Field Reports Field report Kim – Florida Wildlife

Scholarship 2018: Kim's experience as a volunteer

Wildlife project in Florida – Scholarship 2018

During the project: Week 3 + 4

Kim, who received a scholarship for our wildlife project in Florida, has already sent us the first part of her travel journal in which she reveals details about the preparation for her volunteer adventure as well as the first two weeks in the project. She has now sent us another report with information about her volunteer experience during week 3 and 4 in our US project.

It is very hot outside and quite dry, which is unusual for Florida. I look outside my window and see the dense vegetation right in front of my room. The third week is already over! Time flies and I am sad, that I cannot stay longer. During the last few weeks it started to feel like home for me and I got used to my daily tasks. I still learn something new every day and was able to collect a lot of information about the animals and the project.

 

For example: in the wild, tigers live only up to 10 years and when in care of humans they can live up to 20 or even up to 25 years. It is surprising, that it is double the amount of their usual lifespan. The two tigers Roey and Zoey for example are around 17 years old and still appear young and active. They may need a bit more time in chewing their meat, but otherwise they are super fit! Miranda also told me that turtles develop deformations in their shell when they are not kept species-appropriate. This is what happened to a female turtle which has now found a forever home on the safe grounds of the project. Instead of a smooth shell she has several pyramid-shaped bumps on her shell. There is not much one can do about the deformation when it is already there.

 

Feeding of the Predators

At the end of my third week I got the chance to watch how Miranda was feeding the carnivores. I was able to observe which safety rules she applies, so that I could feed the animals on my own in the following week. Witnessing how the massive tigers and bears act towards humans when they know it is feeding time is fascinating. In general, it is very special to watch these impressive mammals! I wish their population in the wild would increase instead of decrease….

Miranda has been working for a long time with the animals. She explained all the rules to me which I needed to know by heart to be allowed to feed the carnivores. It is important that humans as well as animals are safe. The rules are:

  • Always keep a distance of an arm-length to the cages
  • No hectic movements, they could confuse the animals or send wrong signals
  • The grippers, which are used to put the meat into the cage, need to be hold on the end, to make sure the hand is as far away from the grid as possible
  • No sudden movements after the feeding and before turning the back towards the animals take 2-3 steps away from the cage

The predators have a separate cage for feeding. When the animals are in their feeding areas they are cut off from the rest of their compound, which allowed us to clean the rest and take away old food wastes.

I am very much looking forward to next week, when I can feed the predators myself. Even though I really enjoy working with all animals, especially the monkeys and bats, it is a special experience for me to feed the tigers and bears. I hope the weather will cool down a bit until then. It has not rained in two days now, which is not the norm in Florida.

 

Free time activities

Before the beginning of my last week I met Esther and Shannon. Shannon only volunteers every two to three weeks at the project. Even though we only met for a short period of time I got to know her well. It was very clear that animals have a special place in her heart. Esther travels to Florida every six months. She spends five weeks in Florida because she really likes the members of the project and the work, which is why she volunteers for 3-4 days during the week in the project during her holiday. Her English is very good which is why I assumed she was originally from the US, but it turned out that she was Dutch. Now I have someone to talk with about the current climate situation and heat wave in Europe.

On Wednesday night Sean and I were invited for dinner as a farewell gift. We could choose the location and luckily both agreed on a sushi restaurant. We took the car for a 30 min drive to town, which led us through the forest for about 25 min. Kurt told me in the beginning of the project that Silver Springs is located next to three national parks. It is lovely to be surrounded by nature and to leave the city behind.

Just before we arrived at the restaurant a couple of buildings and people appeared. The first glimpse of a city I had since a couple of weeks! It felt a bit strange to be back in a city.

Esther, Miranda and her friend Corey, Kurt and Lisa joined us for dinner. We ate, laughed and enjoyed the evening together.

I am really excited about my fourth week of volunteering, but do not want to think about that it is also my last week.

 

My fourth and last week

The last week of my stay at the project starts as hot as the week before ended. It is a bit too much for the animals, which I experienced on Monday when I was allowed to feed the tigers by myself for the first time.

I was feeding Juenita, a female tiger, but I noticed that Natasha did not eat all her food on the day. The tiger lady was suffering from the heat and she barely ate that day.

Before I was allowed to feed Juenita, Miranda asked me if I was able to name all the rules. I was. It was not difficult for me to remember them, so I listed each one of them and in the end I was allowed to feed Juenita.

It is very amusing to see how the tigers jump from one corner to the other because they are so much looking forward to receiving their food. They also make funny noises like an excited whimper – kind of cute actually!

After giving each tiger their portion of food, we slowly stood up and visually checked their bodies. Every part of the tigers’ bodies is regularly observed to check if there are injuries. When the tigers have finished eating we cleaned the stone plates the meat was lying on and removed leftover food wastes, for example bones.

Afterwards we released the tigers back to their compound in a special order. For example, Natasha and Juenita get along well with each other they do not really like Eva and Roy.

 

In case one of the tigers needs a bit longer for his meal the team starts with the bears and gets back to the tigers a bit later.

Five bears live on the project site and most of the times they already wait in the right area where we can feed them. Maybe they are a bit smarter than the tigers.

I was allowed to take care of Lizzy, Dolly and B-Bear and feed them. First, they always get a piece of chicken and after finishing of their starter, a whole salad and corn on the cob. Afterwards they are served vegetables and fruit. A big spoon is used to measure the right amount for each bear. B-Bear and Cody are the largest bears and they both get 3,5 spoons. Dolly receives one and Lizzy only half a spoon. As soon as B-Bear finishes of his share of veggies and fruit he gets another three spoons of dog food for dessert.

While I am feeding the bears, the others can take care of the cougars, servals, Zoey and Roy (the tigers), Cody, Oatmeal and Timber (the only wolf).

Irma is one of the cougars and ate only one piece of the meat we gave to her that day. We will check on her more often during the next days. But the temperatures stayed high and Irma kept eating only one piece of meat. It started raining again on Friday and we were all relieved when Irma started eating properly again.

After feeding all the animals we cleaned their feeding areas and took away the leftovers. Then we drove around the bear compound and left dog food on the ground so that the bears have something to search for. The bears all get along well with each other which is why they can share one area as a playground. The center would like the tigers to share one playground as well, but so far, the tigers do not get along well with each other.

At the end of our working day we always need to clean all the buckets and bowls which takes some time, but we still have time afterwards to work on other small projects like planting or removing weeds.

 

On my next day I had to clean the compounds and pools of the tigers and bears. It is actually not that different from cleaning the compounds of the monkeys. It just is more exhausting as it takes more time and we do need to do a lot of scrubbing. It is very tiring, but a very rewarding work as well. I watched the animals for a while and it is nice to see them and how different they behave compared to when they are fed. They play, run, swim in the pool, observe and scratch themselves on trees. While I was watching the tigers in their daily life it felt incredible. To see how a tiger can move as agile and elegant, fast and quite as a cat despite his weight and size is fascinating.

We all know that tigers are part of the cat family and their way of moving makes this very clear. It is beautiful to watch them.

Everyday I was allowed to choose which tiger and which bear I would like to feed. This is a good chance to see the different methods the animals use for eating their meat or vegetables. Natasha is my favourite one. She has a lot of power and is very wild, but as an observer super calm.

By the way: Eva and Roy are lovers. To watch the two together was wonderful. I was lucky and saw them cuddling the pool. Very romantic!

Miranda told me that Roy and Tony, before the center became their home in 2009, were owned by a drug lord in Texas. The dealer died of an overdose. It was estimated that both tigers were without food for nine days in a small cage which were not cleaned. It is unbelievable to hear that they were kept as pets in such a small space. Tony is very skeptical towards humans and aggressive. Luckily, they found a wonderful home at the center where they now have been living for 10 years.

 

On Friday I could choose the tasks I wanted to do on the weekend, because it would my last days. I decided to take care of Chief (the horse), feed the monkeys and the bats. On Saturday I also took part in cleaning the compounds and enjoyed watching the tigers one last time. In the evening I fed the bats. I really got attached to these small animals over the weeks.

Even though work was exhausting, and I sometimes wished I could spend more time relaxing in the sun I was always happy at the end of the day! During my last week I also was a bit sad because I knew I was leaving soon, but that made me enjoy my time even more!

Today I fed the tigers and monkeys one last time. After they had finished their meal I stayed a bit longer to say goodbye. Miranda, Annie and I went back to the cars and I had to say goodbye to Miranda. I was very grateful for her support and to meet her.

Tomorrow morning I will say goodbye to my flat mate Annie, and Lisa will pick me up to take me to Orlando. At least I will have another 1,5 hours with Lisa in the car before I need to say goodbye to her as well.

I am sure I will miss this place, the work, the nature, the animals, the people and the knowledge to work for a good cause. I can imagine to be part of a similar project in the future.

I cannot thank NATUCATE and Wolfgang Bösche enough to make this experience possible for me. Thank you so much!

See you next time!

Kim

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