A New Day
I slept through the whole hurricane last night. I’m just opening my tiny eyes now as Ella, the human who’s been caring for me, opens the veranda door and the thick, humid jungle air moves slowly through my pen.
I lift my head from the termite nest I’ve been using as a pillow, point my long snout high, and sniff. Something’s gone horribly wrong out there. The smells swirling around me are all messed up.
I know this better than most creatures in the rainforest, even if I’ve been stuck inside for a few months with my broken leg. It smells as if nature put the whole rainforest into a blender and then poured it out.
My heartbeat is even stronger than usual. It’s more like a heart-boom! Ella always tells people that when she puts her hand on my chest, it feels like someone’s thumping and banging on it from the inside—hard, like a drum.
The ceiling’s dripping in a few places near my pen in the living room, and Ella’s frantically using towels and a few plastic containers to clean up all the water as fast as she can. She quietly checks over my pen to make sure water isn’t dripping on my head.
Like all anteaters, I hate rain and wind. In the wild, it’s no problem, because I’d be covered by the canopy—the thick roof of the rainforest. The canopy is like an umbrella, but it’s twenty feet (6 meters) thick and up to eighty feet (24 meters) off the ground (as high as a ten-story building!). It’s dark, warm, and moist. The rainforest is a very drippy place. If things hadn’t gone wrong recently, I’d be spending most of my time up there, unless I was on the rainforest floor sniffing around for fallen fruit, insects, or grubs.
Now I hear trees cracking and falling, branches snapping, and chainsaws running. People are cutting fallen trees into pieces, then carting them down to the river in wheelbarrows so that everyone will be able to safely walk around and drive in and out of this place, which is called Caves Branch Lodge.
Ella Baron and her husband, Ian Anderson, run the lodge, where guests sleep in jungle bungalows or treehouses and learn about the rainforest (the tourists don’t come near me, as I’m not supposed to be around humans). Their home is right there on the same property, and I live in their living room. Plenty of people work to run the lodge, but they don’t usually come into the house.
Right now, Ella is sweaty and upset. She’s bringing in dog and cat carriers, but they’re not full of cats and dogs. They’re full of birds that were injured in the storm. I can smell them. The front door is constantly opening and closing. There are too many humans coming in and out, and all the different smells are exhausting me. It’s a lot of information to take in. Everyone’s trying to help the birds, trying to get their walkie-talkies set up, and trying to get the Wi-Fi and phones working so they can all have contact with the outside world.
Ella needs to call or e-mail her staff to see if they’re okay and, if they are, to ask them to come and help. And she has to let everyone know that she and Ian are okay, even though much of their land and property has been damaged. A lot of the canopy has come down. Ella has to call the bird rescue people for advice about all those poor birds, many of them babies thrown from their nests onto the rainforest floor.
Oh dear, now she’s bringing in a boa constrictor (in a plastic carrier, of course!). The snake was in the floodwaters, and Ella didn’t want him or her to get hacked by a scared employee with a machete—that’s a big knife—as everyone uses machetes around here to clear paths through the jungle. She’ll release him once the waters have gone down. There’s also an opossum and her eleven babies in a crate on the porch. No one here is having a very good morning.
“I knew it was going to be bad,” Ella says to Marvin Paredes, whom works in the botanical gardens. He’s come into the house to get a walkie-talkie. “The soldier ants were so busy in the citrus groves yesterday,” she adds. “They knew it was their last chance to eat for a while.”
From my pen, I can see the kitchen, the couch, the office area, and the entrance, and it’s all a mess. Ella’s muddy machete is lying on the coffee table. There are also two tubs of termite nests that she gathered for me yesterday, but she and I both know that they’re already a bit stale—and that there will be no more for a few days, until the roads clear. It’s not a great situation, but she always makes sure I eat something, even if she has to open the mealworm container in the freezer. And there’s always plenty of fermented fruit in the kitchen . . . Mmm. To humans it looks rotten, but it’s not.
This place is usually much more organized than it seems at the moment. Ella’s helped fifteen of us anteaters here (I’m number fifteen!) over the years. It’s Ella and Ian’s home, but Ella calls our pens the Tamandua Refuge. All but one of the anteaters before me have made it back to the wild.
Some of us stay a whole year, but I’ve been here only a few months. We usually stay away from other mammals (anteaters included; a group of anteaters is called a parade, but you’d never see us in a group), but I had to make an exception for Ella because I wanted to live and get back to the rainforest. And I’m so ready to go. But clearly I’m going be stuck here a little longer, at least until the floodwaters go down. So I’ve got some time to tell you stuff.
I’m really lucky I was inside last night. Like most wildlife, we anteaters do very badly in hurricanes and other bad weather. In fact, it was just after a flash flood ten years ago that Ella rescued her first anteater, Gabi, from the river’s muddy floodwaters. Gabi was only eight weeks old, and she’d gotten separated from her mom. Just like today, lots of wildlife had been hurt or killed during that flood.
Gabi and I never met, or course. But I can’t tell you my story without telling you hers, because Ella learned everything she knows about rescuing anteaters from Gabi. Plus, my name, Abi, is an echo of Gabi’s name! (It’s just a coincidence—I was named after Abe, the man who found me and called for help.)
Ella talks about Gabi (and all the other anteaters Ella rescued) all the time. She teaches vet students, and she visits schools all around Belize. And she’s always talking about us to Ian and her botanical garden staff, teaching them, asking for their help.
If Ella had never rescued Gabi, I probably wouldn’t even be alive right now.
But my story is very different from Gabi’s. For one thing, I wasn’t a baby when I was rescued. Still, certain things are always the same with us anteaters, especially when we’re in trouble. Ella ob...