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Ronald Porter
Acting Director of Service Learning

Eckerd College
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Service Learning

Service Learning

Guatemala: Spring Break 09


View photos from Guatemala

Thirteen students, led by Kathy Corradi and Prof. Greg Gerdeman, traveled to the Petén state of northern Guatemala to volunteer for ARCAS, a wildlife rescue and conservation association. This amazing animal rescue and rehabilitation center in Petén receives over 200 wild animals per year, including 40+ different species, which are mostly intercepted by government authorities from animal traffickers working out of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. These animals are usually young, severely traumatized and unable to return successfully to the wild without care and lengthy rehabilitation. Our group worked 3 shifts every day (starting at 7 AM) in the quarantine facility, where we helped staff and other volunteers keep up the endless work of cleaning cage enclosures and feeding the animals. We worked directly with many parrots of different varieties, as well as spider monkeys, howler monkeys, coatimundis, and one cute little paca. We also got the chance to closely observe several other fantastic beings, including 4 ocelots, a baby margay, brocket deer, Moreleti's crocodiles, kinkajous, a grisson, a magnificent female jaguar (we only had limited and supervised visits to see her enclosure deeper in the forest) and many critically endangered scarlet macaws. Out of only 300 scarlet macaws known to remain in Central America, 49 individuals are presently housed at ARCAS, which is pioneering a breeding program with promising early success. Oh yes, we also shared housing with some really big scorpions. That was fun.

It was a long journey, involving an overnight bus from Guatemala City (which broke down at 4 AM) to the lovely island town of Flores, on Lake Petén Itza, where we took a 20 minute boat ride to ARCAS. We had lots of hard, sweaty work to do outside of our duties at the quarantine facility, including maintaining trails, digging trenches for irrigation pipes, quarrying rocks for concrete, cutting huge bails of "grass" with machetes (then carrying the bails on our backs), building and filling a large planting box for a new melon garden, and lugging 100 lb bags of fruit and corn up the steep trail from the lake. Our group really impressed the staff with our work, however, and we were saved by regular afternoon swims in the cool lake (and Noah's yoga classes)!

Lastly, the week was crowned by a full day at the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Not only did we get to explore this stunning archaeological site with a really knowledgeable and indigenous Mayan guide, but since Tikal is a site of rich flora and fauna, we also got to witness nearly every animal we had worked with at ARCAS, in their natural habitat and rhythms. There is truly nothing like hearing troupes of howler monkeys calling to each other at sunrise, while overlooking the vast Mayan Biosphere forest from the top of Temple IV at Tikal. It really put the value of our week's work in a beautiful and meaningful perspective, and gave us all a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to travel and give of ourselves. It was a very demanding week, but we had great times and everyone would love to go back to work with ARCAS again.

View photos from Guatemala

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