Volunteering at Yana Cocha in Ecuador
For two weeks I was recently based on the edge of the Amazon jungle in Puyo, Ecuador, volunteering at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre called Yana Cocha. The centre is home to a variety of wildlife, from monkeys to a capybara, parrots and macaws and more. These are animals that can’t be released due to being too used to people, injuries or mental instability.
The centre also often has animals come into its care that can be released. They go into quarantine and get whatever help they need and are then released into the wild. These are not usually seen by the volunteers to avoid them getting too used to humans. The centre doesn’t encourage human contact with any of the animals, not just because they can be very dangerous, but also to give them a life similar to the wild. It’s these aspects that made me feel happy to be involved in the work they do. Sometimes the animals jump on you, but we didn’t actively touch them ourselves.
When the centre has a full load of volunteers (15), every second day or so, you do ‘rounds’ where you prepare the food for the animals and then go around giving the animals their food (usually fruit and vegetables) and clean their enclosures.
Rounds is the fun stuff and the cleaning isn’t that bad because most of the animals are vegetarians and the enclosures mostly just have 2-4 animals in them, besides the parrots that is.
Every other day (or so) you do ‘extra work’ which is generally helping build or prepare enclosures. This can be carrying rocks, sand, wood etc. around the centre, so it’s mostly physical work.
The volunteer coordinators and vets are lovely people and very helpful. They work very hard and are involved in everything the volunteers do, rather than just dictating work.
The volunteers on the other hand are usually 18-20 year olds that have just finished school and about to start University. Given their ages, I often wondered how they can afford to travel (often on mummy and daddy’s money).
Many of them acted like they were more like 15-16 years old. I really struggled to relate and have conversations with them. One of the vets was closer to my age, as were the coordinators so I wasn’t totally alone at least.
The volunteers stay in shared ‘cabinas’. My roommate decided to move after the first week for various crappy reasons. I was horribly sick so at 10-11pm at night I didn’t care that she moved. At least that meant I had the room to myself while I wasn’t feeling well.
The downside was the room was damp, filled with hundreds of cobwebs and a few spider nets (not sure what the others were like). I managed to avoid rats which was great. The room was caked with dust and the mattress and pillow weren’t great. But, it was a place to sleep and had a mosquito net (I hardly got bitten at all). The rain often woke me up at night on the tin roof, but no insects made themselves known to me, so I was happy about that.
The first week we had no hot water and despite being near the Amazon, it was actually a bit cold because it rained almost all the time. The weather was unusual even though it was the rainy season. They usually only get a few hours of rain each day and night, but during my time there it rained most days nearly all day and every night. With this and the humidity, no washing ever properly dried, it just turned damp and smelly.
Each day the owners would provide lunch of rice and something else. In the evenings each of the coordinators and one of the vets took turns in cooking with a few volunteers for help. One night a week it would solely be up to the volunteers, which was just chaos and then one night we’d go into Puyo to buy our own dinner. Weekends were up to each person.
The first week started off well, with being showed and told all about the centre, doing a mix of animal and extra work and other jobs of cleaning. I felt a bit stink being so much older than everyone else, but it was good to be based somewhere for a few weeks and be able to watch the animals often. The monkeys and parrots were very entertaining.
The sad part was after a very fried dinner on the first Friday night out in Puyo, I got incredibly sick. After a few days I thought I was getting better and got back into volunteering, but within another day or so, I was sick again. One of the coordinators took me to the local military hospital and translated everything for me. After just getting over being sick a week before with parasites in my intestines, I once again was riddled with more (sounds gross but you can’t really see them).
So, then came the strict bottled water, no cheese, milk, fatty foods and lots of medication. I continued to do volunteering and worked in quarantine for a morning helping the vets prepare enclosures for a bunch of new animals which was cool.
Like most volunteering, this experience did cost a bit. However, it was a fraction of what I spent volunteering in Namibia, so the lack of decent accommodation, food etc. can be understood.
I would hope that they could get volunteers that are a bit older and respect the centre’s work a bit more in the future. For the time being I think they are doing great work with the animals being first priority. As I was leaving they were about to get sloths, a porcupine and more monkeys/birds so I think in the coming months the variety of animals will be increasing for a really interesting centre for both visitors and volunteers.