The Ordinary House with the Most Extraordinary Inhabitants
The house where Yiscel Yánguez and her husband Néstor Correa reside looks like any other ordinary suburban house: just like the house on its right and just like the house on its left, and just like the row of houses across the street except that they are all painted different pale colors. Theirs is painted yellow. It is nothing special really.
A two-story house with a garage and a backyard. It has windows and doors like any other house, a living room, a few bedrooms and a kitchen. The floors inside are made of dark hardwood and the walls in all rooms are cream colors. There is a blue couch in the living room, a few chairs, book shelves with books, a ventilator, a table, and a big branch in the corner with three sloths. A big branch in the corner with three sloths???!!!
Oh, and by the way, there is a porcupine, a tropical screech owl and an iguana sharing one of the bedrooms, a lemur, an armadillo, a possum, and two baby crocodiles in small cages in the other bedroom, a barn owl perched in the upper corner of the dark room with blankets blocking the light from the windows, a spectacle owl in the total darkness of the garage, and a young tapir named Valencia in the backyard! You see, this very ordinary house has the most extraordinary residents. It’s the most extraordinary story made of many sad and happy stories, and they all take place in Panama.
Valencia’s mother was killed by poachers in the thick tropical jungles of the Darien Mountains in 2014 when she was only two months old. The baby was rescued and survived and today the 19-months old tapir lives in the backyard of the house which is a temporary home to many animals in need of help.
The house serves as the headquarters for the Panamerican Association for Conservation, APPC of which Néstor Correa is the president and his wife Yiscel Yánguez is the director.
In 2006 the APPC starts a program for rescuing and rehabilitating injured, sick and orphaned wild animals in Panama and provides care to animals with special needs with particular attention to sloths, Panama’s most common wild animal. Since then, more than 3,000 animals have been saved, of which 95 percent have been reintegrated in their natural habitat. Through education, the APPC promotes environmental awareness, harmony between humans and nature and teaches the community to love and protect Panama’s wildlife.
– Why this house?, I ask Yiscel Yánguez who showed me around the rooms and introduced their unusual residents to me.
– The house is a part of the Historic Town of Gamboa built in the 1930s and 1940s near the shores of the Chagres River to accommodate the American families during the construction of Panama Canal. Today the town is uninhabited and the houses are managed and maintained by the Rainforest Hotel Resort, who became our partner. The house is ideal for the APPC project for saving and rehabilitating animals as it is far away from the city, surrounded by jungle, the area is uninhabited and quiet and we can work with the animals releasing them and reintroducing them gradually in their natural habitat right from our backyard.
Yiscel Yánguez and her husband Néstor Correa have moved and live in the house permanently, providing special care and attention to the rescued animals, day and night, every day of the week.
Sometimes volunteers also stay in the house and help. Like the girl who helps with Valencia, the young tapir. In the morning she feeds her and plays with her, running around the yard, and gives her a nice bath, before the animal retires in a small dark shed to take a nap.
It is not easy living in a house full of animals most of which sleep during the day and are active at night, like the owls, the possum, the armadillo, the lemur and the sloths.
– The animals make lots of noises, especially the owls. At night we hear them screech, and everyone is running around. Sometimes it is hard to sleep. – admits Yiscel.
Taking care of so many different animals, injured and orphans, requires an extensive knowledge about each animal’s habits, behavior and needs, as well as much determination and a big heart. These are not pets, nor zoo animals, and one of the main tasks of Yiscel is to keep them from getting used to people, so that they can remain wild and be reintroduced in the forest as soon as they become healthy and independent.
But sometimes this is impossible. In most cases when an animal arrives as a baby and has to be nursed, it becomes attached to people and has to remain in captivity. Like Valencia, who came as a baby and is now domesticated. But when she grows up she will take part in the international program for captive breeding of this critically endangered species.
Or like Pino, the Rothschild’s porcupine and the cutest resident of the house, who was just a few days old when she was found alone and injured in the Gamboa area. Most probably a predator had killed her mother.
Pino survived thanks to APPC but is now so used to people; she can never return to the wild and will most probably go to a zoo. She started climbing on my leg as soon as I entered the room where she lives together with an iguana and an owl, and she ate dog food from my hand!
Unlike Valencia and Pino, the baby spectacled owl is being kept in the garage with minimal human interaction and is being prepared for the wild as soon as she is old enough.
– Feeding the spectacled owl is a bit… We have to give her live rats with broken limbs, so she can learn to hunt. -shares Yiscel.
It’s all part of the job: breaking rat’s legs for the owls, giving a hose bath to the tapir, finding the sloths’ favorite leaves, making fruit salad for the iguana, changing the newspapers in the possum’s cage, caring for the injured legs of the armadillo, cleaning lemur’s poop, and listening to the owls’ heartbreaking cries at night.
But it’s all worth it, as this is just half of it. The other half includes: getting kissed on the ear by a porcupine, playing with a tapir, love and being loved by an armadillo, an owl, a possum and a lemur, and watching sloths smiling like yogis, and slowly disappearing in the forest after being released back in their natural habitat.
My heart remains with the animals at that ordinary house in the abandoned town of Gamboa.
Thank you Yinscel for your hospitality and generosity, for the work you do with so much passion and selflessness!
The tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeastern Asia. Their closest relatives are the other odd-toed ungulates, which include horses, donkeys, zebras and rhinoceroses. The proboscis of the tapir is a highly flexible organ, able to move in all directions, allowing the animals to grab foliage that would otherwise be out of reach. Although they frequently live in dryland forests, tapirs with access to rivers spend a good deal of time in and underwater, feeding on soft vegetation, taking refuge from predators, and cooling off during hot periods. Tapirs near a water source will swim, sink to the bottom, and walk along the riverbed to feed, and have been known to submerge themselves under water to allow small fish to pick parasites off their bulky bodies. Hunting for meat and hides has substantially reduced their numbers and, more recently, habitat loss has resulted in the conservation watch-listing of all four species: both the Brazilian tapir and the Malayan tapir are classified as vulnerable; and the Baird’s tapir and the mountain tapir are endangered. (Wikipedia)
The spectacled owl is a large tropical owl native to tropical rain forests, being found mostly in areas where dense, old-growth forest is profuse. This species is largely nocturnal, starting activity right around the time of last light at dusk and usually being back on their roosts for the day around first light. It is a solitary, unsocial bird. Vocal activity tends to be most prominent on calm, moonlit nights. The primary sound made by the spectacled owl consists of guttural knocking or tapping sounds with a popping effect: PUP-pup-pup-pup-po, POK pok pok bog bog bog bobobo or BOO Boo boo boo boo. Each progressive note becomes weaker and lower in pitch but faster in pace as the call continues. The male is the primary singer to proclaim a territory, often singing from the upper third of a tall tree. However, females also sing, uttering the same song but with a higher pitch. Duets between pairs have been heard on moonlit nights. Females also make a hawk-like scream with an emphasis on the drawn-out second syllable, ker-WHEEER, which has often been compared to a steam-whistle. Young spectacled owls beg with a harsh, high-pitched keew call. The spectacled owl occurs over a very large range and is still a resident in much of its range. Due to this, it is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, being a large, slow-maturing bird of prey with a strong sense of territoriality, it as a rule occurs at low densities. In areas where prey populations are hunted by people and habitats are destroyed or compromised, they may decrease.
New World Porcupine
Rothschild’s porcupine belongs to the New World family of porcupines, or Erethizontidae. All New World porcupines protect themselves using keratinous spines that are loosely attached to the porcupine’s skin, ready to pierce the flesh of predators. Erethizontidae feature quills tipped with sharp, backwards-pointing barbs. Once one of these spines lodges in the skin of the porcupine’s molester, it detaches from the porcupine and works its way deep into the offender’s flesh. The characteristic barbs on New World porcupine spines make removal difficult and painful. Perhaps because he comes equipped with a unique defense against predators, this little guy is not endangered. Conservation efforts in Panama help to preserve the environments that support his natural habitat. Unfortunately, many cousins of Rothschild’s porcupine appear on the endangered species list. For example, Brazil’s thin-spined porcupine is an endangered species, so rarely seen that it was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1986.
Sloths are medium-sized mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae (two-toed sloth) and Bradypodidae (three-toed sloth), classified into six species. They are related to anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws. Extant sloths are arboreal (tree-dwelling) residents of the jungles of Central and South America, and are known for being slow-moving. Extinct sloth species include a few species of aquatic sloths and many ground sloths, some of which attained the size of elephants. Sloths make a good habitat for other organisms, and a single sloth may be home to moths, beetles, cockroaches, ciliates, fungi, and algae. They have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrients, and do not digest easily. Sloths, therefore, have large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. Sloths’ tongues have the unique ability to protrude from their mouths 10 to 12 inches, an ability that is useful for collecting leaves just out of reach. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth’s body weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take a month or more to complete. Sloths’ claws serve as their only natural defense. A cornered sloth may swipe at its attackers in an effort to scare them away or wound them. Despite sloths’ apparent defenselessness, predators do not pose special problems: sloths blend in with the trees and, moving only slowly, do not attract attention. The main predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle, and humans. . The majority of recorded sloth deaths are due to contact with electrical lines, poachers, and killed by cars while crossing the street, due to fragmentation of forests and loss of habitat. They sometimes remain hanging from branches after death. On the ground, the maximum speed of the three-toed sloth is 2 m or 6.5 ft per minute. Sloths go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week, digging a hole and covering it afterwards. (Wikipedia)
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Visit ACCP website for more information about their mission and the animals they work with. Donations are also accepted through the website.
About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page:Facebook/TheLifeNomadik