Thursday, November 4, 2010

Well, that was windy.

“My First Hurricane”. Hmm. Hopefully I won’t be watching that movie again.
Richard put on his category 1 hobnails and stomped right through middle corridor of Belize. Ironically, Belmopan, aka ‘first fall-back safety zone during a hurricane’, was hit the hardest. Guess where we live? Luckily no birds or animals were harmed during the making of this hurricane, but the roof blew off the home brewery (catastrophe) and a couple of trees collapsed onto our house (a minor inconvenience). The house I actually live in is so over-engineered I managed to sleep through almost the whole thing – eye and all, which is slightly annoying as a) I will probably never see another one again and b) when everyone is oo-ing and aah-ing over how spectacular the eye was, I have to just smile and nod. Seriously though, our little piece of forest was trashed, Guanacaste National Park just a couple miles from us is unrecognisable and all around we hear tales of woe from land owners, conservationists and resort owners alike, who will not see rejuvenation of the damage in their lifetimes. As always it’s the animals that suffer. A natural disaster it may be, but they are as good as a man-made disaster when it comes to knocking back a species. The monkey lady (Wildlife Care Center of Belize) is in bits about her release sites. I haven’t been to see mine since, nor spoken to the owners, but at least a bird has the option of saying “this restaurant is a bit rubbish, lets go somewhere else”. Monkeys find helicopters in short supply once they make the decision to relocate.

Returning just in time for Richard, I enjoyed a quick trip to St Maarten for a Humane Education Workshop, courtesy of WSPA. Tremendous fun and I actually did learn something (and not just that I am too old to drink an entire bottle of red wine and get away with bad karaoke). I learned that Belize is a pig of a place to get to and from - I mean, you really have to want to be here. Maybe that’s why I like it so much; when you can tell people it takes you two days to even get to a place where you can begin your journey, they may understand why you’re a hermit. But I think the best thing I learned was the definitive answer to that constant question “how can you do what you do?” Thank you Lisa for the reply: “how can you not?”

Having made the decision not to sponge off my lovely husband any longer, I bravely signed the lease on a small hotel in town. It is called (and will remain called) the Hibiscus Hotel and pledges to dedicate 50% of the profits from any stay to Belize Bird Rescue. Yay. In truth, it will probably be more like 100% of the profits since our entire life and resources are consumed by these blasted critters. Speaking of resources – you may have noticed I have gone awfully quiet about my new aviaries. We-el… I managed to raise enough money to finish them, only to discover 2 days after completion, that a second batch of wire I had purchased was going rusty. A week later, the whole lot was rusty. And now, 3 months later, I can actually put my fist straight through the wire. 9 rolls in all at $312 each. Aaarggh. So, here we are waiting for funding so we can replace and re-place the wire. So if anyone has a spare few thousand...

One great achievement for animal welfare is a successful grant application to start a Humane Education Programme in Belize. It's just the beginnings, but eyes are upon us (us being the Belmopan Humane Society) and hopefully this will be such a success that next year we can ease the programmee into the National Curriculum and end up with a country full of bunny-huggers in 50 years time. Scoff ye not: with 50% of the population still in school and a flexible, independent education system, it’s not an impossible dream. Hey –Belize could even become the Holy Grail of research into the efficacy of Humane Education. Stranger things have happened.

And finally, a sad event all round. During the hurricane a tree fell on the cage of a captive adult jaguar. He escaped and killed a man. The victim was a great character, big into conservation, he loved to work with animals and was loved and admired for his passion. The couple who had the cat in captivity have worked with wildlife all of their lives. They are amazing photographers and documentary makers and are responsible for setting Sharon Matola up in the zoo so many years ago. They are lovely, gentle people and wouldn’t hurt anyone for the world. The cat was your typical victim of human/wildlife conflict: orphaned, captured, exhibited by a resort and eventually placed in the care of responsible owners who had the misfortune to have a tree come down during a hurricane.
The final score: cat -0 (euthanized) victim – 0 (deceased) custodians -0 (mortified, persecuted, devastated…you name it – and possibly even facing prosecution)
So all of those who are sabre-waving, pointing fingers and blaming left right and centre, just stop and think about the root cause of this entire mess. Hunters. Poachers. And the idiots that buy the spoils. Don’t blame those trying to mop up this mess – look to the wound, not the bandage and wave your sabres at them for a change.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


When life is going as smoothly as life ever can, our priorities always begin with the animals in our care and everything else falls into line. It takes a family crisis to put our neatly aligned priorities into the virtual shuffle-machine.

There must have been a particularly vindictive moon this month, leaping up and down on that shuffle button, not just for me and my family but for several of my friends involved in animal rehab in Belize.

A particularly dramatic event over the weekend was the ‘angry mob’ torching of the ACES Crocodile Sanctuary in Punta Gorda. Vince & Cherie Rose had built an amazing facility: a clinic, education & research centre, lab, cabanas, croc pools and nursery, the beginnings of a humane society and of course, their home. In a few short minutes of misguided ignorance, Belize lost an valuable resource for these misunderstood and abused creatures and Vince & Cherie lost everything they owned in the world, and the beloved crocs in their care were chopped or shot. Thankfully the owners were out on a croc rescue at the time, or the story may have been tragic instead of disastrous. I have to confess retaliation such as this is something that crosses my mind occasionally (not a long journey, as they say). You can’t continually deal with people and their animals without considering the repercussions of your actions, however well intentioned. In the case of ACES, the mob were whipped into a frenzy by the village witchdoctor who convinced the locals that the Roses had fed 2 children to their crocs. Absurd to you and I. Perfectly logical to the parents of 2 missing children. Especially as they are still missing, have been for over a week, the police have no leads and the media seem to have given up on their story in favour of that of the ACES predicament. PG is one of the most insular regions of a country where even in the cities, everyone knows, or is related to, everyone. Two children, 9 and 11 – not babies - go missing in broad daylight whilst selling fruit on the side of the road and no-one knows or saw a damn thing?? Well, then you really do have to have to ask yourself WTF?
One of many versions of the story

A family medical emergency has forced me to relinquish control of my empire and hand over the care of the birds and the farm to my daughter and son-in-law. It was actually not as difficult as I thought it would be – once I drove across the border to Mexico, there was very little I could do to control from afar, being as my cell phone doesn’t work here and I spend most of my days in hospitals where Skype is somewhat antisocial. The birds are surviving without me, which is a bit of a blow to my control-freakery, I am getting fat on junk food and my feet are cleaner than they have ever been.

With time to look around (and actually being in a place where there is something other than birds and trees to look at) I have noticed the world is getting younger around me. It has come as something of a shock, probably because I’ve been a virtual hermit for 7 years and amazingly enough, time has not stood still in my absence. Do others have this sudden realisation, or does it simply seep gracefully into your perception when you live in the real world? Regardless of how it happened, it appears that in relation to my existence, there are now more younger bodies than older bodies. I have become a Senora, a wrinkly, this mutton now needs to be careful with her lamb-based wardrobe. Yikes. I know I’m a way off drawing my pathetic pension, but - Yikes! I have purchased reading glasses in readiness for the inevitable, and I even took 5 minutes to shake out the “menopause” t-shirt from that drawer in my brain labelled ‘never happen to me’.

So – things I have learned this week.

1. I should spend more time hanging around old-folks homes and post-offices to improve my self-image.

2. Belizean food is not so bad

3. I don’t miss TV one little bit

4. Lots of Mexicans have really short necks.

5. Life is a conveyor-belt. You get on at the start and if you’re lucky you go all the way to the end without falling off on the way.

6. I have always taken people I love for granted.

7. Smoking is devastating - for the smoker and for their family: In the words of someone very dear to me “it is simply not worth it”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Long Time...

Where have I been? Well, my shiny new laptop arrived. Yay and big smileys.

I plugged in the various brain-sucking cables and my nasty, spiteful crusty old PC took one look at aforementioned Shiny and bit down on the cyanide pill hidden in its processor, never to recover. Not so yay. Those That Playeth Games poo-pooed my frustrations, barely grasping the concept of ‘sent items’ and ‘bookmarks’ lost forever, never mind the stockpile of web-page templates for my various website projects. My data was thankfully safe, but please don’t ask me to resend anything, all emails throughout May and June remain unanswered and if you are a sponsor – forgive me – but I haven’t a clue who you are anymore. If everyone I know would like to send me a quick hello, I may start to rebuild Rome. And please don’t even think about looking at the website.

In the meantime, what of my real life??

Well, Crazy Bird Lady appears to have taken over any remaining sane parts of Miss Nikki. What used to be a quiet secluded veranda outside my bedroom door now resembles the ‘parrots for sale’ section at the back of PetSmart. I agreed to watch over some exotics while the owner is on holiday for a month or so. That was probably a mistake. I hadn’t realised how much these companion birds would tug at my attention span. The grey is a hooligan, romping around the floor, biting men, falling in love with women and trilling a version of our phone ringing every ten seconds so we all look like a bunch of jack-in-the-boxes. The conure wants shoulder rides all the time, and is so small and light that we sometimes forget she’s there. And the eclectus just wants to sit on the T-stand and watch the world go by. They all say hello, shout for mummy and are totally adorable – except for the lorikeets, who have projectile diarrhoea and have turned my outside wall into a Jackson Pollock mural. Needless to say, Chilli is apoplectic most of the time.

Every so often I yearn for a real life. I was sat bored in the doctor’s office a few weeks back, waiting for a medical to confirm my suitability as a Citizen of Belize, when I happened across a year-old copy of Conde Naste. Oh, the luxury. The far flung places, the beaches, the yachts and private jets. Not to say my life was ever quite that luxurious or privileged, but there was a time when Jerry and I could stick a pin in the map and hop on a plane. I stole the magazine and burned it late that night crying ‘heretic’ and ‘Jezebel’. I shan’t be visiting that doctor’s surgery again for a while (although it sounds like I probably should)

Most of the releases are doing well – Paddington visits once or twice a week, Monty and Como once or twice a month. I haven’t seen last year’s releases for a good while, but the aviary got buzzed by two adults and a baby last week: I am totally convinced they were ours. Well, I would be, wouldn’t I?

Unfortunately, the mismatched idiots, Bib and Daphne have suffered a huge setback. I’m not naming names or pointing fingers, but when I get the chance to sort out the delightful neighbour that shot Bibi in the eye with a slingshot, there will be retribution. ‘An eye for an eye’ is the phrase, I believe. I knew something was brewing when I was informed that those ‘annoying birds are making noise near my house and waking me in the mornings’. Now, how dare jungle animals live in the jungle and make noise? It’s about time someone put a stop to that!! Oh, - hang on - lots of people already are… Anyhow, he’s in the excellent care of Natalie at CASA so hopefully he will be back up and annoying asap. I may have to take him out into the real jungle – he obviously can’t keep out of trouble without help.

And what of the fantastic new aviary? I would LOVE to tell you it is finished, but we have one more day of welding, and about a week of perching, planting and primping to go. So close…

We’ve also had to build a 5-man quarantine unit to house the newbie’s. That was an interesting exercise – I informed the carpenter that I wanted 5 units, each 4 feet square –that’s 20 feet in all. Due to the rain he decided to build it in the garage. In one piece! Then he went home to leave us to just “pick it up and pop it into place”. The bl**dy thing must have weighed several thousand tonnes. Thanks for that. I’m roping in all and sundry, including a shell-shocked, but willing son-in-law to help me finish the flooring for that that this week and then we should be in the quarantine business.

Speaking of which, we’re up to three on the yellow-head count. Not quite a breeding programme, but it’s an interesting start. One is beautiful and has gone from ‘600g Chunky-Monkey Too-Fat-For-a-leg-Band” to a svelte 503g. Another is still in love with a red lored, which is going to end in tears, and the third is so nasty we called him Norman (…Bates? …psycho?…get it??) I dread to think what the previous ‘owners’ used to do to him, but he hates women, will tolerate men, but generally speaking wants to kill everyone. He calls himself an animal. There’s a nice way to raise a parrot.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

We got one!!!!

Well, it's over a month since I sat here and typed - and has that much happened? Probably not…
I have been dreadfully disorganised. There are lovely donors who haven’t had their letters or sponsorship certificates (waiting on me), I have half finished food prep room (waiting on plumber) a half-tidy office (waiting on carpenter) and no new aviary (waiting on welder). I needed holes digging and roofs fixing before the rains came – (forget that, where’s my brolly and a mop?) And I have another month to wait before I am armed with a laptop and projector and I can get out into unsuspecting schools and listen to myself talk.

So – what do I have??? Sorry? Speak up – did you say "what do I have???" I’ll tell you what I have: I have my first yellow-head, thank you very much. No – not something that needs squeezing, but a genuine parrot. I am very grateful to ‘anonymous donor’ who gave up their beautiful bird for a higher calling – it’s really given me the kick I needed. Talking about these animals is one thing. Hearing “nope, didn’t see any this year” is another thing. But to see one of these beauties up close and personal is just breathtaking, and to think that the only ones left in Belize may be those in captivity is heartbreaking. So here I am, breathless and heartbroken, poised with cheque-book in hand to build the new aviary. The time for procrastination is over. Geoff has finished his quest – 475 miles in just over 33 hours. He managed to raise the best part of US$680, bringing our total to $2070 and there’s more on the way I am told. And what's more, Geoff is determined to do the challenge for real when he hits Belize next month, so watch out for the one-man Belize Bird Rescue Cycle Team as he flies around the country in his parrot suit (yes, of course I’m making him wear a parrot suit).

The dry season is taking its toll on the duck-pond. The island is no more and the water wheel clearly has a prostate problem, despite Joe’s best efforts with chains and whips and things. We need some good rain now, not that piddling stuff sent to interfere with hole-digging and roof-fixing.

In the midst of the dry, I spent a sweltering weekend at the Belize Agricultural and Trade Show. Temperatures hit 106 in the shade, but still people turned out to drink beer and look at horses and flowers. Amazing. We got a good pass through the Forestry Department display, and folks ooo-ed and aaah-ed at the wealth of information from jaguars to parrots to crocodiles and so many things in-between. It was well worth doing, but I forgot the golden rule: a bribe always clinches the deal. Next year I bring several large bags of lollipops and some free pencils.

Another bit of excitement: what we assume to be one of the 2008 barn owl releases is back and sitting on a clutch of eggs. Yes, Jerry is going to be a grandpa, how cute is that? Unfortunately there are also 2 chicken eggs under there. I am not going to be the one to fiddle about under an angry barn owl, so she will either have to hatch her happy meal, or hope the owl babies come first and shove the poor things out before they get chance to know what’s going on.

We hit huckleberry season last month too, that’s always popular. Not only do they taste good, but the parrots end up looking like extras in a zombie movie. It seems to amuse them – much head-tilting and chirping at each other. Unfortunately it gives me the unshakeable and totally awful earworm of 'Do The Hucklebuck' for several weeks thereafter. I’m most familiar with the Coast to Coast version, which is probably the worst of them all, and just talking about it now will have me wobbling like a duck for a good few days.

We had a couple of sick exotics pass through: a sun conure and an eclectus. Unfortunately the eclectus died soon after arrival, but the conure looks like it’s going to pull through. It brought to light once again the dangers of feeding peanuts to parrots, and parrot experts everywhere will be relieved to hear that I have served my birds their last peanuts. It’s left a small hole in their feed tray, which I am now filling with freshly-baked parrot bread. The lengths you have to go to.

And on a note that appears to amuse many, I managed to part company with the motorbike last week. A rookie mistake - braking too hard on dew-laden dry grass. In fairness, I was dodging 4 very naughty horse-chasing dogs at the time, so I should be forgiven. I now have a patch of missing skin that apparently resembles Queen Victoria and is about the size of the Isle of White; my days as a leg-model well and truly over.

Finally - if you want to pay up on Geoff's Quest, I promise not to use the money for reconstructive surgery.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Grey skies are going to clear up....

I have been told to write a happy post to cover up that last one.
Well, if I must.

Last week I collected a parakeet from a neighbour. She heard squawking and found the poor little chap rolling around in the dirt battling with a chicken. I know from experience that parakeets are ballsy, but that's ridiculous.
I gave it two days of r&r and copious quantities of food, after which time I realised it wasn't eating and was getting thinner and thinner. Plan B: the baby food worked beautifully. Okay, so it's a baby. One of the first of the year I should say. It has full plumage and flies pretty well now that it's nourished, so the parents must have nested around early February. He's just started eating papaya - stage 2 - so we should have a releasable bird within a week or two.

You know about our pigeon - Jerry's legacy to me before he left for foreign shores. If we were in the UK we would probably be pilloried for raising a sky-rat, but we're not, so we raised it, and now we don't dare release it as it will certainly end up as pie.

My possum trap has captured yet more rats and the same ferrel cat twice now (last chance buddy), but no possums. They are still around - there's chewing and spitting and smelly evidence everywhere, but I guess it can't be bothered to wait in the trap queue.

And you know about all the sex, right? No - well gather round... First at it were Bibi and Daphne. Unfortunately, they are a red lored and a white fronted. It's a bit like a staunch PUP shacking up with a UDP activist: it can be done, but it's not a pretty sight. Next were Chac and Chell, except Chac is cheating on Chell with Prico, even though Prico has her eyes closed most of the time and has no idea what is going on. Michael is loved up with Nigel, even though Nigel is only one year old and thinks Michale is just playing. (The less said about that relationship, the better.) Iran is naturally ticked off that his brother is getting some and he isn't, but I guess that's the same in a lot of families (BTW, Omer, if you're reading this, I have the names the wrong way around, but I'm too old to change now) And the two remaining white-fronted boys are so jealous of everyone, that the minute they hear any sex-noises, they bounce around them trying to ruin the moment. As you can imagine I spend an awful lot of time being a voyeur.

There's also a one-way valve in the aviary somewhere. It's about the size of a cat-bird, and it lets them in, but not out. I have one smart bird that knows the secret human-operated release door will be open for 10 minutes in the morning, and he hops straight out of it. The others leap about wondering how he got out, and I arrive back at the aviary next day to find him back in there again. I have my suspicions he is like the child-catcher: he lures the unsuspecting birds through the gap in the wire, closes it behind him trapping his prey, and then exits courtesy of the kind human to do it all over again tomorrow. I now have no less than 5 cat birds in there. Nothing else. Go figure.

I shall end my happy post with my familiar chorus: "Don't forget Geoff"!! He's traveled 116 miles so far, leaving 358 miles to go. His bum is sore and he's fitter than ever, and we're now only $8355 short of an aviary (is that like 2 sandwiches short of a picnic??). Geoff is my hero!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Eeyore meets Victor Meldrew

My friend really depressed me out today. She would be upset if she knew this, but she’s far to busy to read this missive, so she’ll never know.
And it’s not as if she told me something that deep-down I didn’t already know. But when someone actually puts it into words – well, it’s depressing.
She caught me on the way back from looking at a release site for our pigeon near Salvapan (an enclave of Belmopan, and the birds’ point of origin)
The pigeon and I had already decided that the site wasn’t suitable and more importantly, there were actually very few pigeons there. She was surprised I had even contemplated it. I cautiously asked her if they ate pigeons – she replied ‘yes, of course’ (as if I’m stupid) and then proceeded to tell me how her baby-sitter asked her if she would like any parrots: apparently the brother was going out this weekend to get lots. My friend declined – the girl persisted: “Are you sure?” she said “they taste lovely”.

So there you have it. It’s not enough that native Belizeans think it’s still okay to eat iguanas during nesting season, or make soup from the critically endangered Hicatee turtle, or take a parrot from the wild and put it in a cage. We now have a new generation of immigrants who think nothing of chowing down on roast parrot on a Sunday afternoon. They care to learn nothing from the fact that their mother country (El Salvador) has already managed to eradicate the white-fronted parrot, that it is illegal to touch them in Belize, that it is quite frankly, bloody rude to come into someone else’s country, as their guest, and systematically destroy their culture, history and wildlife, just as they have in their own country, without so much as a backward glance.

To teach a generation of children to respect and value wildlife rather than treat it with apathy and indifference is one challenge, but to convince an immigrant population of primarily Spanish-speakers that those free-flying creatures are not theirs for the taking – well, that’s darn near impossible. Couldn't this stuff be highlighted during the immigration process? Couldn't there be a form they sign to say they understand that wildlife is protected and they don't have a right to help themselves? Shouldn't awareness of the laws governing behaviour in your adopted country be as important as the National Anthem and the National Prayer?
Yes – I’m an immigrant too – so what’s your point?? (I told you I was depressed – I get cranky when I’m depressed)

I cautiously await the results of the 10-year population and housing census in late May. I suspect we are all in for a shock. The schools are overflowing and the current immigration and birth statistics are alarming. There’s only one way for this population to go, and that’s out into the forests with bulldozers and flame throwers.

Robin Brockett and I often talk around this subject. Most of those entering Belize now are catholic, which means future numbers cannot be controlled. The county can barely feed, clothe, house and educate the children it has now. Public sector employment is out of control and the majority of the poor immigrant field workers don’t earn enough to pay tax, and neither will their children, always assuming they can get a job.

How can we get ahead of these kids, convince them that wildlife is an essential part of the economy? How do you tell a family on the poverty line not to trap and kill peccary because it’s endangered, when their family is starving and this animal means nothing more to them than food on the table? What is the value in ‘rescuing’ 2 parrots, when just down the road a single family is trapping 10 for their lunch, or selling 20 as disposable pets, or shooting 50 because they might have eaten a bit of orange blossom.

If anyone has the answer, apart from sailing off into the sunset whilst trying to avoid the Pacific Garbage Gyre and the leaching tanker off the GBR in the process, I’d be very grateful.
Tomorrow I’m sure I will magically awaken as my old optimistic self. For today, I feel a beer coming on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Births, Deaths and Money (again)

Excitement abounds at Rock Farm.

As the Possum Wars continue, I had my first taste of murdering an almost innocent creature. Having never in my life killed anything larger than a very small and deserving bug, I came face-to-face with a nasty, snarling, spitting possum, cornered in a hole and threatening to rip the face of several of my dogs (who were of course too stupid to realise that this was a very real possibility) My only choice was to stab at the nasty, narrowly avoiding being sick as it took 6 or 7 goes to shut it up, at which point the dogs finished it off. I did not sleep well that night, I can tell you.
Okay, after getting mixed messages from those in the know: ‘they’re solitary” “there’ll be one more” “ there’ll be hundreds of the darn things” I commissioned a possum trap. The first night I caught a possum. A few nights later I caught another. Several nights after that I caught 3 rats – yes, in one trap. Either it’s an extremely good trap or we have far too many rats.
Anyhow, I shall continue to have things murdered until I am sure that my babies will be safe outside.

In keeping with the cycle of life, we had two recent births. Bonnie, the grey mare popped her foal at least 2 months before we thought she would, beating Pony the Whale to the delivery room.
Exactly a week later, and three months late by our reckoning, Pony had her little darling. Despite dropping 100lbs in one night Pony is still a whale: she may have to mail-order her jeans in future, unless of course there’s another one in there somewhere…

The aviary is alive with the sound of parrot sex. In case you haven’t heard it before, it’s the funniest thing ever – it sounds like two small children giggling and playing space-invaders. The wildlife laws say they’re not supposed to do it, but I don’t think they much care. I think I need more nest-boxes, or maybe I should just throw them out for lewd behaviour.

I still don’t have any yellow-heads, but that’s probably a good thing since I still don’t have my AVIARY (are you listening???) I need another $8500. Anyone??
Now is probably a good time to tell you about Marathon man Geoff, who is going to run, swim, cycle and row 475 miles in a virtual tour of Belize. You can get the full details here: He starts tomorrow (Monday) with his row around from Mexico (or around the shores of Bournemouth since that’s where he lives) and will hit the streets or the gym, depending on the depth of snow, until he’s covered the whole country and back. You can download a sponsor form at the same link and go and annoy your friends, colleagues, guests, etc. Yes you can. You know you want to.
Thank you, thank you, thank you

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Get away from her you B*TCH

There are few moments in a girl’s life when she can truly know her primitive self (other than via the toenail-dirt of course) but the other night I was blessed with a taste of what our ancestors experienced on a daily basis. What a rush.

Having been on high alert since the untimely death of poor Timba (I can now name him, as the relatives have been informed) I was just about to crawl into bed when I heard the now too familiar screaming from the direction of the aviary. Fetchingly clad in shorts & PJ top I grabbed the torch and a machete and set off to slay the beast.

It was hard to miss the parrot – on the roof of the aviary in the jaws of a possum, literally screaming for its life. I yelled, I threw stuff, I rattled the wire, but the possum was not at all bothered by the puny human on the ground. Without thinking it through (thank goodness) I climbed as high as the ladder would allow and then shoving fingertips and toes through the wires, scaled the side of the aviary, machete gripped to my palm with one thumb. Once on the top I crawled frantically toward the possum along the sloping side and managed at full stretch to put my machete across his back and press down hard so he couldn’t go any further. Eventually, one hand on the parrot, one on the machete, the possum lost the stand-off and let go of the bird. I was now holding a struggling, injured, petrified parrot and had my nemesis pinned beneath my machete. I couldn’t raise the knife to chop him as he would have escaped, so I did the only thing I could think of and sawed across his back, pressing as hard as my full reach would let me (gross). It was at this point I realised I’d picked up the only blunt machete in the garage and was doing little more than giving the creature a rather nasty Indian burn. The bird was screaming, I was sawing and the possum was just looking at me as if to say “is that the best you can do” With a mighty roar, I raised the machete high in the air to deal the death blow, and the possum scuttled off. Swear words don’t cover it. Okay – but I rescued the bird. Half a hurray for me.

So here I am on top of the aviary, half naked, holding a struggling, bleeding, biting bird and requiring all four limbs to get down. I sat for a while, enjoying the view and the remains of the adrenaline rush, mildly curious as to where my stupid dogs were and wondering where I could trade them in for proper ones, when the bird solved my dilemma as it got free and leaped off the side of the aviary. It wasn’t a pretty landing, but it enabled me to clamber down and scoop him off to safety.

I am pleased to say the bird is doing well and I’m sure he’ll now make a full recovery. My battle scarred knees are slowly healing, oh- and let me tell you, you would think your big toe could fit through a chicken-wire hole without slicing skin off, but you’d be wrong.

So, lesson learned, all of the releases are back behind bars while I try and catch the little monster and send him on the holiday of a lifetime. They are not happy about it, but at least now I’m managing to actually get some sleep, albeit a dreamy sleep with scenes from Alien and Jaws "you either gonna kill this animal or cut off his food supply", "13 parrots went into the trees, 7 parrots came out, possum took the rest..." that sort of thing. Yes, I know you all feel sorry for me.

I welcome all possum-catching tips, by the way. I've constructed a crude trap: a box propped up with a stick and a piece of baited string hung inside the roof and tied to the stick. It works in theory, but every night so far the trap has been triggered but the beastie’s not inside. Maybe the box needs more weight... I shall persevere, and when I succeed, you will hear my primeval roar of triumph from there.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Warning: censored material ahead.

I was terribly excited the other day to be told that my blog is banned in Myanmar. Slightly less excited by the fact that ALL blogs are banned in Myanmar, but nevertheless, I feel that I have achieved something. If I were a songwriter, I’d probably have an instant hit on my hands.

As Jerry has left the building for a while I have taken it upon myself to get rid of as many noisy, pooping domestic fowl as I can before his return. I am hoping that his memory will be impaired with time and he won’t notice their absence. I figure if I teach the last remaining chicken to walk in circles around the house all day, he’ll count that one 50 times and be happy. (the savvy ones amongst you may have guessed where he is and why I feel I can write such things with impunity)

I am also piling down That Rocky Road (fundraising) with my hobnail boots on. You may have seen my pleas for dosh on the website & Facebook– you may also have seen the fabulous total so far of $1,115US - already 10% of the cost of the new aviary. You guys are fantastic, gracias!! I have to put my money where my mouth is now as the birds should start arriving soon: there is no way I can have the rehab guys near that lot – they’ll be singing The Messiah before the week’s out. Yellow-heads really are barmy.

Talking of crazy things, Barton Creek Outpost have kindly donated a blue-head called Buzz. This guy is literally barking and will probably get on well swapping stories with the yellow-heads. He makes me realise that we are going to need two new aviaries, so that gentlemen like Buzz don’t end up teaching the babies rude words before I can knock the habit out of him. That rocky road suddenly just got a lot longer.

If you follow my “other blog” you’ll know that the recent releases are doing well - except for the other night when one became the victim of a possum attack. I hate those things, they are nasty critters. It’s not like we don’t have enough chickens for them to snack out on. I’ve got a sniff of a possum trap, so I’ll be dropping him off in your backyard as soon as I can catch the darn thing. It must be the ‘season’ as I had a friend bring her red lored in the last throes of life following an attack, and someone else brought in a wild pionus that will probably not make it either. All very sad. I guess every creature has a purpose and is precious bah blah, but I have a really hard time with possums. And slugs. And gophers. And fire ants. And those wasps that lay their eggs in live stuff. And very slightly with killer whales, although they are beautiful. Okay, I’ll stop now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dusting off the Soapbox

It's been one of those weeks - you can only rub a person up the wrong way so much before the spleen requires venting. Aren't you lucky to be in the firing line!

The Belmopan Humane Society are having a valentine fundraiser this coming weekend, so I've been spending far too much time brushing up my DTP skills (sorry - is that an outdated phrase these days? Talking to parrots all day doesn't exactly keep you at the cutting edge of modern lingo)

It's a sad fact that too many of these funds raised are spent in putting dogs and cats "out of their misery" and far too few on rescue and re-homing. By the time these animals become apparent to us, it's often too late. Belize undoubtedly suffers from the 'humans first, animals hardly ever' syndrome of a lot of countries with limited resources. Allowing a dog to die on it's chain in the back yard is not uncommon, and kicking an animal out on the streets when it's nearly dead is even less uncommon: saves the trouble of dealing with the corpse. Animals are cheap to obtain and cheap to run: one family wondered why their dog was nearly dead until our Chairman pointed out that raw vegetable waste really wasn't really enough to sustain a dog. Even then, I'm not sure they got the concept of spending money on food specifically for their walking burglar alarm.

Anyway, the reason why I work with the humane society is not that I am particularly active in the dog and cat department, but given this fuzzy line of pet/wild animal status that parrots tend to straddle I work toward the same goals as they do: appropriate and adequate care leads to a better quality of life, therefore extended lifespan, therefore reduced turnover of replacement animals. With a side helping of encouraging interaction with your pet: oh yes, dogs can be caged and ignored just as much as parrots. On top of all the problems Belizean dogs may encounter, some of our younger citizens, impressed by TV borne gang-bling and prison-pants have allowed the creeping cancer of dog fighting to enter their world, with all the guts and glory that go with it. That is a very tough nut to crack indeed and needs a far bigger hammer than we have at our disposal. (Did I use enough cliches there, do you think?)

The web counter tells me that very few Belizeans read this blog compared to US residents, and I don't blame them. I sound like I'm on their case the whole time - which I probably am. But if you look at British history, we were bear & badger baiting, and cock & dog fighting with the best of them, but we moved on. I'm sure the pit-bull and terrier breeders in Merrie Olde England were kicking and screaming as their livelihood went down the pan, but they undoubtedly found something else to do - like beating up on old ladies, probably.

In much the same way, Belize will eventually have to move on (I call it moving on, others may call it damnable interference and a loss of cultural identity). This is no longer a world of isolation and ignorance, and countries like Belize that rely on tourism to boost their economy cannot afford to ignore aforementioned damnable interference, particularly when it's directed at something as visible as the state of their domestic/captive animals. Tourists really don't care if they have to drive through potholes or pee in the bushes - they probably find it quite quaint for a week or two. But show them a starving dog chained up in a yard, or a baby monkey who's mother was shot so her offspring could spend its life on a chain, or a croc dragged off and killed because the locals would not stop feeding it to raise a dollar, then they really take offense - and they vote with their feet.

On the bright side of humane education, and largely thanks to the tireless efforts of long-standing Humane Society members throughout the country, we are starting to see kids take to the concept of 'walking your dog' and 'training your dog'. We are seeing an increase in the purchase of good quality dog chow and of visits to the vet for shots. We get positive feedback from TV interviews with board members and we rejoice when movies like Marley & Me become blockbusters: it's what's missing for Belizean children. I don't care if putting human emotions into an animal is not the 'right thing to do', where children are concerned - it works. My friend has an excellent programme and is desperate for educators to champion her cause throughout Belize. Check out her page and give it a go!

Cultivating an attitude of active compassion amongst the vast majority of the population starts with domestic animals, and hopefully leads to respect for all living creatures, wild or domestic and once you have such a majority attitude, those that abuse or neglect will be shamed and bullied into changing their ways. Until then, it's like that 70's slogan: "Apathy Rules - and I don't give a sh*t.

PS I have to apologise for my sweeping generalisations. I've always done it. I can't help it - it's a compulsion. I don't really mean 'most' or 'all' but... well, more like: "quite a lot". Generally speaking, that is.

Monday, January 25, 2010


There’s nothing like a wake-up call to motivate. And did we ever have a wake-up call. This is tough to admit, but I swore I would keep this blog as honest as possible so here goes: Chili got stolen again. Yes I know, I don’t believe it either. Yes, I know, I am crap - but really, what is up with that bird???

Anyhow, the story goes: on Monday morning she flew to the house while I was feeding the rehab birds, ranted and raved as she always does, and then silence. By the time I got back to the house, she was gone. Of course we feared the worst: hawk, iguana, boa… I told the neighbours, just in case by some miracle Chili had forgotten she was not allowed to leave the premises by herself, but there was no sight or sound of her (and believe me, that is one noisy bird!)

On Wednesday evening, day three of mourning, our trusty neighbour and Chief Grapevine Listener reported that a bird fitting Chili’s description – right down to the ring on her leg – was being offered for sale up and down our road by one of the more colourful local characters. Apparently, even comments like “isn’t that Miss Nikki’s bird?” did not deter our super-intelligent thief from his task. Heaven only knows how he got her; I can only imagine that something spooked her and she flew too near the road just as he was passing. Talk about rotten luck.

So, while I printed up posters and spread them all over the area, Jerry met up with our parrot-stealer. He denied all knowledge of any parrot, despite being told that one of the people offered the bird was at this very moment relaying the name, age and shoe-size of the perpetrator to the police.
Half an hour later and he tracked me down and admitted he had picked up the bird, but she bit him and flew away. (aaaarp, strike two).

Then just to demonstrate what a teeny, tiny place Belize really is, Cydie, one of our young volunteers doing a days’ work experience with a vet was taken out on a house call, and spotted none other than Chili the Wanderer perched on a roofing beam. Tan-ta-la-taaaar. Belize Bird Rescue to the Rescue. Enter Jerry The Very Scary and Chili is once again back home, minus the few feathers she had managed to grow since the last time she was rescued. The family that had her say they paid $50 for her. I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of our thief when they finally catch up with him, but I’d certainly pay $50 to watch.

Okay, so motivated, we managed to get bands on 16 more of our little darlings. We have given up on the rest for a day or two. Word got around that we were creatures to avoid since every bird we touched screamed bloody murder and barely escaped with their lives. Man, we’re nasty. Spike was just about the last straw for me – as he latched onto my face with his claw poised neatly around my eyeball, I figured it was probably time for a rest. I love that bird.

So what other excitements has this year brought us?
Alexandra the termite muncher is still with us. So far the house has not fallen down, but I guess that will take a year or two. Like our house, her fate is still uncertain, poor girl, so she continues to dwell in bathroom-land.

The dogs had one of their regular arguments with a coatimundi this weekend: that was a happy 2 hours at the vet – he had us all in stitches. Hardyhar.

We also managed to get shot of the tinamou: it was a most unspectacular release. It didn’t wave, say thanks or anything. Another ungrateful creature on its merry way.

Oh – and excitement abounds, we had a visit from a wood-stork. I guess news of our little duck pond is spreading, much to the duck’s annoyance. If he’d come for a quiet stroll through the bulrushes, he’d come to the wrong pond. 60 angry muscovies telling “old long-legs” to “get lost” can be a little off-putting, so off he put.

And as you can see, my New Year resolution to blog more often lasted about as long as my ride on the January Wagon.
Resolution number 3 – must try harder.