Our two weeks at Ambue Ari went by really quickly but it’s safe to say that working with the animals there exceeded everyone’s expectations. On the first day we were assigned our animals which ranged from Saskia and Amira the Jaguar, to Gabe and Mariano, who’s about the size of a house cat. Everyone was really happy with their cats and other animals and after a few days we had completely settled in.
In the mornings we each cared for and fed different house animals. If you were lucky you got Herbie the tapir, who resembled some sort of cross between a pig and an elephant and liked to be hand fed his body weight in leaves each morning…at over 100kg needless to say he kept us busy through the early hours. If you were not so lucky, you might have the toucans, aka the ninjas…entry into whose enclosure without a broom for defense or with careless flip flop footwear could prove costly. Warm up your pitching arm however and slice up a veritable fruitbowl of delights and hours could be spent slinging fruits from distance, each piece artfully captured mid air by these big billed masters.
Another challenging task was Pio wrangling; a brutal nightly contest twixt man and unnatural ostrich/chicken. And then there was the loveable Gordo, a flightless, evil old man of a parrot that enjoyed pecking at people’s fingers and laughing, singing in the rain and kicking up a fuss when not allowed to watch the lunchtime volleyball games.
We can’t forget about 5:30 AM construction with Pete, something we thought we had left behind at the other park. We were working on completing a cage which meant more rock runs, cementing, and pick axing. But, it was really rewarding when Juancho, an ageing Jaguar who had spent his entire life in a tiny cage, finally got some space to stretch his legs in a brand new enclosure.
After morning tasks we had breakfast, consisting of three pieces of bread and butter every morning, so it was advisable to stock up on things like jam and peanut butter. Then for most of us it was time to head off to the animals. Gabe got to work with the monkeys in the mornings, and Carolyn worked all day with the quarantine animals where she was lucky enough to care for an otter, baby monkeys, and a baby tapir among others.
For the rest of us it was off to the cats. This means gearing up in nothing less than two pairs of pants, two long sleeve shirts, gloves, rubber boots, and a head net to protect against the mosquitoes. With the cat’s meat and water in tow we would head off to the cages, and for some this meant quite a hike through very wet jungle.
Most of us had cats that got walked on trails through the jungle every day. Saskia’s Jag, Amira was full of energy and character. Her love of running, climbing trees and jumping was enough to capture Saskia’s heart along with her outstanding beauty (and she knew it too!) and affectionate personality. Hugo’s cat, Wayra was a particularly nervous little lady, seeming to forget that she was a Puma and being continually menaced by wild pigs and monkeys, not that this stopped her from giving him a few good nips whenever his back was turned.
Katy quickly fell in love with her puma, Carlos who was known as the most affectionate cat in the park. He purred while he walked and provided endless licks and cheek rubbing but not without the occasional running pounce when she let him out of her sight. Gaby was lucky enough to work with two cats, a beautiful Puma-Niko, who was particularly nervous but that made all the affection she gave all the more special, and an Ocelot-OB, the oldest cat in the park, so Gaby got to have plenty of afternoon naps alongside her!
Carolyn spent the two weeks with 3 talkative parrots, an energetic otter and 3 adorable little yellow monkeys. She loved spending time with all the different animals every day while Papagallo, one of the parrots, sat on her shoulder. Eshan got Roy, an all-day puma known affectionately as the ‘machine’ for his love of walking; described as a jaguar in a puma’s body he was quick to show him his power with a few jumps and some (playful) bites.
Often we would spend all day out with our cat’s and didn’t eat lunch until around 3 or 4, which is tough but anything is possible when you’re on the Bolivian diet of three different carbs at each meal. Jack and Emily were lucky enough to work with the three sisters called Inti, Wara and Yassi. Jack and Emily were quick in realizing that all three puma’s, although sisters, had very different personalities. Inti (Emily’s favourite sister) was voted the easy cat, because she jumped the least and walks gently. Yassi however is much more energetic. She will accelerate into a sprint at random points on the trail, and have Jack flying around the corner trying to keep up hurdling over fallen trees and more. Wara is similar to Yassi, however prettier, energetic, and very sly. To begin with we were given false impressions of Yassi and Wara as they were in heat and therefore appeared to be the extremely affectionate animals- Jack receiving much attention as the only male. How wrong these first impressions turned out to be once they were off heat and acted like real pumas again!
At night we sometimes went into Santa Maria to drink and dance at what we called the bar, but what was really a small shop with a couple tables outside and juke box that more than sufficed for our music needs. We quickly became friends with the other volunteers who were all wonderful to get to know and extremely dedicated to the park.
When our time at Ambue Ari was up it was difficult for everyone to say goodbye to their cats, but it’s hard to dwell on it now that we’re moving on to the expedition phase and have an insane 6 more weeks to look forward to.
Hasta la proxima Ambue Ari…..Although our time here has been relatively short lived, this idyllic jungle paradise has undoubtedly left a life-long paw print in each of our hearts…..