R3 Animal: Playing With Owls

Joanna Shieh - Brazil


April 11, 2014

R3 Animal is an NGO that works to Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Reintegrate animals into their habitat. We work with animals such as penguins, parrots, macaws, monkeys, owls, and many more. http://en.r3animal.org.br Visit this website to learn more, as I don’t want to use this blog to bore you with the logistics, but entertain you with the stories.

Work starts everyday at 8 am. I arrive to a cacophony of screeching birds and the howls of the monkeys as they call out for their breakfast. I greet the other volunteers, already working away cleaning cages, cutting fruit, and sweeping floors. I have so much respect for the people who take time from their already busy schedules to participate in something far from luxurious. People sing and dance through their work with smiles on their faces. They constantly start conversations and tell jokes in order to forget about the repulsive smells and the biting animals. It is these people that make com

ing to R3 everyday not just bearable, but enjoyable. Just like people who grow closer after a difficult experience, messy work filled with sweat can do the same. Everyone experiences the same unbearable heat of the sun on the nape of their necks while vigorously sweeping to clean the stained poop from the penguin pools. They smell the same intolerable smells of the day-old rat meat wafting from the cages of the owls. It is the grimy nature of the work that brings people together, and respect and gratitude is always being passed around. Every helping hand makes a difference, something everyone understands and never fails to remember.

I reach my hand into the freezer and pull out the frozen white rat with its hands curled, body scrunched, and mouth open. The expression on its face is one of excruciating pain, and it is not a pretty sight. I then pick up a hearty steel knife and a hammer, drop the rat on a tree trunk that I use as my cutting board, and start hacking. I imagine myself being that robust forty-year-old man who works at a butcher shop with a permanent scowl and a scruffy beard. Ten minutes later, after I remove all of the poop inside the rat, and dice the cute furry guy into small cubes, I prepare the plate for the owls and falcons who are anxiously awaiting their meal. I timidly walk up to the cage full of these predators, wondering how the hell I got here. I start replaying all of the National Geographic channel shows I watched about these vicious animals in my head, trying to remember at least one fact that would be helpful to know before entering the cage. Sadly, the only thing that comes to mind is the clip they show of these nighttime predators violently pouncing on rats, similar to the ones I have just prepared. With a plate full of chunks of rat meat, and no form of protection, I open the gate and step inside. They notice me immediately, and I feel each one of their round, beautiful, full moon eyes staring at me. I stare right back, unsure of what to do next. After ten seconds of staying frozen, I place the plate on the ground, and slowly walk away, proud of my accomplishment and unaware of the owl by my shoulder. As I turn around, a little too fast, the owl does what any frightened animal would do, and attacks. He uses his sharp talons and tries to do to me what he usually does to my poor furry friend I had just finished dissecting. Although it does not hurt, probably due to the fact that I am significantly bigger than an owl, I, like any normal person, get scared and frightened for my life! Now, this experience is routine for me, and I’m happy to say that that was the only time I was attacked. However, I can safely say my fear of owls has diminished, as the thing I feared most has already happened, and it really was not that bad.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the volunteer work I’m doing here. I will be posting more exciting stories about my time in Brazil every couple of weeks so long as I’m not too busy soaking up the Brazilian sun and experiencing all this beautiful country has to offer before I return to polluted Beijing in two months. Love and miss you all!

Joanna Shieh