Peru blogWritten by Luke Gamble
Mr Tummy: 21 October 2009
Had a bit of explaining to do the other day. I’d got up with Noah for the normal 5.30am routine and as I carried him downstairs, he giggled, pointed to my stomach and said ‘baby’. Now this is hilarious when he points at my wife’s belly and says baby because she is pregnant and we’re trying to get him excited about the prospect of a little brother or sister, but this line of conversation with me wasn’t quite the plan. I had to turn things around fast – and rapidly pointed out that lions have big furry tummies like Daddy and no one makes fun of them. Noah thought this was hysterical and I’m not sure if he got the right message because Mr Tummy was subject of about 30mins intense early morning discussion and repeated probing. I was worried he might hurt his hand on the ridges of scarcely disguised muscle but he’s tough. I also managed to explain how seals and whales keep warm in the oceans. It was a morning of education. I didn’t take it personally but needless to say, I walked to work rather than drove. Noah needs to know just how tough Daddy is and a walk in driving rain definitely proves the point. Not even a lion would want to do that.
Been manic at work, got a chance to do some calls with Caroline (new vet at the practice) which was fun – trimmed a bulls feet, caesared a cow, all went well – she didn’t need me around but it was great to be out and about. Now sitting on the plane on what is hopefully the last couple of hours of a 21 hour three stage flight to Iquitos in Peru. Hats off to LAN – not a bad airline at all, still wishing economy was a couple of inches wider though (i.e. big enough to fit a lion).
Belen: 22 October 2009
Belen market takes some seeing to believe. It is a heaving chaotic scene of hustle and bustle and everything is available for purchase. Huge anaconda skins decorate some of the stalls, animal skins, potions are for sale adjacent to clothing and grocery stalls. It is a sprawling centre of commerce in Iquitos and bizarrely, above the meat market Amazon Cares were running a community outreach project. I’m really impressed with what Molly has set up here, she has a great team and they are doing a lot of good. A WVS team are also here which means I am just one vet of five so there is lots of work going on and everyone seems in top form. Spaying was the name of the game on the first day, a few sick animals which needed tx and a poor cat who had been bitten on the face and lost its eye. Carolien – one of the nurses, found the poor little creature and we fixed it up back at the Amazon Cares clinic in town.
Simon is our new special friend for this trip. Marc is back but Adam is in India so another member of the extreme cameraman gang has been drafted in. Simon loves the fact I keep reminding him he is extreme at every possible opportunity (there really is an extreme cameraman club) – he has just had an extreme breakfast for example and feels extremely pleased about it. He is extremely nice and is definitely an extreme addition to the gang. The only other point of note is that Lupe is working hard on his Spanish (he has a Spanish girlfriend) so he’s currently dazzling us with the odd word in the local dialect. Almost as extreme as Simon.
Getting Extreme: 23 October 2009
Annie (one of the vets on the WVS team and worked for the charity last year) has stayed behind from the rest of the group to come with me and the film crew. There are apparently lots of animals lined up for us to treat in a community and I’m going to need an extra pair of hands. It’s great to work with Annie again and I’m glad of the back up, as it was looking like I would have been short of help with everyone else (including all the local team) having gone up river to run another neutering campaign.
The day started with a very sad case of a sweet little puppy that was badly jaundiced. We think it has leptospirosis (a horrible disease that we vaccinate against in the UK, that is spread by rats) and the prognosis is poor. We popped it on fluids and started a course of medicines so fingers crossed it pulls through. It won’t be in the programme as it arrived first thing and needed treatment immediately but we’re all rooting for it.
Then the adventure began; Molly’s shelter is outside Iquitos in the midst of the rainforest. A half hour boat ride down the Amazon took us to a cluster of huts and buildings and a yard comprising about twenty dogs. All the dogs were happy, healthy and in great form and clearly adore Molly as they leapt and cavorted about us. A few dogs we rescued from the meat market the other day were also there, trying to adapt to their new surroundings and receiving the appropriate treatments. It’s a very honest set up – the whole place almost got washed away last year in torrential rain so has been rebuilt in stages with more sturdy construction.
There wasn’t much for me to do from a veterinary sense, one dog had bad eyes which I had some medication for, but the shelter animals look great and it was more about filming an introduction to the programme than about surgeries. After a thorough look around, we headed back to Iquitos to check up on the hospitalised animals at the shelters city clinic, went on a reccie for a shoot later in the programme and then back to base.
Simon had it extremely tough today. He couldn’t bring his second pair of extreme shoes with him on the trip out – they wouldn’t fit in the bag. I think to be part of the extreme cameraman club; you need to always be prepared by having two pairs of shoes with you for any extreme situation. Simon even has a ticket on his bag saying he is an extreme cameraman – prepared and poised to film anything extreme at extreme short notice. He is adapting to these extreme conditions – where we all go around with just one pair of shoes each day – extremely well. He also didn’t get lunch today – extremely hardcore. We’re all struggling to be anywhere near as extreme as Simon but we’re doing our best. Fingres crossed none of us slow him down.
Nathan Needs an Assistant: 24 October 2009
Marc the producer had to sort things out with a boat this morning so Simon, Molly, Nathan (aka Lupe) and I were left to our own devices to sort out the days events. After a humbling lesson in strength whereby a Peruvian boatman lifted my 40kg bag onto his shoulder with one hand, we headed over to an animal orphanage run by Gudren – an immensely likeable but slightly crazy Austrian. Gudren started out by setting up a butterfly farm with the idea of exporting rare and exotic butterflies around the world. Due to some slightly detailed Peruvian export legislation, this didn’t quite pan out as expected so with an inate love of animals and the Amazon, Gudren took it up on herself to take in the animals rescued from the illegal trade in endangered and exotic animals. She releases as many as she can back into the wild and her home is an idyllic cluster of wooden buildings, set amongst towering trees and thick Amazon vegetation. A large variety of rescued monkeys – many endangered species and all exotically coloured, swooped overhead as we got the grand tour and introductions to some of the more familiar residents.
It was a fantastic day and I´m sold on the great work Gudren does. She just cracks on with little outside support and is utterly fearless in her defence of the animals. I did a couple of ops to help out – removed a mass from a Macaws wing and extracted a couple of teeth from a monkey – which went well. The Macaw was a handful and it gave Gudren a nasty bite which she took without complaint (last year one of the Macaws fell into her lake and was attacked by the resident 2m caimans – Gudren jumped in to rescue it regardless of the danger – so not a lot phases her).
The really big deal about today though, wasn´t the giant anteater, the jaguar or treating the wound on the tapir – but the fact that Nathan declared he needed an assistant. Suddenly he had been promoted from soundman to director/producer and it was a lot of work for him. Especially because he had to carry a lot of stuff as well. Simon and I promised to petition Marc for his cause so fingers crossed…
There is going to be some radio silence for awhile as we are about to hit the waters for a few days and visit some communities upstream – will update in a little while.
Nathan Needs an Assistant: 25 October 2009
The boat trip got delayed by a day because we had an emergency call. Sabrina was in pain, she was riddled with mammary cancer, hot and painful to the touch and she was having trouble getting about. Ethically this was a really tough one. The surgical challenge was huge – a mammary strip, spay and mass removal under field anaesthesia – on an old dog with probably aggressive adeno-carcinomas. On the other hand, she was bright in her eye, wagging her tail and her owners clearly loved her dearly. She was a very sweet dog as well. I had Annie with me which was a massive plus because having assistance with the anaesthetic was going to be key.
After a bit of pondering and debating, we decided to go with it. The surgery took nearly 3 hours – it was really tough and all was going well until about 7hours post surgery. Sabrina just wasn´t recovering as I´d expect so Í decided to have another look and make sure I hadn´t slipped a ligature. She also had horrible bloody diarrhoea. Annie gave me a hand and on the second operation, the ties looked fine, but there was a lot of free blood in her abdomen and she seemed to be oozing from everywhere. Whether she has an underlying condition, I´m not sure, but she seemed to be clotting so I tied absolutely everything again. When I left this morning at about 4.45 her colour was a bit better but she is still not quite right. I just hope the whole ordeal hasn’t been too much with her.
I’ve petitioned for an extra cabin on the boat so Sabrina is coming with us. We are all desperately rooting that she pulls through.
SMS Update from Luke: 26 October 2009
Amazon amazing. Apparently risk of pirates minimal as crew armed and on 24hr watch. Big relief.
SMS Update from Luke: 27 October 2009
Community days going well, removed seven three inch maggots from dogs back!
SMS Update from Luke: 28 October 2009
Sabrina just passed away. Really sad. It was just too much.
Piranhas: 30 October 2009
I did wonder whether dipping into the waters of the Amazon was a great idea considering all the creatures that lurk within its murky depths but Caesar (our captain) only knew of one fisherman who had been eaten by piranhas and considering all the villagers bathe and wash in the water daily we figured it would be a fairly safe bet. We took the speedboat out to the middle of the river and jumped in. It was fantastic – the current was incredible but we swam with it for about half a mile or so and had a great time leaping in and out of the speedboat which kept pace with us – particularly Annie and Molly who plunged into the water without hesitation and then proceeded to repeatedly clamber in and out of the boat jumping in with ear piercing shrieks. Quite what the local tribes thought of us all I have no idea but I suspect our mental health was in question. It served a dual purpose – a chance to wash our clothes as well as a refreshing break.
Sabrina didn’t make it. It was incredibly sad and we were all immensely disappointed. Having bonded with her over the last few days and sat up through the night with her, we all thought she was picking up, but the trauma of the boat ride, the oppressive heat and the huge surgeries she had been through were simply too much. Perhaps it was a mistake to have put her through the operation but we had had little choice and she was suffering. She wasn’t in pain when she passed away but although we did our absolute best, it was sad she was with a group of strangers at the end. It was very tough for everyone and we all felt very low after her passing.
The village dogs were a mixed bag. Some of them tough jungle hunting dogs, razor teeth and fairly unhandlable by anyone except their owners – equally tough Peruvians, whip thin hard young men, packed with lean muscle and scarred with tribal tattoos. Annie and I worked through them, pulling out three inch worms that had buried themselves in the dogs back – larvae of a fly that lays its eggs under the skin. I’ve seen them before but never this big, nor so many. Very satisfying to get them out.
The final mission was to vaccinate some buffalo against rabies. Apparently bats bite them and it’s a genuine risk so we went on a mission to get it done.
Just arrived back in Iquitos, time for a hot shower and few local beers.
Manatees: 31 October 2009
Daryl Richardson is the founder of the Dallas World Aquarium and whilst working with some pink river dolphins a few years ago, was asked to help rescue some orphaned manatees.
It was a challenge as much as a worthy cause – manatees are CITES 1 critically endangered species and there was no proper rescue or rehabilitation facility in the country. Darryl’s motivation was simply to help these amazing animals, and the aquarium doesn’t have any Peruvian Manatees in Dallas – he did totally to help save the animals and conserve the species. A rare example of a commercial business that makes its money from exhibiting exotic species doing something incredibly altruistic.
It was a great visit and a privilege to learn about the manatees, handle them, feed them and appreciate why it is so important to protect them. They are a vital part of many of the tributaries of the Amazon, a key component to the delicate ecosystem. Hunted for blubber and food, these gentle giants only have one offspring at a time and with a gestation of 13months and a nursing period of up to two years, their reproductive rate is slow to say the least. They are now protected under Peruvian and International Law, but thanks to Darryl and his very competent team, they might just stand a chance and his far reaching education programmes seem to be really making an impact. As the locals learn that the creatures are so important to the fish in the river and they don’t eat them, they in turn will start to become their guardians.
Bags to Follow !!: 04 November 2009
We made it back – about 7 hours of delays and 29 hours of travel, but whose counting. Thankfully two of the eight bags also made it so that only leaves six to follow. Been a brilliant trip, met some great people who have set up some very worthwhile organisations and I look forward to keeping in touch with them and getting some plans in action! Two week breather and then off we go again… just time to get a big firework party organised for Noah!