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The Life of a Wildlife Lover

By Sam Trull, Wildlife Manager of Kids Saving the Rainforest

Newbie

Newbie

I want to apologize now for the sad nature of this but everyone has been asking me to write about what happens when animals don’t survive. Finally, tonight, I feel inspired to type.

I’m no stranger to death. Coming up on the 7-year anniversary of my father’s death I can’t help but be a little extra emotional. Things make me cry that wouldn’t normally…and snippets of moments from the past flash through my mind on a more regular basis. I was there the day my father took his last breaths surrounded by family and friends. I saw the look in his eyes, the way his breathing changed…it all happened right in front of me. As difficult as it was to see my lifelong hero lying in a bed slowly losing his light, I am so glad I was there for his final moments…for two reasons.
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First – we have no idea what people are and aren’t aware of as they are dying…I think my dad knew we were all there and I would never have wanted him to feel alone. Second – it leaves no doubt in my mind of his final moments. He was comfortable, safe and there was nothing else we could do. In a way it provided some sort of closure.

When animals arrive at KSTR they are all essentially dying!

So what does all of this have to do with wildlife rescue? Animals die. Often. I know that photos of happy babies cuddled up with a stuffed animal, or updates on how the amigos are doing in boot camp give the appearance that everything is awesome every day. But what is masked behind those fuzzy faces is the fact that wildlife rescue is hard. When animals arrive at the KSTR wildlife clinic they are all essentially dying…some more quickly than others. Which means our job is to basically reverse the path to death and heal them so they can make it back to where they belong, in the jungle. The only reason people are even able to physically grab the wild animal is because they are so injured, orphaned, or in shock that they can’t run away and save themselves. Wild animals aren’t usually able to be captured. There has to be something seriously wrong. I’ve seen monkeys so electrocuted that their entire arm is burned crispy. Owls missing half of a wing that is covered in wiggling maggots. Sloths attacked by dogs so badly that they are unable to move their bottom legs and can’t urinate on their own. Wildlife rescue is HARD. Luckily, statistically, we have a great number of success stories and I LIVE for the releases. Every time we release an animal, my lungs fill with air…my head feels clear…and I remember why we are here and why we can’t stop fighting because sometimes they actually make it.

But when they don’t make it…and you’ve poured your heart, soul, and hours that you should have been sleeping into trying desperately to keep them alive. You…are…shattered. Broken and you feel like a failure.

Newbie was the Queen of the Nursery

I want to talk about Newbie. For those of you who have seen the BBC show, “Nature’s Miracle Orphans” you already know Newbie. She was a three-toed sloth who arrived at KSTR in October of 2013. Her mother had been attacked by a dog and killed leaving her as an orphan at only 4 months old. The day Newbie arrived, I was just returning from a trip to the US. I was in San Jose waiting for my shuttle to Manuel Antonio when I received a message from one of the KSTR volunteers that we had just received a baby three-toed sloth. Overcome with the urge to get to her and help her, my shuttle couldn’t arrive fast enough. As soon as I made it back home, I threw my bags on the floor and ran over to where I heard Newbie was waiting. THAT FACE. Three toed sloths just have these faces. They are so expressive…and their eyes…I swear their eyes stare straight into your soul. Newbie was no exception and before long, my world revolved around what Newbie needed. From picking the perfect guarumo leaf, to positioning her cuddle pillow in the exact spot that provided the afternoon sun that she so adored and making sure she had enough time every day in the sunshine and the breeze….Newbie was the queen of the nursery…and of my heart.

Hoping for a miracle, BUT…

I started to daydream about the moment she would be released. How proud I would be of her, how fulfilled I would feel knowing she had a chance for a long and happy life…maybe one day even have her own babies? But all those dreams came crashing to a halt the moment she was diagnosed with pneumonia. Pneumonia!!! Really?!? Because losing her mom to a dog wasn’t bad enough?!? That’s when the treatments began. Twice a day for months we made her inhale oxygen laced with medication, I gave her injection after injection…it physically pained me to stick a needle in her arm. She hated it and would resist every time. She had good days and bad days and there were a few times we even thought she was cured. In fact, during filming for the BBC show we officially thought she was cured and I believed that meant I could give her a real name. After 4 months of battling non-stop to keep Newbie alive we finally thought she was out of the woods and her pneumonia was gone. Deep down I was still worried, but I tried to stay positive. We had done everything we could and it appeared to have worked. After a week of Newbie being on no medications, I left KSTR for two days to get a little rest and relaxation. I wasn’t gone for more than 48 hours, but on the day I returned Newbie had stopped eating and the moment I looked at her I knew this was it. I put her on oxygen…started her back on medications…and frantically asked our vet for advice. There MUST be something else we could do!!! At 4am on Feb 11th, 2014 I woke up and Newbie was on the floor…she was alive but was so weak she couldn’t hold on to anything. I rushed her to the clinic…pressed an oxygen mask to her face like I had done so many times before…and I prayed. Begging and pleading to anyone who might be listening…hoping for a miracle and that somehow the oxygen would wake her back up. But she just kept deteriorating. Then I saw it. That same look my father had in his eyes…the same way he gasped for air. Newbie was dying and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I must have held her for at least three hours after her heart stopped beating.

We sent Newbie’s body off for a necropsy in San Jose so we could learn from her death and we gained valuable information that has saved and will save other sloths. I had Newbie cremated and plan to spread her ashes at the site where the three amigos are released. Not exactly the release I had planned for her, but at least in some way she will make it back to the jungle.

Wildlife rescue is HARD. But we have to keep fighting, push through the sadness to learn from the deaths and most importantly…bask in the glory of the releases.

Please donate to KSTR by writing to volunteer@kstr.org The wildlife thank you!

 


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