“There is hope at the end, and we are part of the hope,” says dedicated veterinarian Alejandro Morales at the conclusion of Jungle Animal Hospital. Filmed over the course of one year, the PBS NATURE series season finale highlights the noble work of Dr. Morales, zoologist Anna Bryant, and their colleagues at the ARCAS wildlife rescue center and hospital deep in the Guatemalan jungle.
Jungle Animal Hospital debuts on PBS tonight, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET/ 7:00 p.m. CT. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability after the film’s debut broadcast.)
Established in 1989 by a group of environmentally concerned Guatemalans, ARCAS rescues, rehabilitates and releases an incredibly diverse array of injured, orphaned and endangered animals. Many are victims, directly and indirectly, of habitat decimation and wildlife trafficking. The black market pet trade has especially driven the parrot, macaw and spider monkey populations to near extinction in the region.
While Jungle Animal Hospital provides a mere introduction to the extensive work being done overall at ARCAS, Alejandro Morales and Anna Bryant are clearly key to the center’s success. Their dedication knows no bounds. They greet and treat each patient with the utmost skill and tenderness and must walk a fine line, emotionally, as they face life and death challenges on a daily basis.
Dr. Morales’ attempt to repair the broken leg of a rare baby potoo bird, for example, forces him to devise operating room and feeding solutions that test his resources and his professional resolve to remain detached from his patients.
Ms. Bryant must also be mindful of her boundaries as she nurtures baby orphan spider monkeys and oversees their rehabilitation and eventual release into the wild. Baby spider monkeys are prime targets for wildlife traffickers. Torn from their murdered mothers’ breasts, the babies are black marketed as pets.
Spider monkeys that survive this early trauma are quarantined for several months and gradually allowed to interact with other orphans in secure treetops on the ARCAS refuge grounds. Their successful release into the wild is predicated on their ability to feed and bond properly. Those that come into the ARCAS program later in life, as abandoned and abused pets, for example, face a different set of often insurmountable obstacles.
ARCAS staffers actively work with local authorities to enforce anti-trafficking laws and catch criminals in the act. Baby parrots are especially prized in the illegal pet trade, but 70-80% of their catch die in transit. The film documents the results of a successful baby parrot rescue mission. Although dehydrated, malnourished and jam-packed into a cardboard box, the tiny individuals had a positive outcome.
ARCAS director Fernando Martinez briefly makes an appearance as he reached a touching milestone during filming: the culmination of the center’s first captive-breeding and release program. As Martinez and his staff transported five majestic, captive-bred scarlet macaws to a hilltop overlooking the Guatemalan rain forest, emotions ran high. The planned future release of 35 more captive-bred scarlet macaws hinged on the successful inter-breeding of this initial batch of captive-bred birds with the dwindling population of scarlet macaws in the wild.
“Since its establishment, the ARCAS Rescue Center has grown into one of the largest and most complex rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year,” which is a mission that deserves the support of anyone interested in the well-being of wild animals and their increasingly endangered habitats.
Jungle Animal Hospital is a co-production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC and the BBC in association with WNET. It debuts on the award-winning PBS series, NATURE, tonight, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability after the film’s debut broadcast.) You can also learn more about ARCAS by visiting their Website @ http://arcasguatemala.org/–Judith Trojan