When I blow a whistle, one of two things happens: kids start scooping up rings and rubber ducks or a river otter hops up on its hind legs like a meerkat and pokes its little face in a tube.
I spent many mornings in 2015 working at Hayden Recreation Center as a lifeguard and swim instructor. This summer I got used to my schedule of teaching five swim lessons in the mornings, guarding for a half an hour, and then guarding an afternoon packed with free swims for the day camp kids at Hayden. I spent all day with my hair in two braids in a one-piece swimsuit, shorts, a red T-shirt, and a tube on my lap. As for my whistle, I was always twirling it around my fingers, ready to blow it to remind kids to keep their hands to themselves or let them know it was the end of free swim – time to clean up the pool. These days, my days are a little different, but I still have my whistle.
5:30am – I get up before the sun to shower, pop my hair in a ponytail, and get dressed – otter T-shirt, long pants, sneakers, and raincoat. Once I’m ready to go, I have a breakfast of homemade yogurt with fresh fruit and granola (my host mother makes yogurt and bakes bread every-other day).
6:30am – I catch my first of three buses to Projeto Lontra across the street from my house in Lagoa da Conceição. After my third bus, I have a brief, wooded walk down a dirt road to Projeto Lontra.
8:30am – When I arrive at Projeto Lontra, I head directly into the Setor de Nutrição, in the interior of the enclosures, to prepare the otters’ food. At Projeto Lontra, we have six neo-tropical river otters, all of whom were orphaned as cubs. Because otters need to remain with their mothers for the first year to learn how to swim and hunt, these otters cannot be released into the wild. After I have measured out the appropriate amount of fish, I head up the stairs to the rooftop garden with a bucket of water and my whistle. When I blow my whistle at the first enclosure, Boni and Bela scamper out of the water and head to the tube that runs from the rooftop garden into their enclosure. I throw the fish down the tube, followed by a little water. After Boni and Bela come Tupi and Yara and then Peri and Cici.
In addition to the otters, we also have a tayra, an arboreal cousin of the river otter, a blind raccoon, two saguis monkeys, a python named Boris, five tropical birds, seven turtles, three ponds full of tilapia, and two tropical fish. The rats and the tilapia are raised as food for the python and the otters, respectively. After I feed the otters, I move on to the tayra, Wuinny, who eats fruit, vegetables, chicken, eggs, rats, and honey. To keep Wuinny from getting bored, I hide his food throughout his enclosure. After Wuinny, I feed the turtles, rats, monkeys, and birds their breakfast of pellets and fruit.
10:00am – Once all of the otters and the tayra have eaten their breakfast, I put them in small rooms attached to their main enclosures, so that I can clean their enclosures.
12:30pm – After a morning of caring for the animals, I take a midday break for lunch to cool off a little in the shade.
2:00pm – I spend my afternoons cleaning up the community recycling center, assisting with environmental education with school groups, and helping with maintenance work around the otter project.
4:45pm – After a long day at Projeto Lontra, I head back to the bus stop next to Edson Bar to catch my first of three buses home. I get home from the otter project about 7:30pm.