Attached to a puma

7 Apr

A question most volunteers will ask themselves at some stage while they are volunteering is ‘How did I get here?’.  I still ask myself this question when I look at this photo.

I was travelling through South America and looking for a volunteering opportunity that was slightly different from teaching English or working at an orphanage.  I found a note on a noticeboard at a hostel in Mendoza, Argentina, for an animal refuge and I followed it to Villa Tunari, Bolivia, on the edge of the Amazon Basin jungle.  I found what I was looking for.

The organisation is called Inti Wara Yassi, a small animal refuge that rescues animals from the black market and private collections, and tries to give them some sort of life.  It takes in anything including lots of types of monkeys (capuchin, spider, howler, night), cats (puma, ocelot, jaguar), birds and small mammals.  I worked with another volunteer and we were responsible for looking after a puma.  We let it out of the cage in the morning, took it for walks during the day, feed it, and then put him back in his cage for the night.  Our training consisted of a couple of days from the previous volunteers.

So I often asked myself how I ended up here, in the middle of the jungle in Bolivia, taking a puma for a walk on a lead?  The obvious answer is it is South America, a land of possibilities.  A land not tied down by restraints such a Health & Safety regulations and equally no public animal welfare organisation to help the animals, so it is up to grass roots organisations to try their best.  Whether they are having a positive effect on the animal’s welfare is a whole other question that I may tackle later.  The only employees of the organisation are the refuge’s manager and a couple of vets.  A few locals volunteer but the rest are foreigners.

Other answers to the ‘How?’ question lead into the ‘Why am I here?’.  ‘How?’ is easy.  It’s a bit more practical.  Let’s leave it there for now and delve into ‘Why?’ later.

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