Monkey business, bear pools and a little culture in Florida

On Feb. 23, a group of nine volunteers embarked on a weeklong service trip to Silver Springs, Florida as a part of the Badger Alternative Breaks experience. The Florida trip was themed around animal welfare and the volunteers spent their time helping to build habitats for rescued animals.

“We were building habitats for capuchin monkeys,” said Sean Adler, leader of the trip. “They are these tiny little guys that are super adorable but don’t go near them. We were building a massive cage that connected to several other massive cages. We were expanding on the habitat that they already had.”
Each trip assists a program or charity according to the trip’s theme. The Florida trip was partnered with Forest Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization founded in 1998.

“Their whole purpose is to provide a home for the animals,” said Adler. “It is the actual definition of what you would want to see in a sanctuary. A lot of sanctuaries just have that as an advertisement, and then they aren’t really safe-havens for animals, Forest Animal Rescue is. They only do two tours a month, you are in a jeep and not allowed to go near the animals at all. It is just a home for them to reside in. They’re not a rehabilitation center either. They are taking animals from situations where the animals can’t be rehabilitated. For example, they have six tigers there. Those tigers can never be in the wild again, they just don’t have the skills anymore. This place is just a lovely place for them to be. They just moved, so they had to rebuild all their cages. The tigers originally had many acres to roam around in, but now they only have an acre and a half of plot. Still, quite a large area of land to try and put a fence around. All these animals have their own home.”

During the week, those on the service trip would wake up at Camp SoZo, their lodgings, and then go to their work site via rented vans. They worked on the ceiling of a cage, sharing stories and riddles as they worked. When the day was over, they’d go back to Camp SoZo and have a nightly reflection, a group discussion that looked back on the day before.

Although the group was focused on the capuchin monkeys, who were in a habitat next to where the volunteers were working, they were still allowed to see the other animals.

“They were building the bears a giant pool,” said Adler, “They had dug a pit and before they could fill the pit, the bears went over to the pool and would fill it with dirt. They were playing around on the rocks and hanging out where the pool was supposed to be.

It’s not all work. One day per trip is a dedicated cultural day, where the volunteers get to experience what the community around them is like.

“Cultural day was our last day. Usually, you have cultural day on the first day,” said Adler. “The first thing we did was drive an hour to the Daytona Beach area, we went to a flea-market that was pretty big. Then we went to an abandoned sugar mill to learn about the history of the area a little bit. There was also an abandoned amusement park on the same grounds. Then we went to the beach for a little bit and after that, we went to a free chocolate factory tour. We went to another cultural heritage museum, it’s an old Rockefeller house called The Casements. We had dinner at a local restaurant and after we went back to The Casements and they were showing “Christopher Robin” for free. We thought that was kind of fitting for our animal welfare topic. Then there was a thunderstorm, so we had to leave.”

While the trip went off without many problems, weather did pose an issue throughout the week.
“We were working in big metal cages and if a thunderstorm rolls in, you don’t wanna be working in big metal cages,” said Adler. “So, sometimes, we left at most an hour early. That was the only issue, everything went off perfectly.

Badger Alternative Breaks is a service experience that runs every February break, with sign-ups typically starting in the fall.

“It was an amazing trip,” said Adler. “I couldn’t have been more thankful for the group I had. The participants really made that trip as successful as it was.”