Sunday, March 19, 2017

Monkeys, Sloths, and Iguana, Oh My!

At the airport, through security, fingerprints taken... again. The boarding passes taunted us with TSA-Pre-Check at the top, but of course there is no TSA here in Honduras. There is a DSA, and they laugh at our Pre-Check. Tonight we get home just in time to sleep in our own beds. I had a wonderful, relaxing time here, but I'm glad to go home. It used to be that I'd do anything to be on vacation longer, but these days I find I like my life so much that it's hard to leave. Even with all the chaos there during remodeling and renovation, it's also hard to leave Stone's Throw.

But this post is about Roatán from the perspective of a more experienced eco traveler. The owners of the condo where we stayed left an informational packet for visitors and took great pains to educate us on the biggest problems for the ecology of the island and the little things we could do to make the situation better. First off, it's an island. The trash stays on the island. It's an island. It's not that big and all the plastic bags, styrofoam takeout containers, drinking straws, and water bottles (though the last are recyclable) end up best case in an ever-growing landfill in a limited space, or worst case in the ocean and then in a sea turtle's nose or stomach. It's an island.

Then there's the problem of locals (or people come from the mainland to make a better living from the tourism on the island) depleting the native game (or fish) populations to supply the restaurants to please the palates of the visiting tourists. The tourists don't know that lobster season ends on March 1 and doesn't resume again until July 1 so any fresh lobster they eat during that time period has been poached. They don't know that conch is endangered and the only legal source is the research entities who couldn't nearly supply enough for all the soups and fritters on the local menus. The locals are so eager to please the tourists and gain revenue from them that they don't think ahead to what happens when the attraction that draws the tourists is gone. Yes, tourists like to eat fresh lobster, conch, grouper and other marine life. However, if those species are overfished or over-harvested then the reef dies. The reef dies and the divers and snorkelers don't come. It's bad for business all around to kill off your attractions.

In the midst of being inundated with plastic at restaurants and stores, it was wonderful to visit three different places on the island that are owned and run by locals, and whose mission is to protect, educate and conserve. These three places alone make Roatán a great place to visit. Add them to the diving and the friendliness of the locals and you have an incredible vacation destination.

For the past two days I have posted many pictures of us with sloths, monkeys, iguana and various other wildlife. While it was cool to be able to interact with the animals, the most important part of our visits to the various sanctuaries was seeing the genuine care the staff took of the animals and hearing about the educational and rescue missions on their behalf.

Our first stop was at Daniel Johnson's Monkey and Sloth Hangout. The sloths there are not caged, and you can only hold one if they haven't already been held too much that day. There are seven sloths and they get to be held for a few minutes 15 times per day. The rest of the time, they hang out in the mangroves on the property. The sloths serve to educate both the natives and tourists on the importance of the mainland forests (their natural habitat) and their peaceable nature. The monkeys are all rescued pets as is the raccoon, the macaws and parrots. You are allowed to go in the enclosure with the young capuchin monkeys, and if they want to come hang out on you they can. They're not forced--they're not even forced to be in the same enclosure--there is a tube high up that connects it to another enclosure. In the afternoon after all the tourists are gone, the monkeys are all let out to play in the trees and roam the property for a few hours. The enclosures were large, clean, and had trees growing in them for the animals to climb or other interactive structures. I was really, really impressed with this place and the obvious care they take of their charges.

Next we went to Arch's Iguana and Marine Sanctuary. Iguana are one of the native island species, and they are relentlessly hunted as food. We actually saw three iguana hunters today on the way to the airport (they were pointed out by our driver as they scanned the trees in search of their prey). I have nothing against hunting for food, but the iguana population on the island has been so depleted that it's rare to see one anymore. We did not take the snorkel tour at the Marine Park, but after seeing the video at the bottom of this post I wish we had.

This is an incredible success story of locals seeing the value in preserving marine life and other animals and stepping up to make a difference. They not only actively patrol to stop poaching, but they have gotten their neighbors to see the value and join in their conservation efforts. I have seen criticism online about the horrible conditions of animals in small cages, and all I can say is on our visit I saw only two monkeys in cages--no other animals. They weren't as large or as nice as the enclosures at Daniel Johnson's, but when I asked about them--and about why the monkeys (two different species) were both solitary, I was told that the spider monkey is a rescued pet and she prefers living alone (there's actually an iguana in with her), and the capuchin had a companion but they were having to work through permitting issues in order to house her. However the monkeys are also allowed out after the tourists leave at 3:00 so they can roam the grounds and play too.

Finally we ended up at Mayan Eden Eco Park. There the birds and the monkeys roam freely--though there are some rescued animals in enclosures including white-tailed deer. The big draw for me there though was the butterfly house. They propagate and raise larval plants for the butterflies, and tin their butterfly house they have living examples of the different stages of each type of butterfly. The tour guides are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and it's clear the mission there is also education and conservation of the butterflies and the animals that now make their home there. There is also a zipline through the jungle canopy in the park, but we never even saw the area for that. As with the other two places, the interactions with the animals were carefully controlled for the animals benefit. The monkeys were coaxed over with food--they weren't coerced to interact with the tourists--and they scampered off when they wanted.

I end the post with a video interview of members of the Arch family talking about the reasons behind their Sanctuary and what they do daily to keep it alive.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Well-explained, madame!