Saturday, May 16, 2009

when our best is not good enough

In the three weeks spent at the Copa Aviary, there was never more than a two day stretch when someone didn't escape or die. Perhaps it was bad luck. perhaps it was arriving after a number of waves of volunteers who didn't even stay their promised two weeks and did the bare minimum of work. perhaps this is just life in Bolivia.

It's a hard lesson to learn, I find, that my best isn't always good enough... but it's the best I can give so somehow it has to be ok.

Many of the birds who escaped, like Sunshine, returned after a day or two, looking for food and their regular bird social contacts. All the birds who escaped, save Woody Allen-- a huge Red Macaw, we were able to catch and return to their cages/rehabilitation schemes.
(Sunshine, a Yellow Collared Macaw with beady red eyes, will hopefully be released when the park has found a good place and gets permission from the government. He was gone for a full 24 hours before getting hungry and returning to his cage.)

Woody Allen, a huge red Macaw, escaped because of a faulty door. The elastic cord broke, I fixed it so it was tighter than before, a different volunteer put it on backwards making it a little looser than before and Woody Allen escaped. We arrived in the morning, and I started uncovering cages, Loopy on my arm as usual. I could hear Woody Allen's very loud voice, but he wasn't in his cage, the door still fastened. There he was, at the top of the tree, RRRAAAWWWW, I'm king of the WORLD!!!! I put Loopy in the kitchen and ran to fetch a vet, who suggested putting a banana on a stick and trying to lure him down. RRRAAAWWWW HA HA HA, I'M KING OF THE WORLD, Woody Allen replied from 30 feet up. I followed him for a day, as he moved to taller and taller trees, voice like a fog horn, only to loose him near the end of the day. A huge red parrot is surprisingly easy to loose...

Last seen near the river, not native to central Bolivia, never to find a partner, I hope you do OK Woody. I hope you make it. You're always welcome to come back, we have some bananas and mandrines waiting for you.

And here we were, trying our best, and one of the very important birds for the park escaped. The vets and volunteers all knew that his cage was too small and that his was bored. We knew he had escaped before and might again if things stayed the way they were. But there was nowhere bigger to move him, it's was the best we could do. It wasn't good enough and he escaped.
This flock of 3 dozen Blue Crowned Conures had four casualties while I was there. A disease swept through the flock, killing the weakest and necessitating antibiotics in the water, the whole cage scrubbed with bleach, and then, when things didn't get better, the vets came and gave every bird in the flock injections of antibiotics and vitamins. After the vets came to give the first round of antibiotic shots, they isolated four very thin birds for special attention. Had we, the volunteers, been feeding the flock enough? We were doing what the volunteers before had done, though sometimes the flock ate every tiny bit of papaya or corn especially for their dinner meal... Could the epidemic have been prevented?

When carrying the sick conures and injured parakeets (attacked by their own vicious flock) back and forth to the clinic, I noticed a tiny baby parrot. Tiny and slowly being nursed back to health was this tiny little guy
Only 5 months old, very shy, wings clipped, so weak she'd walk right off the kitchen counter and fall horribly to the ground. Unable to hold on to your arm or eat hard foods, she eventually transfered from the clinic to the aviary. The volunteers all instantly became like excited little girls, aaawwww a baby parrot.

We'd carry her around and she started to get accustomed to us. One day, instead of being scared, she took a few steps toward me and tried to climb onto my arm. I swooned. We gave her as much care and attention and love as we could. The vets gave me all the instructions in her care in Spanish, the gist of which was, treat her just like Loopy. She can eat whatever she wants, carry her around, etc. We tried to help them make friends and tied her cage next to his, though they were both only in their cages at night.

She survived about 4 days with us.

One night a storm blew in and her cage was not as sheltered as we thought. The volunteers found her in the morning soaking wet and ran her to the clinic. She'd died in the middle of the night of exposure, a good four hours ago. The vets said it was a bad place for her cage...

Had I misunderstood the instructions? Had the vet said that before and I'd missed it? My Spanish is still very bad but the best of all the volunteers at the aviary. Should I have asked someone to translate? Should we have know it wasn't a good place to tie her cage? It seemed protected under the rafters... Our best wasn't good enough and she died.

Rest in peace, little one. I'm sorry we couldn't take care of you better.
And such is life, day after day in the park. What do you do? Giving up and walking away solves nothing. The day after Woody Allen escaped, we improved all the debilitated latches. The day after Baby died, we made sure the birds in small cages were better protected at night. When the Conure epidemic started, we worked harder to clean the shelves and tables where we put the food for the birds.

To paraphrase one of the original 6 couchsurfers, "I do the best I know. When I know better, I do better."

And so the aviary goes on, another string of two week volunteers take over, as many lessons as possible are passed down. Be careful of the cage doors of the Macaws, they can be escape artists. Take extra care when storm clouds are brewing...

I've been working on a proper file for the birds so more of these lessons can be passed down, I was in the clinic trying to print some pictures and talking to one of the long term vets. And how are the two new volunteers, she asks me. I don't know, I say, shaking my head. They like birds but...I'm a little worried. She shrugs her shoulders, they are better than no body she says.

We do the best we can, with whatever we have, when we know better we do better. The vets never got mad at us or tried to make us feel guilty for the escapes and deaths. Life goes on. We are doing the best we can with what we've got. There is no time for whining and complaining and talking about "what ifs." This is life and there is still a hell of a lot of work to do.

This is a damn fine lesson to learn. And so I'm going to go back, after meeting my darling Em in Rio. I'm changing my plane ticket, delaying my return, and promising more time to this park and these people who are as tough as nails doing their best for these animals who have no better option. This is good work to do. These are good lessons to learn.

Heat rash, bug bites, puncture wounds and blisters be damned.
the adventures continue...


Em said...

xxx less than 1 week!

Debra said...

I think you're an awesome person who really cares. Sorry about all those bites, that would drive me crazy.

Murray said...

I can't imagine how hard it is to work someplace with no continuity like that. But it's good people do volunteer and work so hard, even if it isn't quite enough sometimes.

And eek! Sorry about your legs!

michaelpanda said...

awww... i wanna birdie now!

but it would probably die in my frozen, uninsulated apartment come winter.

those bites on your legs look incredibly painful lol!

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