Volunteer in Belize: Wildtracks Monkey and Manatee Rehabilitation Center

What is Wildtracks?

Wildtracks is a wildlife rehabilitation center in northern Belize, which helps rehabilitate manatees, howler monkeys, and spider monkeys. They’ve led the way in conservation, by decreasing the population of confiscated wildlife in Belize by an estimated 90%.

Where is Wildtracks?

Wildtracks is located in Sarteneja, a small fishing village in northern Belize.

Sarteneja waterfront
colorful home in Sarteneja

To get there, I first flew from O’Hare airport in Chicago to Belize City, Belize.pasportbelize

From the airport, I took a taxi for 5 USD to the bus stop. My bus to Sarteneja arrived an hour late, but have no fear, the locals at the bus stop kept me entertained by offering me homemade rum and cokes that they were serving up, on ice, from their makeshift bus stop bar. Hah! 😛

The bus ride was entertaining as well, with loud Latin music blasting and a strobe light in the front window. The roads to Sarteneja are also incredibly bumpy, and a few of the seats literally fell apart during the ride. 😮

the bus seat literally fell apart; man taking his horse for a bike ride (horse and bike are attached by string)

Anyway, from the Sarteneja bus stop, a member of the Wildtracks staff picked me up and took me on the 15-minute ride to the center.

main lodge at Wildtracks

What it’s like to volunteer at Wildtracks?

The accommodation at Wildtracks is tropical and incredibly rustic. Each volunteer is assigned a cabana, with their own bed, outfitted with a mosquito net canopy. The showers are cold, but refreshing, and the room is filled with lines for hanging hand-washed laundry.

cabana exterior, plus bedroom and bathroom interior

The main guest house has a communal living room, dining room, and kitchen that they operate on solar polar. They have internet access on some evenings, as well as, a wide range of books, board games, a resident dogs to keep everyone entertained.

Moose, the playful puppy 🙂

They also had kayaks for use during the day, and a stunning view of the lagoon. 20170418_134823Just check out that sunrise! 😮17991668_10106672329949177_3237278495140994866_oVolunteers are provided with all meals at Wildtracks. Breakfast is self-serve, with cereal, toast, coffee, and eggs. Lunch consists of Belizean staples, like rice, beans and tortillas, while dinner is more international, with items like pizza, fried chicken, and veggie burgers.20170420_195837During the first few days at Wildtracks, volunteers are given an orientation on what the organization does for the howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and manatees in Belize.

enclosures at Wildtracks

What does Wildtracks do for Howler Monkeys?

The Black Howler Monkey is a native and endangered species in Belize.20170421_113259These loud primates are aptly named for their screeching howls, which are used for communication. They are mostly sent to the rehabilitation center after they were inadequately kept as house pets. IMG_20170418_145556_788Howler Monkeys eat mainly leafy plants; however, as house pets, they are feed usually fruits and table scraps. Most howler monkeys don’t last more than 6 months in captivity. For this reason, howler monkeys come in very young, malnourished, and most likely suffering from PTSD, since their mothers are typically shot during their initial capture. As such, their first stage of rehabilitation is crucial, with advanced nursing care. The volunteers take shifts as surrogate mothers, spending anywhere from 12-24 hours per day with each monkey, making sure their social and behavioral needs are met. They also syringe feed the monkeys a milk formula, treat them for parasites, and provide them with a variety of leafy plants and some fruits.

Here’s a video of what a baby monkey typically eats during each feeding. 🙂

After the monkeys recover from this first stage, they are slowly weaned off human contact. Volunteers spend about 2-4 hours with the monkeys, increase the size of their meals, and decrease their feeding times.

left: larger meals for recovered monkeys; right: milk formula and dehydration supplement for critical monkeys

In the final stage of rehabilitation, the monkeys are not kept in a cage, but are given space in a section of forest, surrounded by electrical fence. They are offered meals, but receive no human contact, and are encouraged to forage for themselves. This full process can take 1-2 years, at which point the monkeys are released into a local nature reserve. They are continually tracked post-release as well, to ensure that their rehabilitation was successful.

What does Wildtracks do for Spider Monkeys?

The Yucatan Spider Monkey is also a native and endangered species in Belize.20170418_103854They are mainly arboreal, spending their days swinging in the trees, foraging for food. They are also one of the most intelligent monkey species. Their main threats are pet trade and habitat loss. Unlike howler monkeys, spider monkeys eat mostly fruits, so as house pets, they are usually fed an adequate diet, and last a lot longer in captivity. For this reason, they are typically brought to Wildtracks as adults, where they go through a similar process of rehabilitation.
What does Wildtracks do for manatees?

West Indian Manatees are a large, gray marine mammal, native to Belize.172FC699BE618AC7935125137C386FA1They live in shallow, slow-moving bodies of water, and are mostly brought in for injury, when boats hit them for driving too fast. 20170418_152754When they are first brought to Wildtracks, they are placed in a small, warm pool, where they are fed frequent meals of milk supplement and sea grass, given treatment for injury, and monitored 24 hours per day.

manatee diet plan and monitoring sheets

After their initial recovery, they are placed in a larger pool, where volunteers socialize with them, and provide them with exercise by swimming with them three times each day.a4354debacc7822a33251286826d80bbI was lucky enough to swim with Hope, a baby manatee, who loves socializing with volunteers.
2663FE049634BF638A82B4525A1D7A910CDDD99FF2D7BDCB88831356B54D23CBShe hugged my legs, nibbled on my suit strings, and swam along side me in my pool floatie. 🙂
9B8EDBFAA3E2D9497A8ECEB07374843AC6FE0B075F2C949ADA3F07B5C0E390B3Here’s a short video from my swim with Hope, the manatee. ❤

Anyway, in the next stage of rehabilitation they are placed in a fenced-in portion of the lagoon, where their human contact is limited. They are also given an artificial sea grass bed, made from industrial pipe, where they are encouraged to eat on their own. In the final stage of rehabilitation, the animals are slowly released back into the lagoon, with a tracker placed on their tail for monitoring.

manatee pools
top left: initial pool for manatees; bottom left/top right: fenced-in lagoon; bottom middle: artificial sea grass bed; bottom right: manatee with floating tracker

What other animals are there at Wildtracks? 

Wildtracks doesn’t just have monkeys and manatees. They also have peccaries (hog-like mammals), whitetail deer, an ocelot, and a margay (nocturnal cat), which they attained after a local zoo closed down.

peccaries look like pigs, but they’re actually quite vicious
Belizean whitetail deer
Ocelia, the ocelot

The volunteers feed these animals as well. The peccaries, like hogs, are fed fruit scraps, while the cats are fed slaughtered chickens.

feeding the peccaries (an iguana also hanging out on the table)

Additionally, they have resident monkeys, which are not suitable for release, including a spider monkey with an injured spinal cord, and a non-native Capuchin monkey, which was illegally smuggled into Belize.

Nicki, the Capuchin

DSC_1787Volunteers provide these monkeys with behavioral enrichment, like these popsicles made from banana, coconut, raisin and peanuts.

What was my favorite part about being at Wildtracks?
I really enjoyed being in the nursery, where I got to bond with the young howler monkeys. ❤
20170420_172137They were comical to watch, as they would spend hours playing and wrestling one another.

Just like children, they’re easily amused. Just look at what happened when a butterfly flew into their cage. Hah! 😂😂😂

The monkeys also interact and play with the volunteers.20170420_173148They like to nibble on hands, latch onto heads, and purr to show affection. ❤20170420_103741

The volunteers are encouraged to smile and purr in response.

Sometimes, after a long day of playing, they also enjoy just chilling in your lap. Love! ❤2017-04-21 16.45.38

If you want to know more about Wildtracks, or contact them to volunteer, feel free to click the link below.


20 thoughts on “Volunteer in Belize: Wildtracks Monkey and Manatee Rehabilitation Center

    1. Thanks for checking out the post. It is located below Mexico, in Central America. For safety and medical concerns, I would register with your consulate upon arrival, as well as, traveling with adequate medical insurance. Take care. 🙂


  1. This was awesome, thank you! I just signed up to volunteer in the fall. I can’t wait to work with the manatees! Any other suggestions for a first time volunteer from the states?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Megan, I lost your blog after my comment, but just found it again. I leave in 4 weeks for Wild Tracks. I will be there for just 3 weeks. I’ve been in contact with their Volunteer Coordinator and will be working primarily with the manatees. I’m a registered veterinary technician, so I hope to help in any way I can, including any veterinary care.
        Any hints or suggestions?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I volunteered in September. The mosquitoes were horrible. At times, and various locations at Wild Tracks, it was like walking into a wall of mosquitoes. You are not allowed to wear bug spray while working with the animals. You don’t want to expose them to any chemicals and if you are working with the manatees, you don’t want it in the water as it could harm the manatees. I highly recommend, no matter what time of year, bring a mosquito jacket and face net, and for your cabana a camping cot net. These can be purchased on Amazon or any outdoors store. Bring loose long clothing – long sleeve shirts and pants. This will also help. Keep in mind these are articles of clothing that will get messy and disgusting by the end of the 1 month volunteering. Don’t bring stuff you would want to wear again. I went to the Goodwill and picked up stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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