Everyone is very familiar with the idea of pet dogs coming when they are called, and possibly even the odd, extremely talented cat. Very few people whom I have met (including myself), however, are very familiar with a great horned owl leaping off of its perch, soaring through the air and peacefully alighting on a trainers hand when called by name. To accomplish this was my end goal when I arrived at el Refugio de Potosi as an inexperienced but eager biology student, and I had no idea how I was going to get there. Luckily, Tesi Carmona, the intern who was working at el Refugio de Potosi before me did an amazing job outlining a training program for not only the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), but also a broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus), and a crested caracara (Caracara cheriway). Tesi had already done much work with the birds, and this made it somewhat easier for me, but I definitely still had my work cut out for me. Being able to interact with these birds every day and get to know their personalities and watch how they learn was an amazing experience that I relish. In addition to working with the raptors, I also was able to stretch my public speaking skills as a tour guide, my arts and craft skills while making a gigantic pink and blue sperm whale float, and, of course, my Spanish while trying to make myself somewhat comprehensible in my day to day life. The amount and diversity of projects that are always evolving at this little place is mind boggling, and offers someone like me tons of opportunity to amass a wide range of skills.
Coming from British Columbia Canada, almost everything about this experience was new and exciting for me, and 2 months later the feelings of enthusiasm for the work I was doing, the people I met, and the country I began to discover are still very strong within me. I was extremely lucky to be able to get involved in such an ambitious project, and el Refugio being a young non-profit entity (read: Do-it-yourself) allowed me lots of opportunities interact with a wide range of animals. It is astonishingly easy to go through a biology degree without ever having any hands on experience with wild animals, so I feel very privileged to have worked here. Within a week of arriving, I was routinely handling snakes, iguanas, parrots, a hairy dwarf Mexican porcupine named Lala, and of course my good friends the raptors. These experiences, along with getting to watch Jorge Guzman, the wildlife vet there perform treatment on animals, as well as long night time talks with Laurel about anything of interest were amazing learning experiences for me.
Although I am about a million miles away right now working in the Yukon, I am finding my thoughts wandering back down South and lingering amongst the thorn forest of el Refugio watching the many species of local birds flitting through the trees, searching for the elusive painted buntings, or trogons that bird nerds like me hope to see. I do not know exactly what the future has in store for me or el Refugio, but whatever it is I can be sure that the time that I spent there will definitely go a long way in shaping my future, and I can only hope that it helped to get everyone involved in this ambitious project one step closer to their goals.
Arriba el Refugio!!