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Entries about animals

Saving Sea Turtles in Hawaii—Guatemala

& Another Attempt at a Blue-Green World for Akazul


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Hawaii, the city not the state, is located on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, a mere stone’s throw from the border of El Salvador. It’s a place famous for sea turtles, particularly the endangered leatherback and the olive ridley, and in the same breath, it is known for being one of the last commercial distributors of sea turtle eggs. Herein lies the inspiration for another great NGO working in Guatemala: ARCAS.


ARCAS, a non-profit formed by concerned Guatemalan citizens in the late-80s, has centers throughout Guatemala: in Peten, where monkeys and jaguars are; in Guatemala City, where environmental education takes precedence; and in Hawaii, home of the ARCAS sea turtle hatchery. However, today, perhaps because I’ll soon be visiting the Pacific coast and the hatchery, I’ve come to talk turtles.

While much of the southwest region’s volcanically fertile land has given way to agriculture, the brackish mangroves along the shoreline have remained a healthy contrast and are still rich with life. ARCAS has been working here since 1993 when, alarmed by the depletion of leatherback turtles in the world, the NGO settled in Hawaii to try to prevent the over-harvesting of turtle eggs by the local communities. (Not to be left unnoticed, adult turtles are often victims of the tuna and swordfish industry.)

As it seems is often the case with over-harvested things, the big draw to turtle eggs was not the makings of a really wicked omelet but the belief that it was an aphrodisiac, a la tiger penis and bear bile. (How the world does fall into the whims of impotent men!) Sadly, there are reportedly only around 2000 leatherbacks—the second largest reptile in the world—left in the Pacific, and eggs are pretty important to repopulation. In its hatcheries in Hawaii and El Rosario, ARCAS manages to collect 50,000-plus eggs a year.

But, ARCAS hasn’t stopped at turtle eggs. The NGO also has programs for community development and conservation in the area, with opportunities to volunteer. They are petitioning the Guatemalan government to create 4000-hectare protected park centered on the important mangroves around Hawaii, and ARCAS has even gone so far as to purchase Finca El Salado to start the project off and buffer the mangroves from the encroaching sugar cane farms, as well as monitor the factories effects on the coast. The Hawaiian ARCAS branch also does a lot of work with local iguanas and caiman, two indigenous species, like turtles, in need of population recovery.


Another of the many great turtle projects in the area is Akazul, a UK-born NGO located in La Barrona, not far from Hawaii. In 2010, Akazul was formed by members of a program, Project Parlama (the local word for the olive ridley), that was begun by ARCAS and another UK-based NGO, Ambios. Akazul, derived from the Mayan word “ak” (great cosmic turtle) and the Spanish “azul” (blue, as in the ocean), is also working hard to make sure these turtle stick around a while longer.

Akazul is trying to connect all the turtle hatcheries along the coast in order to build up and standardize the conservation efforts here in Guatemala. As well, they do a lot to educate local communities, preserve the environment, and monitor how all the various projects are going. Like ARCAS, Akazul offers volunteer opportunities, or for those interested in helping from afar, the NGO accepts outright donations, membership fees (which includes a subscription to an e-zine about the project), or nest sponsorships.

Both of these organizations are worth exploring online. I can’t wait to check them out in the flesh in a couple of weeks.

Interested in more awesome Guatemalan NGOs? Check out my NGO page with fresh profiles on some of the great projects to be discovered in Central America's do-goodery capital.

Posted by jonathonengels 08:55 Archived in Guatemala Tagged animals guatemala profile ngo Comments (0)

Are you AWARE?

Saving Domestic Animals in Guatemala


My lovely wife Emma is both revered and infamous for her consideration of animals. My favorite story to tell is when she once spent two days with a humane “orange juice trap” to remove a population of fruit flies that had come into our house in search of breakfast bananas. She’d let a ten or so flies enter a glass with a quarter-inch of OJ in the bottom of it, quickly cap it off, then release the offending insects outside, just beyond our doorstep. Most people mocked her about the life span of fruit flies, but it didn’t stop her.

Not surprisingly, Emma has influenced me greatly in this area over the last eight years. In the moment this became clear to me, freshly stung by a scorpion, my first inclination was to scoop it up and throw it out of our cabin rather than squish it. She’s had this effect on loads of others as well. Many people who’ve watched her painstakingly care for or save animals have later contacted us to say the can no longer stomp on a cockroach or spray ants. Of course, as you’ve read before (or, at least, I’ve blogged before), it’s not just a mission to save bugs.


To the point, in my monthly, self-imposed homework to promote the work of an NGO based here in Guatemala, and in honor of my wife’s great effort to spread inter-species peace, I’ve selected Animal AWARE as this month’s NGO:

Animal AWARE (Animal Welfare Association – Rescue/Education), to be clear, is an animal shelter that has been working to improve the lives of domestic animals in Guatemala for over fifteen years now. Located just outside Antigua, the organization’s name has been a byword for me over the last few years, both as a place for tourist to visit (every Sunday from 10:00 to 3:00) or volunteer ($5.00 a day with a place to stay). Currently, the shelter houses more than 400 animals, all of which need love, care, and attention.


In an effort to save Guatemala’s domestic animals, AWARE campaigns, a la Bob Barker, to have pets spay and neutered to prevent more stray animals, including monthly “Castration Days” (ouch!) on which the procedure (as well as spaying) is provided at huge discount. Additionally, it’s the biggest no-kill animal shelter in Central America, looks for both adoptions and sponsorships for its resident animals, and even has program for sending puppies to the States. Therein lies the Rescue side of AWARE.

As the acronym suggests, another large part of the NGO is based on education. One of the many issues going on in Guatemala is the mistreatment of animals. As in many cultures, the value placed on the lives of animals is often viewed no more than their usefulness. Dogs might be tied to a stake for its entire life in order to “guard” something, or when the cute puppy grows up into a dog, it’s abandoned. Street dogs in Guatemala, throughout Central America really, are plentiful and simply hard to look at: matted fur, ribs protruding, often at the end of a swift kick from a child who knows no better. AWARE works to teach those children a different way.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to help the AWARE project by visiting on Sundays or volunteering your time at the shelter, as well as animal sponsorships and adoptions. And, of course, interested parties can bestow a plain old donation to help cover the costs of food, grooming, walking, equipment, and vaccines. Perhaps one of the coolest things going is sponsoring a FeLV cat (a cat with feline leukemia), which would be put to sleep elsewhere but is provided with special separate housing at Animal AWARE.

I hope you’ve found this organization as inspiring as I have, and even if you won’t be found catching fruit flies in an orange juice trap any time soon, remember there are many other ways to help animals. This might be a nice way to start.


  • Don't forget to check out my new Facebook page -- Expat Expeditions: A Life Abroad -- for links to various great travel websites and a variety of articles by yours truly.

Posted by jonathonengels 13:12 Archived in Guatemala Tagged animals ngo expat Comments (0)

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