Chapter 3 – Adventurous Volunteering in the amazon forest
Since I was a child, when I used to read Mister No comic strips, I had a dream: to live in the Amazon rainforest and discover a little bit about this world, which is now disappearing together with its inhabitants.
After I discovered Inti Wara Yassi, an association that allows people to live in the rainforest helping its fauna, it was obvious for me that sooner or later I should have gone there.
I postponed it for many years then in October 2014 I finally took a flight to La Paz, Bolivian capital city, and moved then to the northern part of Rurrenabaque district, on the border with Madidi Park, where the center Jacj Cuisi of Inti Wara Yassi association is located (read this article to learn more about the association INTI WARA YASSI).
When I arrived there, the park was managed by two girls: Margherete, from Norway, was the director and Paulette, born in Canada and grown up in Asia, was the responsible of the “Cats”. The park was inhabited by three more volunteers and by five pumas: Flash man, Captain, Sonko, Simba e Luna.
Both volunteers and employees used to live in a wooden hut, open on one side and equipped with fifteen bunk beds inside. Each puma had access to an area of 600/700 sq m, except for Flash Man and Captain. They shared a 1000 sq m space since they were brothers and had been spending their entire life together.
The daily life at the camp was really simple: no internet or telephone, only one hour electricity per day, three meals for which we organized ourselves in turns for cooking or washing-up the bowls. The daily routine consisted of wake up at 6.00 am, breakfast and visit to the cats area at 8.00 am.
Each cat had a wide dedicated area around its paddock, with rivers, hills and paths. The pumas were kept divided so that they couldn’t meet each other: because of their being territorial animals, this would be a stress for them and a risk for us.
Each volunteer that stayed more than 30 days had the opportunity to look after a cat. This task consisted of feeding the cat, maintaining its personal area and paths clean and, most of all, of providing it with a day of freedom in the jungle: take a walk, sniff, mark the territory and hunt smaller animals, when possible. During the walk you were tied to your cat and accompanied by a partner in case of troubles.
All these animals came from confiscations carried out by the police. The cats grew up in captivity and then had been bought illegally. There isn’t any possibility to reintroduce them into their natural environment as they aren’t self-sufficient and able to hunt.
Every cat has its own character, like persons. During those four months I had the pleasure of walking with all the cats in the park and it was a different experience with each one of them. Luna, my first love, enjoyed hiding in the bushes and laying ambushes. I got really scared at the beginning, then I understood that it was just a game.
I also learned how to encounter these little tricks, that usually ended up for the unlucky volunteer with some scratches here and there.
The days were long, when possible we used to stay all the day in the jungle. Pumas are sleepyheads: sometimes they even slept 3 or 4 hours in a day and in the meantime we chatted, read or went around the thousands of attractions of the jungle: insects, animals, plants, sounds…
The days varied according to the mood of the cat. Sometimes the pumas were excited and they wanted to run or climb on the trees. Some other times they just wanted to stay outside of their paddock and play with us or sleep in the shadow of a tree.
Our main goal was to do always our best to give them a good day in the nature, preventing them to become too lazy as well as not forcing them to do something against their will – just trying to stimulate them to move, walk, check the territory…
Also the moment of feeding was meant to be stimulating. We had to pack the meat with leaves and straw, so that it was hard for the cats to open it up. In addition to that we hid the meat in a cage nearby and only with some efforts the pumas were able to reach and get their food. The life at the camp was not just about walking in the jungle.
I experienced days of tropical downpours with the cats that, terrified by the heavy rain, didn’t want to move; I remember hours in the pouring rain spent cutting the vegetation with a machete to open new paths. And there were days dedicated to the organization of various building material spent under the blazing sun.
Those four months were not a holiday for me but a period of hard work and intense emotions. I could also tell you about the adventures that I had there, but this paragraph is already very long and I am sleepy now, maybe sooner or later I’ll write about them too.