If you’re wild about wildlife, then a visit to the Guatemalan non-profit ARCAS is a must. For more than twenty years, the organization has rescued animals captured by people and then rehabilitated and returned them to the wild. Today, it’s one of the largest animal rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals each year. The organization has two main locations, one in Guatemala’s remote, northern department of El Petén, and another near the town of Monterrico, on the Pacific coast. Both accept visitors and volunteers.
To get an inside look at the organization and what it’s up to today, we checked in with Colum Muccio, ARCAS’s administrative director. Here’s what he had to say:
You’ve worked with ARCAS since 1995. How did you first get involved?
I was living in Japan at the time and really wanted to return to Central America to get more directly involved in environmental work. I liked what ARCAS was doing and decided to help out as a volunteer. Later, I was dragged into the office, since I’m bilingual and have fundraising experience.
What are some of biggest changes you’ve noticed over the years with regards to Guatemala’s environment?
I believe there is a better consciousness among Guatemalans about the need to conserve natural resources. People’s attitudes seem to be changing. I think it’s part the influence of tourism and part the influence of Guatemalans who have traveled abroad and then returned. People are really starting to see how valuable the country’s rich, natural environment truly is.
ARCAS’s mission has always been to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Are there any ways in which that goal has grown or changed over the years?
We’ve definitely become more involved in the establishment and administration of protected areas. If there’s no habitat left, what’s the point in rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife? Environmental education has and always will be very important to us, too.
Does ARCAS have any new plans for 2013?
We recently persuaded the Guatemalan government to strengthen legislation regarding the collection of turtle eggs along the Pacific coast—a major accomplishment. Building off the momentum of that, we plan to continue improving sea turtle conservation efforts in 2013. One way we’re hoping to do that is with two new sea turtle hatcheries. Our current hatchery is 17 years old and too small for our needs. We’re raising funds for two new ones on StartSomeGood.com. You can check out our page here.
Could you share one of your favorite ARCAS moments?
I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to negotiate the purchase of a small farm on the Pacific coast, near Monterrico, which we are reforesting and setting up as a protected wildlife reserve. With regards to a favorite moment, though, it’s anytime we release an animal back into the wild.
About ARCAS El Petén
ARCAS’s 45-hectare (111-acre) wildlife rescue center in El Petén is located on the banks of Lake Petén Itza, just a 10-minute boat ride from the town of Flores. The center comprises a quarantine area and a veterinary hospital, as well as rehabilitation enclosures and flight cages that are scattered throughout the jungle. Volunteers help feed and care for animals like parrots, monkeys, and ocelots—most of which are very young and require constant care and attention; the majority have been seized from smugglers. Some volunteers also help with veterinary medical treatment, wildlife surveys, and animal releases; approximately 70% of animals that come into the center are returned to the wild.
Travelers in El Petén with limited time (say just a half-day) can learn more about ARCAS’s work by visiting its Kinkajou Kingdom Environmental Education Center. Here, you can explore interpretive trails and see the animals that live at the center permanently.
About ARCAS Parque Hawaii
Just a short drive from Guatemala’s resort town of Monterrico, ARCAS’s rescue center on the Pacific coast is called Parque Hawaii and is dedicated to counteracting threats to leatherback and olive ridley turtle populations from over-harvesting by local egg collectors. The center comprises three hectares (seven acres) of protected beach, a sea turtle hatchery and hospital, and educational tanks, as well as iguana and caiman captive-breeding pens (the iguanas and caimans are released into nearby mangroves).
Volunteers at Parque Hawaii go on nightly beach patrols to collect and rebury newly laid eggs at ARCAS’s hatchery; they also help release hatchlings to the sea. (Olive ridley turtles nest in Hawaii from July through December; leatherbacks nest from November to January. Baby turtles hatch out and are released approximately two months after eggs are buried.) Volunteers also help collect data, monitor the health of local mangroves, assist in reforestation projects, and participate in community programs.