Founded by Alejandra Juarez, a strong-willed woman, who after spending many years working with the Córdoba zoo decided to open her own wildlife center and built the project from the ground up. She and her small staff work specifically with the Carayá monkeys, a Latin American species that is native to the Amazon forest. Alouatta Carayá is also known as the black howler monkey, due to the very loud lion-like howls they use to mark their territory.
The staff and the volunteers are in charge of their rehabilitation after captivity and preparation for their eventual release. The project was graced with a visit from the esteemed primatologist, Jane Goodall in 2013.
Volunteer Work with the Monkeys
Luckily for all wildlife lovers, the Refugio del Carayá has a volunteer program that can be joined through an application form online.
Howler monkeys, the largest monkey species, are the most exploited mammal in Argentina. Due to this and their extremely fragile nature, they are a concern for conservationists. They become depressed in captivity and are susceptible to death.
Carayá monkeys don’t breed in zoos, or in any other environment which is not their natural habitat. This means that if the populations descend to dangerously low numbers it would not be possible to conserve the species through the captive monkeys, as is possible with most predators. The goal is to rehabilitate the monkeys and prepare them for their eventual release.
Carayá Project has seven groups of monkeys living in the wilds of the reserve and some of them are already in their fourth or fifth generation of babies. The successful rehabilitation of howler monkeys demonstrates that any species, no matter how fragile, can be rehabilitated, released and its population grow back to healthy numbers from there.
Tasks at Carayá Monkey Reserve
Volunteer work at Carayá is physically challenging. Tasks include taking care of all the animals of the project, which aside from monkey includes farm animals, a full grown cougar, and a smaller rescued cougar pup. Also, cleaning the grounds, maintaining or building the housing and enclosures, and spending a lot of time with the youngest monkeys.
Since many of the monkeys are orphans or have lost most of their natural instincts, due to time spent with humans, they require a lot of attention.
Poaching and a perpetually shrinking natural habitat are the main threats to the howler monkeys. Most monkeys arrive at the reserve after being rescued from the poaching stands on the roadside, or get abandoned to the project by people who kept them as pets and got exhausted of them destroying their homes once they reached puberty.
A central task for volunteers is conducting the tour for tourists who visit the reserve. Volunteers are responsible for them from the moment they enter in the reserve. After a brief introduction of the project, volunteers guide them through the first groups of monkeys so that tourists can learn about the species and their eventual release. Most importantly, volunteers educate visitors by communicating the dangers of domesticating wild animals.
It is important to be aware that the project is located in a remote area. While living in the middle of the mountains with pure air and forests all around can be absolutely wonderful, it can also be a big challenge. There is no internet access and barely any phone reception.
Volunteers travel to town once a week to get in touch with family and stock up on food. Also, the staff speaks very basic English which makes communication tricky if you do not speak Spanish, but a perfect opportunity to practice it you have already some skills.
Experiences such as this are adventurous; volunteers have no hot water, and no amenities of any kind. On top of this, cleaning up after monkeys can be dirty. The sacrifice is worth it if you want to teach the baby monkey to climb trees or to a cougar cub to run through the forest.
Although foreign visitors can sign up through high-priced study abroad programs such as the for-profit Projects Abroad (who pocket the majority of the money you pay), it’s better to sign up directly with the Caraya Reserve through their webpage or by sending an email (preferably in Spanish) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who find themselves in the area can also visit for a tour.
— Cami A. Cosse-Braslavsky is an Argentine who volunteered at the Carayá Monkey Reserve