A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Parque Ambue

So I have to backtrack a bit to sum up my travels over the last month. When I was last able to effectively blog I was in Sucre, Bolivia. I´m now in Arequipa, Peru, also known as the White City.

But to get back to Bolivia...

I think that after volunteering at a wildlife park in Bolivia, I better understand prison life. You're in an unpleasant place with people you don't like, being ordered around, given horrible food, and worked on a chain gang. Granted, I wasn´t about to be shanked, but I think getting attacked by a great cat is worse. At least in prison they have doctors.

The idea of a park existing solely on the contributions of volunteers is a great notion, but in reality it's a mismanaged mess. I didn´t know this going in and spent 21 unfortunate hours on Bolivian buses to get to the far eastern part of the country. But by the third day of hauling rocks through the jungle, having my tent flooded, moving to a straw mattress that had all the cushion of a lumpy brick, and dealing with an obnoxious number of know-it-all granola girls, overnight rastas, and chain-smoking druids, I knew my time there would be short-lived.

I spent a week working with Rupi, an adult male jaguar the size of a tiger. (His back came up to my waist.) I soon found out there is no 'working with'. There is only what a 300Ib jaguar feels like doing and what it doesn´t. My time with Rupi consisted of two things. 1) Walking him, and, 2) Feeding him. The second one seemed the most important since it kept the idea of me as a meal out of his mind. But the first one is the dodgy bit. Walking him consisted of letting the jaguar out of its enclosure(an outdoor habitat the size of several backyards strung together), putting it on a leash, and following it around the jungle. Now, if someone at the Washington Zoo said to me, ´hey - we're going to let the lion out of its cage. Would you like to walk it around in the jungle?' I would have laughed. But this is Bolivia, so the idea seemed more reasonable. Now, the walking part was easy. It was everything else that was difficult. Like trying not to anger him for then he will leap up and tackle you, or turn your back (tackle again), or show it up (tackle), or look it in the eyes (tackle), avert eyes (tackle), or express any movement that might encourage it to show you who's boss.

I handled Rupi's first attack well. I didn´t fall down. I didn´t run for my life.

The turning point for me was when my friend Rossa was mauled by a puma. Her horrific experience was then demeaned by other park volunteers, who laughed and acted as if her soon-to-be scars were some kind of trophy. I took this as a sign to plan my escape. I switched off Rupi-duty to work with howler monkeys. And there, far away from all the nonsense of the park, I had a great week working with Talia, a rescued female howler, and 2 baby howlers, Carlita and Rumi. The highlight was when a troop of wild howlers came through the monkey park and we released Carlita to go live her life with them in the trees. Rumi will also join them, but he´s still too small and needs to work on his climbing some more.

Even with the downsides (like being assassinated by mosquitoes day and night), I considered staying longer to see Rumi properly released into the wild, but in the end the lack of a park manager, any onsite expert, or a doctor, combined with all the aforementioned issues, convinced me to move on.

In the end, I'm glad for the experience, pitfalls and all. But I wouldn´t do it again.

- C


Santa Maria, a village just outside of the park:


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