new enclosure in mind for them, we just had to get it ready. There were some holes in the mesh wiring that had to be repaired, and then we used black mesh fabric, saved from a destroyed trampoline, to block the kittens (and jaguarundi cub, of course) from view. This way visitors touring Paradise Gardens wont be tempted to talk to the kittens of stick their fingers in and pet them. And the kittens wont have a view of people. It not important for the two house kittens but for the jaguarundi it is essential that he get as little exposure as possible to humans. If he is too accustomed to humans he is likely to approach them in the wild expecting them to provide food or shelter, and instead be killed or injured. Humans are the biggest threat that exists for large wild cats, both because we are their main predators and because of the habitat loss incurred by human settlement and consumption.

The kittens new enclosure... only visible from inside their old enclosure and perfect for climbing, running, playing and learning to hunt!

These tarps protect the Jaguarundi and the kittens from seeing people... unless those people are over 9 feet tall!

Inside of the kittens and jaguarundi's new enclosure: plenty of room for running and climbing!

Our third rehoused animal was Arjento, our baby white-nosed coati. He had been at first in the possums new enclosure, then in another enclosure near the house but larger and with more light. But he is getting to be a great climber and is so active, he needed more space. We moved him into a larger and very tall enclosure out by the garage. It is important that he has a tall cage as he is a tree climber in the wild and he does love to climb, so now his new cage is about nine feet high.

Inside of Arjento the coatis new enclosure.