Sunday, February 16, 2014

My favorite 2013 – International cooperation and surgeries for monkeys and others - Thanks to our advisors!

The amazing Dr. Brodeur surrounded by most the 2013 vet crew

Wow how time moves at lightning speed, relentless and with little down time to write! There are still so many more stories to tell and people to thank. Thinking about the best of 2013 I have to thank our Panel of Advisors and foremost our veterinarians! My gratitude is beyond words. I will try anyways.

I would like to start by thanking all for advising us frecuently via email. Your help is tremendously valuable. We could not do without. Our field is too broad. Then I would love to highlight and especially thank Drs. Gilbert Brodeur and Adolf Maas for advising AND for coming to visit to assist with needed surgeries in Belize which BWRC was not equipped for, nor was I experienced enough in them, nor could we find a veterinarian or even human Dr. in the country to do them. This applied in particular to the cases of the Howler Monkeys Livvy and Spartacus, as well as Vesper the dog and Diego the Margay.

Livvy the howler monkey had undergone her entire process of rehabilitation under the amazing care of Wildtracks directors Paul and Zoe Walker, without major complications. But then, only days before transferring into the pre-release enclosure, only weeks before release... her carer came to the enclosure to see her with one functionless arm in obvious pain.

It turned out Livvy had an extremely rare, and severe, dislocation of her ellbow, where basically any connecting tissue between the 3 bones, was destroyed. This injury was described in 11 cases in the literature, in humans. We studied a case of a professional gymnast, and compared. We were consoled to find that human Drs had taken the same approach that we had taken the first Sunday at BWRC. It had failed for them as it did for us. We were able to replace the ulna and humerus, but the radius kept slipping. The same happened to the human gymnast. But then 3 weeks in the human Drs. in the developed country made a special articulated external fixator, and the patient returned to professional gymnastics!

Unfortunately for us and Howler monkey Livvy in Belize that was not possible without help.
Thanks to networking, and particular thanks to my student Meghan we were put in contact with several surgeons including Dr. Gilbert Brodeur. Dozens of emails and hours of writing and reading later, networking and fundraising, thanks to Wildtracks and many others, Dr. Gilbert arrived in Belize. He came to spend 6 days with us and not only attempt an ingenious method at repairing Livvies fusing elbow and reconstructing her circular ligament, but also to help us repair Spartacus arm. For those who remember, Spartacus is the monkey in our logo. While all patients are special, this one is extra special to me. I credit him for pushing me "over the edge" to start a wildlife clinic myself. After treating him under my house I no longer wanted to continue working mobile and “in field” only, without a proper medical facility for wildlife. It was because of him, and a serious but lucky car accident, that I decided I finally had to be more vocal about my passion and mission, ask for help and grants, in order to leave something behind once I am gone. So I looked for grant support, saw “Inspiration in Action” contest and the story continues.

While I had been able to save Spartacus’ hand in my old tiny office, his wrist remained painful. He climbed well but when he jumped landing hard on his wrist, as monkeys tend to do, he would show obvious pain and guarding. So instead of going for release this summer he was held back for further assessment, now with proper facilities to x-ray him! The x-rays showed his radius and ulna had developed a fusion. This meant his arm could not rotate, nor could his arm and wrist continue to grow properly. Without surgical separation of the bones he would never be pain free nor would he be releasable. How lucky were we and Spartacus?! Dr. Gilbert was the perfect surgeon, teacher and friendly colleague that anyone could wish for and I can just not thank him, Megan or the Universe enough for the condensed teaching I and my assistants have received from him in those 6 days.

In addition to the successfully completed monkey surgeries Dr. Gilbert spontaneously took on a heart breaking case of a sweet domestic dog by name of Vesper with small fracture, yet a complete spinal dislocation, with remaining reflexes. A puzzling case! Dr. Gilbert spontaneously responded „you are so lucky to have so many interesting cases“.

Assisting Dr. Gilbert was an eye opening experience after which I said „I am now officially hooked on orthopedics“, (and purchased many of his tools for the best deal ever). I had seen spinal card for the first time. And believe me, I was plenty „freaked out“, when a dorsal processus broke off in the process of repair, and the spinal cord was therefore fully exposed. Dr. Gilbert did not even blink an eye, I swear! We cooled the cord with iced sterile water and proceeded. Vesper continues in care and is not walking well but can stand and take some steps and is in great spirits. His owners continue to provide the most loving care. Loving owners made many of our domestic cases this year very special.

Talk about condensed learning in a short period when Dr Adolf Maas came to visit only weeks later  to tend to Diego the margays’ chronic hip luxation with a femur head and neck ostectomy surgery, to give a second opinion on an amazons beak injury and to recheck on Izzie the spider monkey. Izzie was probably our most famous patient, rescued from pet trade on our BWRC inauguration day with multiple broken bones and gunshot wounds. Dr Adolf had come to repair her humerus fracture with a metal implant, a bit less then 12 months before. We had checked at 3 and 6 months post surgery but the question remained if her plate would have to be removed in another invasive surgery, or if it could remain in her for life, beyond release. 
Her recheck gave her the full green light, which meant she could be released eventually without another invasive surgery.  Aside the surgeries, Dr Adolf provided a wealth of knowledge and taught us about reptile hematology and countless other subjects with seemingly endless energy.

The older I get the more I know how much I DON’T know, and that is a lot... The most I have learned from cooperation with colleagues from all over the world. I feel like a broken record but can not help but say once more: THANK YOU dear Drs., friends and other supporters for helping critters and for helping us, to help critters.

Special thanks to Drs. Adolf Maas, Brodeur, Dorazio, Gupta, Huckabee, Kollias, Mc Ruer, Morales, Martinez, Phillips, and of course our professional interns Drs. Angela Gimmel and Jennifer Riley. Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic and I could not have done it without your advice and help.

To recap the wild animals stories: at this point we have hopes that all 3 monkeys can be re-released back into the wild! Of course none of this would be possible without the amazing organization Wildtracks and the dedication of its directors Paul and Zoe Walker who are providing years of rehabilitation care for each individual monkey in their care. So I would like to end with a highlight on our amazing partners at Wildtracks who give imperiled wildlife in several species a chance at returning to their wild home.

Very special bonding moment between carer and head trauma patient.
We look forward to continue our cooperations and networking for international knowledge exchange to support wildlife conservation and sustainable development in 2014.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“My favorite 2013 experiences”: Lets get crocking for Hope with ACES, or my first flight to the rescue.

I know blog updates have not been forthcoming. I have been too incredibly busy, chronically, to the point of exhausted. But I shall try again, I promise. When I started to think about my favorite 2013 experiences I realized there are so many to still be mentioned, like the Tamandua with skull fracture cared for amazingly by Ella Baron, or the field visit for the Peregrine Fund, and the spay and neutre clinics, especially the one on Tobacco Caye, and not to forget the amazing people I have gotten to work with this year. Definitely there are too many stories for one blog. And there is too little time in my life to write. I and BWRC will attempt to produce a biannual Newsletter in 2014 to not forget the many amazing critter stories.
So to keep it short highlighting the best of 2013 and some of BWRC’s amazing partners one at a time here another crazy wild animal rescue assistance we were able to provide. It starts as usual...
Typical "chop wound" on this problematic croc

Just as I hoped for one of the first free days on a weekend in about 3 months, I received a Facebook message „We need your urgent help, to stitch a crocodile“. So from „finally weekend mode” to emergency mode. The severely injured croc had been rescued by Vince and Cherie Rose from ACES after complaints by concerned people on San Pedro. It was far from the clinic, and it was a 7-8 foot croc by name of “Hope”. A little too big to travel, so Cherie started looking for assistance to get the doc to the croc. Looking at a picture we determined that it was an older injury, the patient was in good body conditions and had eaten so she did not require surgery that Friday night, but Sunday would be fine and give us the time to prepare for this potentially complicated procedure. Ode to the miracles of networking: Within minutes the San Pedro Sun agreed to donate my flight to San Pedro. Shortly thereafter BWCN followed with a donation towards treatment costs.

Ensuing on Saturday were many hours of research on procedures, anesthesia and options available under our conditions. Cherie had suggested on the phone „you might just have to amputate“. Reptile anesthesia is not easy to begin with. And when it comes to a crocodilian this size and the need for forced ventilation under anesthesia – imagine yourself putting a tube in? We had a piece of PVC pipe for the emergency, but needless to say that this can be unnecessarily dangerous... we were once again working under complete field conditions, without much „amenities“. Not only did I need at least one medically trained assistant for this procedure, but also did BOTH of my veterinary assistants WANT be part of the action. I could not blame them and in an animal this size we could not have too many helping hands. Thanks to individuals, supporters and the Summerlee Foundation we were able join a fabulous medical team with Drs. Angela, Jen, myself, interns Helen and Lily and the ACES team with Directors Vince and Cherie Rose and Assistant Chris. Drs Jen and Angela took a boat and I took an early flight out of Belmopan. This was my first flight in Belize in 10 years! Something I had looked forward to yet then was surprised by the bumpiness of the ride. 3 stops later on short Island runways... I happily arrived on San Pedro with my 2 boxes and a backpack.

Most of the medical teams hands in the picture
Thanks to ACES fantastic capture and restraint we were able examine and treat this severe injury under local infiltration anesthesia. A bench as surgery table and the back of a golf cart as instrument and medication table, under a tree. Once she was restrained, “Hope” turned into a perfect patient. While the images of the injury had been suggestive of a very old, infected lesion, with likely loss of limb, in reality there was only a thin layer of necrotic tissue and below was healthy bleeding granulation tissue. The injury was typical of a cutting injury as sustained by machete or similar tools with a deep straight craniocaudal cut through the hindlimb at the mid femur level. The bone was also severed, and there was a lot of dirt inside the deep wound cutting through about 1/3 of the thickness. Fortunately the cut did not sever the close by femoral artery! “Hope” was not using the leg, but she was dragging it and comparing to the photo she had progressed in basically “self amputating” by slowly ripping the partially severed limb off! But overall we gathered hope to save the leg with treatment.

Wound nearly closed!
Thanks to our many helping hands we went to work and washed and flushed and debrided, and flushed and flushed some more. Then we reunited the severed tissues from the deepest layers to the surfaces with many sutures. We were surprised to see how the leg came back together and the protruding tissues were repositioned, and minus a drain opening, the wound could be fully closed. The bone underneath was still broken. Bone surgery was not possible under these conditions. Yet there was little muscle contraction and replacing the fracture was possible manually. We opted for external immobilization and with mostly duct tape (you better Belize it...) immobilized the leg to the tail.

Penguin duct tape cast to provide immobilisation
After being very concerned to begin with and worrying about loosing the patient, anesthesia complications, failed amputations or the likes... we were able to clean up, close and cast the injury within 2 h, and after 3 h 30 min on the Island, I hopped back onto the place to go back home to spend even a couple of daylight hours with my family home on a Sunday. That was awesome! And the return flight was just me, and the pilot of course, and we went straight home. Nice!

And, the best part of the story is the continuation in that Hope first of all ate well, then kept the leg and then started using it again! Check out the last picture after removal of cast! It's so exiting when something this challenging can end this well for the patient!

2 months later: Amazing recovery for Hope!

I would like to end with a thank you to our partners at ACES for their amazing work for crocodiles. This was definitely a highlight for 2013 for me, and I am very glad to have been able to help just a little bit. 
Holding hands with Hope

Thanks to the Team!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"My favorite 2013 experience" Contributing to the protection of the last of their kind, the Chiquibul Scarlet Macaws

It is sometimes easy to focus on the negative, especially when the weather is this bad, for this long? Muddy holidays with grey skies in Belize aside... 2013 has been an incredible year! One blog could not summarize it. So I shall focus on individual activities. The world seems full of bad news and negativity and I believe this rarely leads to positive outcomes. I prefer positive news, in order to hopefully inspire more of you to join in to help one of the many individuals and organizations protecting nature, and wildlife, and ultimately your own existence. 

When thinking about the best experience in 2013, I have no doubt but to think of the support we were able to provide to the Forest Department as well as Friends for Conservation and Development, Scarlet Six and the Scarlet Macaws of Chiquibul. First I would like to thank my friend Charles Britt for sensitizing me to the urgent needs and incredible threats to these beautiful birds, years ago. Of course I have read, and liked, „The last flight of the Scarlet Macaw“. And which wildlife vet does not dream of helping to save a species!

But of course the vet only contributes a tiny portion, and the lion share of the effort is carried by the courageous rangers! And the people behind the scenes who secure the financing.

The rough estimates say we might have between 100-200 birds left in Belize. Studies on small parts of the population had shown poaching rates of up to 80 % of nests. To counteract extreme poaching pressures, in 2012 first efforts at protecting individual nests were made by FCD and Scarlet Six. Thanks to that, poaching pressure decreased in the study area. After several years of observation and pondering how I and the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic can assist the plight of this disappearing bird, we are now honored to be contributing a tiny part to the efforts. BWRC and our veterinarians provided the first in field health checks in 2013 and I participated in the Scarlet Macaw Working group since 2012. I have to also thank Dr. Joyner for joining and teaching us, sharing her records and experiences for our first trip into this incredibly beautiful wilderness to establish the methodology to conduct chick checks. Very nice for me was that the first trip group also included my brother.

To those who don’t know: I and most of my family have a huge fascination for the jungle. I believe it stems from some influential childhood years spent in South America but that is beside the point. The Chiquibul
Forest is something I deeply cared about since I came to Belize even though I get to go much too rarely. So finally going to the much debated Chalillo reservoir, up the Raspaculo branch and seeing this gem teaming with wild life with a family member, was special treat to me personally. The ticks especially on the first trip were my least favorite part... I have to thank Roni Martinez for his awesome company on all of our trips! And foremost I would like to send thanks to the many rangers for FCD and Scarlet Six and their volunteers who dedicate themselves to this incredible birds’ fight for survival. Thanks to everybody's awesome dedication, cooperation and coordination of efforts we were able to check a first 7 birds, who were almost all in good health. 

One of the most touching moments is shown in this picture taken by Roni. Thanks to LoraKims suggestion all rangers got to assist with health checks and got to listen to the incredibly fast heart beats of their precious charges. And I think the visual expression on his face, captured so well in the picture is better then all my words. It reminded me that my importance may lay more in what I leave behind and how much I can teach others to care, about nature, wildlife, and ultimately themselves. I truly cherish those moments when I am given the opportunity to share my passion and see it totally take over :)

One of the most upsetting moments was when we learned that those very same chicks we touched on our first trip, were poached only 3 days later. This most likely meant their death. And clearly demonstrated the need for more: more „boots“ on the ground, protection efforts, financial support to pay for it, alternative ways to prevent poaching of individual nests especially during the end of breeding season.

I would like to thank the many individuals who have made it possible for me to be able to contribute a small part.

Please check out the website of  FCD to learn more about their awesome work for the Maya Mountain Massive Protected Area (nearly 8 % of Belize's landmass and our countries main water shed!) Consider a donation to the cause via FCD or Scarlet 6 and/or if you would like to volunteer or intern with wildlife medicine and conservation email Justin from the Wildlife Institute for more info

We are very exited and look forward to continue and intensify our collaboration for the 2014 field season.

Will you join us?

Dr. Isabelle

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2012 – “Personal review of the first year of BWRC” – Of supporters, interns and critters

Please accept my apologies for the extreme delay of this blog...Note that this was written around January 2013 and the next “update” shall follow sooner. Actually one is already “in the pipeline”. But first things first.

How to even begin summarizing so many events in one year? I will have to thank many individuals or organizations again. Please do not get offended if you are not mentioned!
As said several times throughout the year: The single most amazing part of the experience (of “following a dream and establishing a wildlife teaching clinic”) has been the incredible amount of help and outpouring of support received from countless individuals.

So Thank You for your interest and support! We could not do it without your help!

So here my personal account of this amazing year, when the world did not end... :)
2012 started with a bang and a January trip to the most impressive North American Veterinary Conference, NAVC in Orlando, FL to receive the Inspiration in Action Award and get a very brief glance at the largest veterinary conference world wide. I dreamed about amazing educational opportunities to hopefully attend in the future. Thanks to Heska, I was able to attend one day and walk around in the exhibitions and “window shop” for the equipments to purchase for the start-up of the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic - BWRC.
After returning to Belize, reality sunk in a bit more, and the responsibility of spending 25,000 US dollars in the most efficient and sustainable way to build a wildlife clinic for Belize made the rosy clouds of the „first award won“ fade a bit, and the pressures of writing further grants increased. But to start at the beginning: The continued support of individuals, organization and equipment manufacturers was amazing. Of course prior to receiving the grant I had spent between 2-4 months on researching possible and needed equipments. So then, it took little more then 2 weeks after receiving the actual moneys, to have completed all orders (and spent the $25,000 Award)!
Equipment landed in Belize in March, and elections and GST created a little hold up... that would also end us with an additional cost of $US 3,000 for GST. In March I was also invited to visit New Mexico State University for one week. Thanks to my friend Kristi I was accepted for a small award that paid to bring me to NMSU for a few guest lectures. After an amazing week of meeting department heads and deans and students and thanks in big parts to Gary Low of Aggies go Global, I had met 3 driven young women who would turn out to become BWRC’s first undergraduate interns for 3 months in the summer, and be the most amazing help one could ask for.

Our first rotation interns came from Tufts for their last clinical rotation in early April, and in brief, we had a blast. The clinic to become was nothing but an empty building, with raw concrete floor. So we spent almost all of our time in the field. Later Drs. Sarah Wills and Stacy Green both jumped on the opportunity to return for the summer, immediately after their graduation, to help with students and animals. And then Dr. Sarah was able to fill the first professional intern position at BWRC until early December! In April the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network - BWCN teamed up with the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation - MSBC for a symposium and held a first annual BWCN membership meeting. The first elected Board of Directors was established with one of the main goals being the development of the Wildlife Advice Hotline, which would eventually be completed by the Emergency Response Team under the guidance of the medical professionals of BWRC. Little did we think, that we would receive emergency calls at the clinic before our opening, and on our opening day, and a total of 60 wildlife patients before the end of the year.

With the clinic building prepared, donations received from countless individuals and organizations, Heska equipment finally received, unpacked and assembled and the arrival of our NMSU group in early May 2012, the clinic started seeing its first patients, while developing our records and protocols. Chelsea Canon, Iris de la O and Katey Wahlen jumped straight in, when we were called to a road side emergency of a horse hit by a Hummer. (Needless to say it was Sunday and we were on the way to the river for a swim...). Followed by a snake bitten dog and numerous wildlife patients, from monkeys to crocs, their adventures alone could fill a small book (and a short video was made). Shortly after the NMSU interns arrival, BWCN held the first ever fundraiser for the clinic, a „Wild Night Out“ in Belmopan, and raised Bz 10,000 for BWRC! This helped repay the debt for our required GST payment and carried us into 2013 with some $ in the bank! Thanks to Nikki Buxton for doing it all! And of course those, who came and joined us, or donated silent auction items! After close to 2 decades of self-financed work, not wanting to ask for help from others, it was truly mindboggling to me how much help BWRC received! Special thanks also to Gillian Kirkwood and Belize City Humane Society who passed on many no longer needed pieces of stainless steel and other furniture from their closing shelter, to turn an empty building into a beginning clinic.

The summer came and so did the ISIS students, in four groups from June to August. Thanks to my clinic crew, I survived an intensive summer. Thanks to ISIS for providing significant income for BWRC through renting the class room (the main clinic room) as well as making a donation per student to the clinic, which enabled us to acquire further office equipment, furniture and our by then much needed washing machine...

Fall finally brought our official inauguration ceremony with Minister Alamilla cutting the ribbon on the 19th of October, followed by one of our most popular patients of the year arriving shortly after the ceremony...

This brings me to some of the most important highlights: Our Patients!
Before our inauguration BWRC had already seen about 60 domestic and 60 wildlife patients and all were special. But some were extra special, like Box, now known as Lucky Boy the black jaguar at the Zoo, or the Jabiru who decided to stick around at the municipal airport and use the runway as his walkway! Felix the wild kitten was probably my personal favorite (I hope to acquire grants and funding to establish small feline rehab one day) even though he caused me to loose some sleep before he took to his diet properly.

Loosing sleep is a good summary for living the dream in fact :).

BWRC saw a large number of primates this year, mainly thanks to the efforts of the Belize Forest Departments Rasheda Garcia, Jazmin Ramos and Daniel, and of course Wildtracks rehabilitation program. We have seen some amazing recoveries in wild and domestic animals. But, as typical in wildlife rescue and in medicine, we have seen a fair share of tragedy. Like the unnamed sub adult spider monkey, who died in respiratory failure partially due to intoxication caused by a lay person’s flea treatment of this already sick and debilitated animal. Or the black hawk with irreparable fracture and extreme stress levels, and the Barn owl with open fracture that seemed to recover well, but its bone did not. We were very sad to loose a beautiful Stygian owl to head and spinal injury. And the snake bitten dog dying after 18 h intensive care, or the cat that had impaled itself on a metal rod through the chest could be listed within our most tragic heart breaking cases for all involved.

Our most interesting cases might have been the spinal fractured iguanas or the boas. Much to my surprise we have seen 7 rescued reptiles in the first months. But our most talked about patient was baby spider monkey “Izzie”, coming in on inauguration day! She was diagnosed with five gun shot pellets and multiple shattered bones, about 1 h after the ribbon cutting ceremony, in an encouraging 3 h turn around, from phone report to me to arrival at clinic, and subsequent departure to the Wildtracks primate facility. Her story continues.

November held one more trip for me, to the Caribbean Veterinary Medical Conference in Trinidad and Tobago, filling my role as the Commonwealth Veterinary Association country councilor for Belize, networking and hoping to complete a CVA grant proposal jointly with the TT rescue center Wildlife Orphanage Rescue Center.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of countless people, foremost Molly Reeve, Izzie’s primary carer for the first 8 weeks, international attention was drawn to her case. One of her broken bones not mending, a specialized surgeon, Dr Adolf Maas, was found and kindly volunteered his services and sourced donated materials for Izzie’s arm repair, which happened in early December. Surgery was a full success (of course time will tell in the long run). We continue to monitor her case and so far 2 videos were made to document. December also was dedicated to further grant applications, one of which we missed, yet were still given support by the grantor (absolutely amazing thanks!) in the form of a $5000 donation! Grant applications have certainly one of the biggest challenges, but we understand that it takes writing many proposals. And every written application helps us refining details.
We continue to work on our first financial report but it appears that, despite 4 fruitless grant applications for further medical equipments and more, we have still doubled the Heska prize income in 2012 with donations, BWCN fundraiser and other activities of the non-profit organization (mainly domestic patients and class room rental). But soon more on that!

The year ended with another wildlife course of ISIS students and the refining of the vision for the next year, immediate goals and the bigger picture for the future of BWRC, to hopefully become a fully self-sustaining conservation-supporting medical teaching facility.

VIDEOS After the 2011 success in the Inspiration in Action contest, somewhat attributed to the video about Spartacus, the howler monkey baby who started it all (and is now our logo thanks to Colette Kase and Maya Papovic), and the amazing Solitary Eagle juvenile, in 2012 we have created another number of “home made wildlife videos” thanks to our wonderful friend documentarian, artist and jack of many trades, Daniel Velasquez.
Videos 2012:
Interns – Clinical rotation interns
Interns – Undergraduate NMSU interns
Inauguration and Izzies arrival
Izzies surgery

If you would like to learn more, find our website under

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Belize Wildlife Clinic’s first veterinary interns! Of Interns and Iguanas

So many exiting things happening all at the same time makes it hard to decide where to even begin... 
Before the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic even opened its doors, the first interns arrived in March 2012 and while I promised to focus more on animal’s stories again – as opposed to all that mostly “human” stuff – I can’t resist to also talk about our first 2 week interns: Sarah and Stacy. In 3 words: They were awesome! What connects Interns and Iguanas? Probably the first letter... and while all my students get their hands on iguanas, Sarah and Stacy saw a lot more then the average iguana patients during their internship.

 They knew the clinic might not yet be open and opted for the “intensive rotation internship” where they would spend the majority of their time at our conservation partners and BWCN member organizations, get some basic theory and go around seeing patients with me. And they were ready to jump in! On our way from the airport we saw the first patient – not an iguana and possibly the subject of a different blog soon – a very sweet puma. The next morning, with the official start of their internship, we received the first iguana call.

In general I do not see very many iguana patients in Belize, since people do not keep them as pets here. If an iguana is found injured it will more likely end up in a pot since they are considered a delicacy, especially pregnant females. I am sure I do not have to tell you how bad eating the pregnant females is, from a standpoint of trying to sustainably use and protect a threatened species for future generations. But of course this is a different subject and I understand that this cultural practice and its conservation conflict are a very complex issue, despite the fact that a closed season during mating season has been legally in place for many years. Fortunately for Belize, we still see the green Iguana, even though several hunters report a drastic decline.

So the same origin applied to our first patient that day: a female iguana, full with eggs, that had been captured for consumption and was then purchased by someone who did not want to see her and her babies eaten... In the typical fashion the iguana had toes clipped and tendons pulled on front and back legs – to tie them for easy transport and restraint with their legs behind their backs.

But upon our first quick inspection, after she had an overnight post rescue, on a heating pad (and after a drive in a car and good sun exposure for 30 minutes) she was very lively, toes already dried and wounds closed, 4 good fingers remaining on each foot, only one small scratch on belly and she had laid 3 eggs. So the first impulse was to quickly send her on to San Ignacio Hotels Green Iguana Project where she could be incubated and soaked in warm water and given sandy substrate to lay eggs in, under the watchful eyes of Eddy and Humberto. We were all hoping for a quick recovery, release of mom and likely incubation of eggs.

The next day we arrived at the project and our lively rescue from the day before had lain down in a corner of the enclosure. Fire ants we starting to attack her eyes, ears and mouth. She was cold to the touch, barely responsive (it took a moment to actually determine that she was still alive) and had not laid any more eggs! So from a quick “lets see if we can give her a bit of recovery, good food and then release in a few” – she turned into a life threatening emergency - an egg bound iguana. And fire ants are truly an “evil enemy” when it comes to debilitated animals that we are trying to recover and a very BAD sign. So we quickly got into gear and did the usual – heat and fluids, some dextrose, Calcium and finally Oxytocin. She soon started showing weak signs of contractions! We were happy to see an egg emerge from her cloaca rather quickly! But the effect did not last and one egg was all we got. And female iguanas her size will lay about 30 or more. We continued our efforts and repeated treatments.

And then, much to our embarrassment, we made one of those crucial mistakes one should never make! Hopefully you can learn from us? We left the iguana, basically comatose with no response to 2 injections! sitting in her soak bath, outside of the main enclosure. To make it clear: she had not been conscious or responsive for a rather extended period of 2-3 hours when we left her unattended in that soak bath... and what happened? she „self released“ (which is an excuse used by some to disguise what is ultimately our human mistake... sounds better sometimes), meaning we turned around, talked and walked a few meters away... and she LEFT! So not only did she regain consciousness but she climbed out of the bath and fully disappeared! We were not able to locate her again, despite searching.

So let it be a lesson: no matter how comatose a patient appears to be ALLWAYS keep them inside an enclosure or under your direct supervision! Just never ever let your guard down would be a basic rule working with wildlife (and sometimes that seems to apply to life too).

Good news is that she was inadvertently released in what could possibly be one of the most protected spots for iguanas, right over the river at San Ignacio Hotel. And we hope that she regained enough strength with fluids, energy, calcium and hormones she was treated with.

Next Stacy and Sarah bathed and treated all 70 baby iguanas for ectoparasites, and retained skin and gave them a general check over. The majority was doing well but we saw a few cases of digital necrosis, some due to retained skin rings some possibly due to fungal infections. All iguanas came out greener and “shiny” from their bath and some seemed to enjoy the shedding help.
Usually I might go and see the Iguana Project once a month, but this time we got a rather urging text 2 days later, asking if we could come by for a visit for one of the stars of the project: Roxy! We were in the middle of other activities at the Belize Zoo and planning on visiting Belize Bird Rescue but the report sounded rather concerning: First Roxy had “disappeared”. Apparently Roxy used to sometimes take a “day excursion from the enclosure” and then return to the enclosure* no one was too concerned the first day of her missing.

And when she was found a day later she had been inside the enclosure, trapped under a collapsed cavity in the sand! She too was overdue to lay eggs! Nothing else we had planned that day was “life threatening” so we quickly switched the schedule and returned to San Ignacio.

Unfortunately as we reached we look into the sad faces of Eddy and Humberto saying that Roxy had died 15 minutes ago. When we inspected her she indeed still had some reflexes left and a doubtful heartbeat with some respirations! Next lesson here: diagnosing death in a reptile is challenging! So our first response for Roxy, once again was efforts as resuscitation, with hydration, warmth, respiratory enhancer and then also Calcium. But after about 20 minutes we had to agree that the observed reflexes and irregular beats heard were “post mortem”, and further attempts at revitalization fruitless. So then Sarah and Stacy quickly switched to C-section to save Roxie’s babies! 32 eggs were recovered and are now incubating at the Green Iguana Project. A sad end to one of the most personable iguanas at the project in the past few years. She loved to be petted and interact with humans. But her brief legacy will hopefully be passed on to the next generation.

The C-section also provided highly valuable experience and demonstrated the difficulty of snake and lizard uteri that generally require multiple incisions and can not safely be “milked”. Especially once they are egg bound and become even stickier. Sorry medical sidetrack.

To end Sarah and Stacie’s Iguana experiences at the end of their internship they also bathed and checked a good number of the full grown iguanas in the main enclosure, including Gomez! They got the obligatory (minor!) scratch and did awesome, as through out their whole internship! Of course we saw and did lots of other things, but the blog is too long already!

Feel free to comment...

* For those who don’t know: Many of the iguanas released on site at this project actually return and try to re-enter the enclosure – especially for the males no wonder... but all in all “Guanaland” is just a perfect hotel for Iguanas :) and the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic will soon work on an “Intensive Care Unit” for injured or sick reptiles.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grants are wonderfull!

I wake up and find myself in a raging river, floating like a corc (fortunately, I guess that accumulated ring of fat from sitting at a desk too much lately pays off even in my dreams). I look around and see rock faces passing by, fast. No time to stop, no time to rest, other than relaxing and taking the ride as it comes. Which includes to keep on swimming, and avoiding collisions with rocks in the way. Canyon walls on both sides and no way out, other than forward. Definitely no turning around. The current is strong. Hopefully there is no impassable white water, I think. Hopefully this water eventually calms down and gives me a safe exit back onto the land I long to feel under my feet. This is so fast it’s scary! Hopefully there is no tall water fall on my route before I can get out.... as I wake up for real...

What happened? I „took the plunge“ so to speak. I decided to „go for it“, fully follow my long time dream; After many years I tried to finally get financial support to do what I dreamt of creating, to leave behind as my life-time work. And, well, you know the story... We got the first grant! Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic won the Heska Inspiration in Action contest, I had a wonderfull, but brief trip to the US and received the Award for $25,000 to buy medical equipment and install it in the first ever wildlife clinic, which would at the same time serve to advance the veterinary profession through training and referral services for domestic veterinarians country wide. The greatest honor of my life to be trusted by so many and allowed to help in such ways. Two weeks later money was transferred.

My dream must represent that my life has truly felt like a wild white water ride in the past few weeks, finding out that AFTER the grant is even more work than BEFORE. Not that I wasn’t committed and prepared to give it my all and best, but on my rosy clouds I had not foreseen having to do so many things, all at once. Haha! that’s what you get for following your dreams :) A LOT OF WORK.

I keep internally humming „keep on swimming, keep on swimming“ (having watched Nemo the fish a few times...). I do this because I want to and I love what I do. I just don’t particularily enjoy some parts of it. Like spending 10 or 12 h in front of my computer. Morale of the story, definitely follow your dreams, but be ready to buckle down and work harder than ever before, and enjoy! It’s your dream after all.
I am far from done, but we have gotten so much help in addition to the first grant that it literally blows me away! I would like to and will thank each and every person for their help! I had resisted for years to come out publicly and ask for much help. So that I would, in my personal small ways, make a good contribution and set a good example for some (who would care to observe in those small circles). But now that „it is out“ so to speak, people from all over have stepped up to help. We have received $446 donations on our website! All from different unknown people. I would like to name them, but have to first figure out if that is ok... Stainless steel, cell phone, supplies, 10-50 % discounts on all medical equipments, books and standards! And my dearest helper in rallying contest votes through rotaract, Alfonso, is now working on the best shipping quote for us and it looks like we might get some good and reduced prices on shipping as well! Forest Department has offered to clear customs for us, since we are working to help them fullfill their mandate relating to wildlife conservation. And the building is amazing.

BUT a basic clinic setup could be estimated more at 200.000 value and we are truly playing gymnist and making it streeeeeeeeeetch, to improvise a clinic as state of the art as possible.
Currently I receive an internship request nearly every other day. Which is wonderfull because we hope to establish the internships to support wildlife work (many of our wildlife patients will be non-paying clients... especially rescues). Yet it is a lot of work to do it right. And in general I like to try to do things as best as possible. Our first two interns will be with us at the end of March, and we look forward to welcoming them and showing them what we are all about. And since I have been facilitating these student experiences in Belize for now over 7 years, I know we can do it and students will love it. None the less a bit nerve wrecking to have soo many new things at once?

And the best news on the grant front is: we have sourced some fantastic equipment and can’t wait to make this available asap!

I meet so many amazing new people, and old people, I am preparing to present at the MSBC /BWCN symposium at UB and have been nominated for the Gerald Thomas Award to visit New Mexico State University. And I have also been honored in other ways, by beeing elected on the Board of Directors of one of my favorite Belizean conservation organizations: Friends for Conservation and Development and nominated by Minster Montero onto the Veterinary Surgeons Board. I look forward to serving those positions to the best of my ability.

But looking at my schedule, I can’t believe it. No way out there either... It is FULL! And overflowing it seems. One of these first days after receiving the grant I briefly had the thought: my plate is so full I am afraid it just „broke“! I apologize for this surprisingly complainy blog and assure you I am and trust I will be: just fine!

And the biggest and most important thing for me these days is... to take it easy! And not exhaust myself and struggle against currents. If I go under now there is no way out. I have seen too many burn out. So I take a peacefull breath and jump back in the river and try to relax while I move forward at high speed, hoping to be just like my favorite quotation from the i-ching:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject,
finds the path of least resistance
and excites no rivalries.

The next blog will be a different story for sure! I felt the need to share another „personal view“ one but the future holds more Animals stories' (instead of my own) and the next clinic update is also overdue...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Inspiration in Action" for wildlife conservation - a personal account

OMG Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic is in the final for the contest! I rub my eyes and can not believe it. „Inspiration in Action“ is truly an awesome title for this and, believe it or not, the first grant proposal for a project that has been in my head for over 15 years. But how did I get there?

In brief and leaving out a few years and countries in between it started in 1994 when my dear friends from Profelis in Costa Rica opened my eyes to what would become the passion I would dedicate my career to: wildlife conservation and medicine, as well as rescue and rehabilitation.

I had decided to become a veterinarian out of a love for animals and the desire to work in and with nature with biology as second choice. After the first three years in vet school I felt discouraged about what I learned about the profession of a domestic veterinarian. While I loved dogs and cats, I more and more disliked the fact that we humans would breed animals to our liking of what we felt was „pretty“ while the animals suffered with the „breed dispositions“. Of course, „never argue „fashion““ but to me welfare was more important. I loved farm animals but I disliked the fact that their main purpose seemed to be to grow and produce as fast as possible, often under to me questionable conditions. I loved horses too and it was because of them that I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian at age 11; after I witnessed my first birth – who would not be inspired watching the first steps of a newborn foal? But at 22 I had come to realize that my motivation for becoming a veterinarian - the desire to heal and „help“ animals and to work in and for nature - had been somewhat naive.

It seemed to me our daily veterinary life would all too often make us have to be psychologists and make economic choices to sacrifice animals or their welfare to human needs. I decided to take a break for a semester. At this point I have to thank a special person: my mother! Instead of possibly turning into a „jewelry selling beach traveler“ (my back-up plan at the time) she convinced me to volunteer in a conservation project with wild cats in Costa Rica.

Little did we know that it would change my life, to meet two inspirational German biologists, founders and directors of Profelis. They had come to study wild cats, and discovered a clear need for a facility that would rescue confiscated animals for the government. They took on the challenge to try to provide a solution by receiving and when possible rehabilitating to release this endangered species. I saw their challenges: no money, several years of negotiations, cooperation issues, grant applications, bureaucracy and many adversities. And I witnessed their whole-hearted dedication: living in a humble little house and rebuild the center 3 times, even from total devastation through a hurricane, with their own hands and WITHOUT a salary, for as long as 7 years! That truly inspired me. It was them who pointed me to a contact in Guatemala, the veterinarian and director of ARCAS, a general wildlife rescue center. The most amazing 2 years of my life would follow, while travelling Costa Rica and Guatemala to work as a veterinary volunteer in wildlife conservation projects. ARCAS was truly inspiring in that for the first time I saw local people, not foreigners, and from poor backgrounds (so not philanthropists) work hard to save their natural heritage. I experienced the first baby season and I saw a wildlife rescue center overwhelmed with hundreds of animals coming from the pet trade in a period of 6 weeks.

I returned to vet school with new found goals and passions. I had learned about the need for professional veterinary assistance in wildlife conservation in the field. I had seen the hardship, mainly meaning little to no income, hard work and many set backs, but I had also been inspired by simple people, who had so much less than I was even born with, dedicate their lives towards animals and nature. And I felt that, coming from a rich „country of abundance“, Germany, I wanted to dedicate my career to benefit development and nature conservation and take that challenge as well.

My childhood experiences in and the resulting love for Latin America, and having seen animals in the pet trade on the „other end“ - after illegal smuggling to developed world, and usually point of no return - I wanted to apply my skills, where there truly still is a chance of returning an animal to its natural habitat. And, where we can still work towards preserving natural habitats, and ultimately a harmonious cohabitation of humans in nature. I know that is the naive part of me again, but I believe in the benefit of having positive dreams and goals.

Over the next 15 years the proposal suited for my desire to find a similar niche, where I could use my medical professions’ training to apply it to heal and help animals and work to conserve nature and „give back“, would be refined over and over. One day I would like to dedicate an entire book to the many inspiring people I met while volunteering and visiting projects in 7 countries and learning many lessons over many years. And I guess that could be a nice book because all so often we tend to think that the world is filled with BAD people and tend to not remember those great inspiring people.

Ending our „nomadic“ years and visiting and settling in Belize was a like a revelation to the still hazy vision. And of course the beginning of another long process of learning, which is certainly continuing as we speak. After 8 years of living here, evaluating the situation, finding the gap and my niche, networking, consulting stakeholders, gathering (philosophical) support, and working with the government, I have finally given up on the idea that „someone“ will come along and „absorb my idea“ and write a large grant for me. With the idea to assist solving many of the countries wildlife problems in one go, for now and forever (meaning beyond my own involvement). I know that was setting my goals way too high, but I did that for years anyways. And I didn’t even know how to begin. Here I just must thank my dear husband for supporting me throughout and pointing out „you are trying to jump from A to Z instead of going via BCDE...just do it yourself, and start it small.“ and I finally heard him too.

It was Spartacus the 600 g Howler monkey baby who „pushed me over the edge“ to decide that even if it was small, the need for a medical facility for wildlife and some basic medical diagnostic and treatment tools was overwhelming. And that I would just start this clinic myself, without a million $ grant. It was Spartacus who inspired me, to activate this blog, apply for a minute loan and finally start looking for financial support for the wildlife rescue facility that I somehow started dreaming about in 1994. And just to make it clear: since then I have held numerous paid jobs simultaneously to support my „expensive hobby and passion“ as a „professional volunteer“ mostly without outside financial support or a salary.

And a few days after the decision to finally start seeking outside financial support for the work I am most passionate about, I accidentally saw this „Inspiration in Action“ contest... which in addition to the opportunity to help wildlife, offered the opportunity to assist the countries veterinarians and fulfill my personal mandate in the veterinary association to assist the advancement of our profession. So I felt inspired and just started writing. And I got a lot of help in the writing. And now we are in the final and with YOUR HELP could win $25,000 to purchase medical and diagnostic equipment to serve an entire country.

Regardless of outcome, it is VERY inspiring to have our proposal selected over so many other great projects and it sure will give me more energy and desire to continue facing the challenges of trying to assist sustainable development and wildlife conservation as well as animal welfare. I will be EVER GRATEFULL for the amazing response from everybody out there!

We keep our fingers crossed that despite being an „outsider“ and a small Caribbean country, with your help the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic will win the Heska Inspiration in Action contest! Voting continues until the 18th of December.

We need thousands of votes to compete with the other 4 excellent contestants. So I hope you can also help us by convincing as many of your US-friends and family to please vote for BWRC here:

Or directly on Facebook:

Many exciting new rescues have happened recently, including another baby howler monkey, an Osprey and the most amazing solitary eagle! So stay „tuned“ for more?