Caring for animals injured during pandemic

Fabiola Sanchez

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Shut in by quarantine measures for the new coronavirus, Carmen Borges shares her small apartment in Caracas with her hustand, two daughters and, of late, a squirrel pup rescued by a neighbour.

The animal scurries across the kitchen floor and sleeps on the balcony in a nest improvised from a white towel.

The 50-year-old reiki therapist said she hopes the animal can learn to feed itself and be released outside — like the small, injured owl another neighbour had rescued and Borges cared for as it recuperated. She’s among a group of Venezuelans caring for lost or injured animals at a time when reduced human presence in the streets has lured some creatures into perilous encounters with an urban environment in one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries.

Workers at the government’s Mision Nevado and the independent Feathers and Tails in Freedom Foundation said they’ve seen increasing numbers of animals brought in for help.

Veterinarian Grecia Marquís, who directs the foundation, said an “impressive” number of animals — 20 — have arrived since it reopened in June after a two-month closure due to the pandemic. They’ve included a bat falcon injured in a collision with high-tension lines, a rusty-barred owl that needed a wing operation and several other owls, falcons and sloths, as well as an anteater.

ABOVE & BELOW: Carmen Borges a reiki therapist, feeds a banana to a macaw as she sits on the rooftop of her apartment building, in Caracas, Venezuela; and veterinarian and environmentalist Grecia Marquis feeds a spectacled owl. PHOTOS: AP

Caring for them is a challenge in a country that was struggling with the world’s steepest economic decline even before the pandemic hit.

Marquís helps finance the foundation by selling some of her paintings and gets private contributions.

She also asked those who bring the animals for a small contribution for their medicines. Some of the patients came by way of paramedic Ángel Padilla, who picks up injured animals — such as the bat falcon — as well as crash victims.

“With the quarantine or without the quarantine, I’m watching out for my animals,” he said.

Borges, meanwhile, likes to spend time on the roof of her 12-storey apartment building sharing seeds and bananas with a squaking bunch of flamboyantly coloured guacamayas, an old vulture and a one-legged falcon.

She said they’ve brought her “great happiness” despite the pandemic restrictions on movement.

“Now it’s better because I have more time to be in my home… and with them, it’s even better,” she said.