A Howling

4 weeks ago Terri Fleming Comments Off on A Howling

Growing up and having a lifelong love of animals, I wanted nothing else than to be like my idol Steve Irwin. When I turned 20, I decided to make that dream a reality by volunteering in the amazon rainforest for animal conservation. The group I volunteered with was named Para La Fauna, and they were situated in the Peruvian amazon. I soon found out some people aren’t in conservation for the animals wellbeing.

When I first arrived in Peru, I met many enthusiastic volunteers/scientists who all claimed to have a love for animals. One of them was a local Peruvian scientist named Javier (my boss) who is the project manager of Para La Fauna. Monkeys being my favorite, I was given the title of Mammal Coordinator. Mammal Coordinators job was to research, track and study primate populations in the jungle. Fast forward two months, I was deep in the rainforest, tracking a troop of red howler monkeys led by a large 16 year old alpha male named Theo. Watching him jump through the trees like an acrobat made every day unforgettable and his howl every morning and night (even if it bothered the others) became a lullaby/alarm for me. I was studying Theo for five weeks before he trusted me enough to come down near me. I stood beneath him every day with food in my hand while taking notes on his behavior. When I left, I’d put it down and Theo would come down and eat. Eventually he started coming down and eating out of my hand tentatively. This daily contact made a bond of trust begin to develop. It felt like I was living in a fantasy but it only took one day for all of this to come crashing down. Two months into my job there was massive flooding which caused our supply trucks to be delayed. The rainy season started and camp flooded. The rain was relentless. For a week straight we were knee deep in water. There were ten of us in camp, me, Javier and a handful of scientists/volunteers who assist in the research. The supply trucks were two days behind schedule when the camp ran out of meat and we only had noodles and vegetables. Javier decided to take matters into his own hands. Grabbing a rifle and throwing it over his shoulder, I watched Javier walk into the jungle. Thirty minutes later, we heard gun shots and a loud howl of pain filled the air. Javier walked back into camp with Theo thrown over his shoulder. He slammed the still warm body on the kitchen table like a slab of meat. I stared in shock at the animal I had grown so fond of. Flies swarmed the bullet holes in Theo’s chest.

Shouting, I asked Javier how he can call himself a scientist and kill an animal we studied for food. Javier walked away without a word. Our sole job was to study and find more info about the red howler population and he had killed the breeding male. A few volunteers brought out rum and wanted to make a party to match the feast they were about to have. I sat back in awe wondering how people who dedicate their lives to a cause, can turn their back on it the second there isn’t meat. I asked Javier why we couldn’t simply go to a nearby farm and by some chickens, and his reply was that the money would have come out of his pocket. Shrugging, he then told me to not make a big deal about it. I couldn’t believe this. I travelled around the world to protect these animals and the people who were supposed to help me were a part of the problem. I resigned myself to keeping a code of silence about this until I could go to town and talk to the company president. I returned to my tent to sleep, the scent of roasting meat turned my stomach.

I contacted the owner of the company, Dr. Sam Herby the night of my return. We had a meeting in a café the next day to discuss what happened in the forest. I hoped he would be as outraged as I was, surely if anyone could condemn the acts of the volunteers it would be him. After telling him what happened I was sure some action would be done, but he just looked at me gravely and said
“ That’s what happens”

Two day later, I quit the company and bought a flight back to NYC. Sitting in the airport awaiting my flight, I thought about the type of people who called themselves conservationists, but didn’t give a damn about the animals they’re hired to protect. Unsure of what my future foretold, I knew that aspect of conservation wasn’t for me. I felt betrayed for myself and for Theo. I lived the dream for 2 months and had it all destroyed by the people who betrayed the animals they were paid to protect.