Sunday 20 September, 2020

Women in science: Wildlife whisperer, Hukaymah Ali

Photo courtesy Hukayma Ali/Facebook

Photo courtesy Hukayma Ali/Facebook

During the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the work of wildlife rehabilitators like Hukaymah Ali continues to be important, as the boundaries between home and nature overlap. 

Government has urged the population to stay at home in an effort to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), however, Ali, a volunteer with the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation, continues to do what she can to spread awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation.

In an interview with Loop News, Ali said she has always had a love for animals and the environment from a young age.

“I started from when I was small, being interested in animals and then I began watching a lot of animal documentaries and Steve Irwin (famous Australian conservationist), and that’s when everything sparked.”

Ali said she began volunteering with the Centre and was hooked.

“When I got a bit older I started to volunteer with a local veterinarian but I always wanted to more. I began volunteering at the ESCWC, and later completed my training in Florida as a certified wildlife rehabilitator."

Ali works with the Centre to do educational sessions, displays and other programmes to educate the public about Trinidad and Tobago’s local wildlife.

The Centre recently launched an online wildlife video series to educate children who are unable to visit the Centre during the stay-at-home regulations.

(Photo: Ali with students during an educational session in 2018. Photo courtesy Hukaymah Ali/Facebook.)

A passion for wildlife

Ali also rehabilitates animals which she says is pretty much a full-time job. 

Often, animals are injured by poachers or captured to be kept as pets. Sometimes, the results are heartbreaking, but she continues in the hope that they will survive.

For Ali, the hope that animal will recover and resume its normal life in the wild is what motivates her to keep trying.

“Sometimes you might get a patient and they don’t make it, but sometimes you get a patient that might make it. You try your best but you don’t expect much…and then they make a full recovery; that’s the best feeling ever.”

“That’s why you have to keep trying. You can’t let that get to you, you have to have faith.”

(Photo courtesy Hukaymah Ali/Facebook.)

All animals are important – even the ‘scary’ ones

Ali says a lot of her work involves dispelling the notion that some creatures are ‘bad’ or need to be killed, for example snakes, which are critical for a healthy ecosystem.

“Right now, apart from the Centre, I and a few of my friends are making it our duty to share awareness on animals who are misunderstood.”

“We like to find out why people do what they do and mistreat certain animals like snakes. Snakes are my favourite animal so I try to find out why people don’t like them.”

She said when asked, many people don’t fully understand snakes or the role they play in biodiversity.

“What we’ve noticed is a lot of people just don’t understand snakes, they believe all of them are bad and stuff like that. Right now we’re trying to educate persons, so on my social media account I make videos kind of explaining what they do. I think this had really helped.

“Another thing is that people don’t care about the environment or know how important it is, so we’re trying to show people that we have a lot of unique animals and if they die they won’t come back.”

Sometimes when we get people out there and show what we have in Trinidad, people are blown away.

She said she hopes that with this knowledge, people will see more value in wildlife than simply being a food source.

“We want people to be more eco-conscious, stop the overhunting. There are also a lot of issues with our laws for animal protection and the ability to enforce those laws. We don’t have those powers but we still try to talk to people, educate them, and maybe hopefully they might change their views.”

(Photo courtesy Hukaymah Ali/Facebook.)

Ali to women in science: If you love it, go for it

Ali said it was not easy as a woman, telling her friends and family about her decision to become a wildlife rehabber.

Despite the opinions of many, she pushed ahead, and is happier for it.

“There will be a lot of people telling you that what you’re doing makes no sense, they say things like ‘there’s no money in that’ but I will always tell people that it makes no sense doing something you don’t like.”

“If it makes you happy, just go and do it, don’t study what your friends and family say just do it. A lot of people are out there at jobs and they’re unhappy, and that makes no sense.”

“Go out there, make friends, join organisations and see if it’s for you, and if you like it, then take the chance, you have nothing to lose.”

“There’s a lot of different paths that might suit you, you might not like the rehabbing part but you might like other aspects like conducting tours or the administrative side of it.”


The pollution problem

Ali said she hopes that this current situation will make people more aware of the importance of wildlife and the effect of pollution on the environment.

“More needs to be done (about pollution). Sometimes we’re on the field trying to relocate a caiman, and then we see the area we chose for relocation is being used as a dumping site. We actually have to dodge through the garbage to get to a spot to relocate the caiman.

She also referred to a popular tourist site which is a prime dumping site for garbage, animals and more.

“People dump garage and even kittens at the side of the road where the swamp is, tires, everything you can imagine.”

She said poaching is another issue.

“It’s really sad. We found a monkey the other day. They found it off the golf course in Chaguaramas. Just looking into its eyes you can see the torture because the mother was killed, that’s what they do. It’s really sad.”

She said there’s an increase in the number of non-native species being brought from neighbouring countries like Venezuela, and these animals cannot be released into the wild, which poses a problem.

 She urged people not to buy or request these animals.

“If you don’t buy them then they will stop supplying them, if you keep buying them then they will keep bringing them in.”


Keeping T&T wild

Ali said she hopes that her work and the work of the Centre can remind the public that there is value in having forest reserves and wild spaces.

“I try to show people through social media so they can see for themselves. We go out there and photograph the animals and insects and people are blown away.”

“Tourists often see that and they want to come, they want to go into the forest and see these creatures, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a group.”

“There’s a lot to explore in Trinidad and Tobago and we need to change our ways to protect what we have.”

To find more about wildlife rehabilitation, follow the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation on Facebook at or follow Hukaymah Ali on Instagram as the_animalgirl

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