Overlooking the park between Bonampak and Nader Avenues in Supermanzana 2A in Downtown Cancun is a unique house, a refuge for nature and home to a remarkable couple. Alberto “Beto” and Hilary Charles are the founders of Fauna Digna, a sanctuary where injured birds and animals are nursed back to health and then released into the wild.
Beto and Hilary have literally opened their home up to wildlife, in fact, their feathered and furry guests wander freely everywhere. As you walk through the front door and living room you go straight into the garden and the animals and birds do the same. At any given time there may be woodpeckers, mockingbird chicks, opossums, raccoons, squirrels and coatimundi in residence. You might see Hilary attending to a fox with a broken leg, observing solemn pygmy owl chicks or Beto feeding a hummingbird. Pelicans waddle around the pool deck, a juvenile flamingo yet to get its pink plumage stands in the shallows and a shy green heron rustles through the undergrowth. There are enclosures where stately birds of prey such as osprey, owls or black hawks recover from injuries caused by discarded fishing lines or window strikes. With Beto and Hilary they all have a second chance at life.
The Charles family moved to Cancun in the early 1980s. Originally from Mexico City, Beto came from a family that raised birds and Hilary, an industrial photographer, regularly attended surgeries at the School of Veterinary Medicine in the National University (UNAM). They share a lifelong passion for nature and for wildlife.
Beto reminisces about early Cancun and how they started to rescue animals. “Cancún was different back then. There were fewer residents and most of us knew each other or knew of each other,” he explains. “So when the government, which had no resources for handling injured animals, needed help they came to us.”
“We received every kind of mammal, reptile and bird but mostly birds. Hilary had a lot of experience but sometimes even she had no idea what to do. She’d start leafing through books or call vets and experts in Mexico or the US. She’d figure it out, then do what she had to do and in a way that calms the animals and wins their trust,” says Beto.
To this day, every municipal, state and federal agency in the region, along with Cancun residents, knows where to take an eagle with a broken wing, a parakeet chick or a pelican tangled in fishing line. Hilary and Beto work as much today as they ever did and they work for free. Their children have become involved too.
They have a wealth of stories about the birds and animals they have helped over the years. These include wild cats, whistling ducks and even newborn peccary piglets, which loved the swimming pool. The family labrador ended up nursing the piglets who then grew up thinking they were dogs. “They’d run to the front door barking every time somebody knocked, just like the dogs!” remembers Hilary. At maturity, the boars were released back into the wild. “It’s not about collecting exotic pets; it’s about restoring animals to health and sending them home,” adds Beto.
Another time they cured a duck suffering from an injured toe. After five months with them, it took flight one day, circled the living room before soaring to freedom. “He came to say good-bye,” said Hilary.
Their work is never done; sadly many animals such as foxes, anteaters and coatimundis arrive after having been hit by cars. They receive birds with broken wings that have flown into windows and nestlings rescued from trees that have been cut down.
One recent visitor was a margay or tigrillo, the smallest of the five wild cats inhabiting the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was rescued from a house and left anonymously at Fauna Digna. Margays are an endangered species and are protected by law. It is illegal to hunt them or capture them to keep as pets.
Fauna Digna called the authorities and officials came to collect the cat, a young female, and take her to a nature reserve where she could be kept under observation to see if it will be possible to eventually introduce her into the wild.
Tireless conservation workers
And not only do the Charles rescue wildlife they plant trees too. Remembering Cancun in the early days and its jungle canopy, over the years they have reforested the neighborhood park in front of their house with native trees, restoring the habitat for species such as the chachalaca, the hen-like bird with a distinctive rattle-like dawn call, Yucatan Jays and orioles. They are now taking their tree planting initiative to other parts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Beto is also a passionate campaigner for conservation and environmental education and an active member of Amigos de Sian Ka’an.
Royal Resorts is proud to support the incredible work of Fauna Digna and donates mats and towels that are used as hammocks and slings.
Visit Fauna Digna
Alberto and Hilary Charles welcome visitors to Fauna Digna. If you would like to visit them and learn more about the work of Fauna Digna and how you can support it please call 998 577-0971 to set up an appointment.
[Sources: Fauna Digna, Royal Resorts Life magazine] Photos courtesy of Fauna Digna
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