Katie’s Story Part III: A time to reflect

It’s hard to believe eight months have passed since I arrived at The Ara Project. I remember from that evening a rush of hands pulling me and my bags out of the truck and the pouring rain, another rush of introductions and an instant feeling of community. It was a similar manner in which I left only a few days ago; leaving behind not only a team but also a place that has come to feel like home, and taking with me a full set of new skills in conservation management, and many happy memories.

When I wrote at the beginning of my apprenticeship I spoke of everything I looked forward to learning in the world of macaw conservation: captive breeding techniques, climbing and the day-to-day running of a site being a few of the many. I wrote of my surprise at adding construction skills to the mix. One thing I did not expect but which has come to define my time as an apprentice at The Ara Project has been the enormous personal growth that I have experienced while living and working communally. I have built confidence, communication skills and initiative by learning how to handle the inevitable conflicts and off-days which stem from living and working in a close environment, and to lead a team during my week practising as Site Manager. On site we focus on individual responsibilty of a zone – as I have been doing as sole keeper of the Curú aviary for the past eight months, and I believe that this is the best way for the macaws to be cared for with assertiveness and for us to flourish as practical conservationists – through observation and prioritising duties according to our own knowledge of the parrots as individuals. These are developments which will enrich my personal life and career immeasurably for the future. Now as I have been preparing to leave it has been wonderful to see the process from another perspective as I watch our newer recruits of volunteers and apprentices finding their special skills and place within the team.

In recent months I have been fortunate enough to gain some practical experience in monitoring chicks through weighing and matching up against growth charts. If the parents are doing their job well intervening is not necessary, on occasion however a feeding is necessary to boost the chick back up to the right place on the growth curve.

I am glad also to have had the opportunity to join Jack, our field biologist, monitoring a prospective wild pair and eventual nest site. Wild bird monitoring has been an excellent activity to do as part of the apprenticeship as it puts what we do daily on site into the bigger picture of what we are aiming for: a released population of Scarlet macaws across the Nicoya peninsula. With the arrival of chicks in this latter half of the breeding season, all our theory modules have been brought into context and our apprenticeship has come full-circle.

Another highlight was the community outreach event we ran in Islita village in March for which I helped to bake and distribute sweet snacks. There was a fulfilling quality about getting together as a full team to tell our story to the community with whom we and the macaws live. Looking at the interest of the children in the audience it is good to know that eventally these will be the people who watch out for our released populations once the project vision is complete.

Going forwards, I am looking to use my experience as an apprentice to seek opportunities in management of a conservation project, but first I’m putting them to use a little further north in Costa Rica working with a small team to rehabilitate injured and orphaned Howler Monkeys in Nosara. Knowing what I do now about environmental enrichment and animal husbandry I am confident that I can make a positive impact in this new venture and gain a greater understanding of conservation as a broader field, with the diversity of species which make up a single ecosystem. The big next goal, however, is to put my knowledge and experience in the field to study a Master’s Degree in biodiversity and wildlife conservation; gaining an in-depth understanding of the field, in order to conduct my own research and perhaps one day direct a project of my own – with the help of a dedicated volunteer team, of course.

To finish, I would like to thank Sam, Sarah and Tom; our amazing management team, for this incredible opportunity, and for their continual guidance and support throughout the past eight months; and Fabio our employed team member whose extensive outdoors knowledge and gusto has been as indispensible as his friendship; and finally to everybody with whom I’ve lived and worked since October, for lessons and memories that will go always onwards with me to wherever that may be. May we all see parrots flying free across the skies of Costa Rica soon.

About the Author
Staff and volunteers at The Ara Project come from all over the world and all walks of life! Some of us have years of experience working with parrots and in conservation and for some of us, this work is brand new! But we all have one thing in common which is that we're dedicated to helping these beautiful birds roam free once again in Costa Rica.