The Color of Poo
The Color of Poo
By Jane Stanfield
An excerpt from The Voluntary Traveler: Adventures from the Road Best Traveled
I am a neat, though not overly fastidious person, but if you had told me before 2006 that I wouldn’t mind having colored poo on my pants, I would have thought you were nuts!
It was my sister’s idea. She saw them on Animal Planet. Then on Christmas morning, at the end of my bed, there was a print out about caring for orphan baboons. All it took was one look at the glow on the tired volunteer’s face as she bottle-fed a small baboon in a diaper, and I knew I had to go to South Africa and work at CARE.
The Center for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (CARE), has been run by Rita Miljo for over 30 years. It is in the Northeast corner of South Africa close to the town of Phalaborwa and Kruger National Park. The center is home to hundreds of baboons waiting for the right season and level of maturity to be released into the wild.
Baboons at CARE arrive any time of the year and may be as young as six weeks of age. It is not uncommon to receive older individuals who were taken from the wild to be pets when they were young. As with so many other wildlife “pets”, as they grew larger, less cute, or more “wild”, their former owners released them to CARE. Some of the stories were pretty horrific, but depending on their ages, many recovered and rejoined baboon society.
Until the day of release comes - generally around five years of age - the baboons are housed in enclosures and form troops. International volunteers, usually from South Africa, Europe, Australia and North America, focus on bottle-feeding, playing, loving the littlest baboons and working with the troops up to two years of age.
Icarus at 8 weeks
I learned that it was not uncommon for baboons to play favorites, preferring one volunteer to another. I tried my best to get along with everyone, but I admit I also had my special friends in each of the three different age groups I attended.
I was thrilled one day when two-year-old Roxie came over and tried to groom me. Normally she was the best friend of another volunteer, Kim from Southern California, but when Kim was absent, Roxie would make the rounds. After sitting by my side for five minutes, Roxie climbed into my lap. She found a mole on the side of my neck and with gentle little kisses, tried to remove it with her lips. When that failed, she began checking my scalp for nits. (Luckily she didn’t find any.) Finally she crawled on to my chest and took a nap.
Roxie had been taken as an infant to be a pet, but ended up chained and attached to a pole. She will most likely always carry discoloration around her waist where the chain restricted not only her movement, but also the blood and nerve supply to her legs.
I worked at CARE for four weeks, quickly learning that if one of the baboons gave a warning bark, they would all lift off the ground simultaneously and head for the highest point in the pen. Being 5’8”, that point was usually me. Before liftoff, it was not uncommon to eliminate everything they could (read bodily fluids) to lighten their load. One day I looked down and noticed that below the knees, my pants were covered with magenta colored poo. Then I remembered chopping up beets for their breakfast that morning.
Jane Stanfield (www.janestanfieldwish.com) has such a passion for animals, volunteering and international travel that she quit her job to travel around the world, completing 12 volunteer jobs within one year. Jane’s book, Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation, assists prospective volunteers with finding, creating, planning, packing and returning from an international volunteer vacation. She also offers a class based on her book at Arapahoe Community College in Colorado and teaches an introductory volunteer vacation class at Colorado Free University.
Animal-loving volunteers who are able to live in bush conditions for a minimum of four weeks are welcome to apply to join the C.A.R.E. team. See www.primatecare.org.za for details. The Voluntary Traveler: Adventures from the Road Best Traveled is published by Dog’s Eye View Media and is available at Borders Bookstore or from your favorite online shop.