Travelblog LA#3: Returning to Merazonia – Ecuador

24th March – 20th April, 2023


I previously volunteered at Merazonia four years ago, so I would advise those reading this to catch up with my previous blog (click here), as it will be a more thorough account of this organisation and what it is about. This will be an account of my new experiences and I will try not to repeat myself too much.

Returning to Merazonia a second time felt like coming back to my home away from home. In my absence some of the old animals have left – either because they were successfully released back into the wild or have sadly passed – but Merazonia always has a trickle of new creatures in need of care, many confiscated from the illegal pet trade.

I was delighted to discover that Whistler – Merazonia’s eccentric kinkajou – was still alive. The last time he had often been described as an ‘old man’, and one of the several reasons why he can never be released – and thus is one of the few exceptions to Merazonia’s strict ‘hands off’ policy – is that he has a heart condition, so my first night I volunteered for one of my old favourite chores; giving him his medicine (fed to him with some jam from a spoon).

Most of the work at Merazonia was still the usual; feeding animals, cleaning cages, and foraging for leaves. All whilst avoiding eye contact and other forms of interaction with the animals (unless they are one of the other exceptions besides Whistler, such as a few flightless birds who can never be released and lack stimulation so interaction is a form of enrichment). Merazonia is primarily a rehabilitation centre so the animals need to be kept as non-human-orientated as possible to ensure successful releases.

One of the most rewarding things that happened to me this time I volunteered at Merazonia is that they gave me the privilege of working with the group of young woolly monkeys they were preparing for release. It was harder work than most of the other rounds, as woolly monkeys are notoriously messy, and there is a lot of emphasis on ensuring you find a good variety of leaves for them from the jungle, but it was very rewarding. Particularly for me as I found myself reunited with someone that some of you might remember.

Fonzi, one of the two woolly monkeys that I gave post-natal care four years ago. He is all grown up now!

He didn’t appear to remember me, and a small part of me was a little sad about that, but a much bigger part felt much relieved. I had already decided – when I found out that I would be working with him – that if he tried to interact with me I would report it to the coordinator (which would have likely resulted in me not working with him again). He is due for release soon and the chances of him being rewilded seem good as – despite how clingy he was with me and his other ‘Dads’ and ‘Mums’ when he was a baby – he shows very little interest in humans now. He is even starting to turn into the alpha of his group – a change that is both physical and behavioural – and making aggressive displays. Unfortunately, I won’t be there for his release but the idea that he could soon be living in the wild – and that I played a small part in making that happen – makes me very happy.

Living in the jungle is an amazing experience but it does come with challenges. The unpredictable and often turbulent weather can be destructive and during my four-year absence a tree fell on one of Merazonia’s largest enclosures during a storm, rendering half of it unusable. I witnessed another such event first-hand when we suffered a freak storm that changed the direction of the river and flooded the home of Mo, Merazonia’s resident coati. Luckily, they managed to rehome him before he drowned, but keeping up with all the maintenance involved in running a centre is a constant battle. Merazonia is run entirely on donations and does not accept visitors – as doing so would mean that many of the animals would get too much human contact – so I would urge those who can afford it to consider donating.

Other than the experiences mentioned above, my five-week return was once again memorable for the people there. I reunited with old friends and made some new ones. Merazonia is a place that many either end up staying for much longer than they originally intended or – like me – return to. One of its greatest strengths is how dynamic it is; they are always open to suggestions when people notice things that could be improved, and some volunteers who possess certain skills often leave their mark before they leave. I ended up undertaking a little project to look into ways for them to make their shopping more economical and improve the diets of the volunteers. People come and go, and the place evolves, but in a way that doesn’t lose its essence or purpose.

It saddened me greatly to leave again, but I will take away many memories, new friends, and a feeling of purpose that I have become a small part of the DNA that is Merazonia. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to have the opportunity to return a third time one day.

But, for now, it is time to move on.

After leaving Merazonia, I headed to Quito, a city I have already visited previously as a tourist, so I treated these few days as a pitstop, wandering around some of its old churches again and making some friends (one of whom was a Venezuelan chef who taught me how to make tequeños) whilst preparing to continue with my journey.

It is now that I feel my actual adventures will begin, and they will start with a four-day tour of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon.

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