Visiting Wildtracks in Sarteneja, Belize: An Army of Volunteers Rehabbing Manatees and Monkeys for Return to the Wild

I had promised to help with the free Vet Clinic in Sarteneja months ago.   Shaving dogs bellies pre-surgery and assisting with the actual surgery (which after about 15 minutes, a nursing female dog and a rush of nausea, I found was not my forte)…I was in.  THEN when Twilla, the local organizer, called to tell me that she had scored us a guided tour at Wild Tracks?  I was SUPER excited.

I had seen the pictures on their facebook page and heard the amazing stories from some of the volunteers who had devoted a month or more of their lives to the wildlife of Belize but I was dying to visit.  This was my chance!

And take a look at what I saw.

IMG_7766Paul and Zoe Walker were called in 1990…to help take care of an orphaned manatee.  A previous Belizean orphan had been sent to Xcaret, a wildlife/theme park in the Yucatan, for rehabilitation but that didn’t go so well.  The park wanted to display the recovering animal and in the end, wanted to keep it.

And so…the Walkers had a new “hobby” rehabilitating mammals that grow to almost 2 tons.   No small task especially with no funding at all from the government.

And then 3 years ago, they took on another “project”…rescuing and rehabilitating monkeys in need.  Monkeys that are kept as illegal pets (one for over 10 years, on a chain, in a cage), orphaned when their mothers are shot from trees, hurt in the wild…

And now they have over 40 monkeys in enclosures all over their property…in various stages of pre-release.  Babies being babied as these oh-so-human babies need.


All on their own property, with a small army of volunteers that commit for at least a month (26 right now) and with their own and donated monies.

Let’s get back to the manatees since that is where the tour began.  We were visiting and the vets were dropping off supplies and medicines for the animals.

There is a very young manatee at WildTracks now.  Mitch was recently brought in and is still being held 24 hours a day by the volunteers.  He is still not bottle feeding and we were not to disturb him.

Baby Khaleesi was in the next pool and ready for her bottle feeding.


Though 10 months old, this still requires 3 volunteers.IMG_7750


Amazing.IMG_7761After gawking at poor Khaleesi (though she seemed most interested in her formula and banana milk shake), we headed over to the two male teenagers in a large tank.

At about 300-400lbs, they too are interested in eating (and humping apparently) and not much else.  SO BEAUTIFUL.


Definitely not in keeping the tank clean.



Getting them ready for the wild (and WildTracks phenomenal success rate once there) is a long process.  When they are finally released, they don’t just pack them a bag and send them off.

They are put in a pen in the lagoon…


And then send them out but still returning at night to feed…and then finally on their own but still monitored.  It’s really an amazing and difficult process.  But the success rate is well over 90%.

Four is a LOT of manatee to take care of…and feed and medicate.  And unfortunately, the numbers of those needing help seems to be creeping higher.  For good reasons…more injuries are being reported so that the animals can get here and for bad reasons…cruise ship tour traffic in their native habitats.  Thank goodness for Wildtracks.

We next toured the monkey area.  None of this is open to the public but this area is generally off limits since all of these guys are readying for the jungles.

IMG_7783All eyes were on us.


The two types of monkeys native to Belize.  The spider monkey and the howler.  It is INSANE that people would think these are good pets.  Fast moving, smart, loud and BIG.  SO NOT PETS.  And totally illegal.


Monkeys are still being rescued from private homes and facilities.  Some from Mennonite areas and missionaries.  Wild Tracks has over 40 now but projects this number goes down in the next year as we end the pet trade in Belize.

Shooting the mother out of a tree to grab her baby?  It’s almost unthinkable but that is how these monkeys were captured.


The howlers in open enclosures as they get closer to the time to release.


Watching our group.


And then we passed by the babies.  Who spend almost all of their time being cuddled and loved and played with by the devoted volunteers.

IMG_7853 IMG_7855

IMG_7861We next went inside to watch some very short films (just a few minutes) that give an amazing and tear-jerking overview of what WildTracks is all about…

Ha.  I just got choked up.

NONE of this is a small task.  The common room is filled with schedules for the day.  For the owners and the 26 volunteers.

IMG_7866 IMG_7868

And then a peep into one of the bunk rooms/fruit room/garden…


Wow.  Amazing work.  It’s not just cuddling baby monkeys.  It’s rushing to pick up animals around Belize, it’s getting them medical help for everything from mange to obesity to broken bones, sitting in water tanks for hours on end, fundraising, training volunteers, the devotion to this cause, to the endangered animals of Belize is unbelievable.

Like Nikki and her team at the Belize Bird Rescue (you can read about my visit there below), there are people around this country that just knock my socks off.  Zoe and Paul are two of them.

For more information, pictures, and how you can help (with donations and/or volunteering), check out the website.  And definitely follow them on Facebook…even if only to check up on baby Mitch the orphan manatee to see that he makes it.

After my experience just over a week ago with the lady manatee at Caye Caulker, I’m absolutely fascinated with these animals.








Posted in: