An account from Will about their construction work.
Construction Project at Ambue Ari
Our small group of myself, Hannah, Ollie and Matty as our project and expedition leader made our long journey to Parque Ambue Ari and were soon set to work with the construction phase of our month volunteering. Unlike most quest groups, we spent the full month at Ambue Ari.
We soon found out that our construction phase would be spent building a management cage for an absolutely beautiful female jaguar called Amira. The construction of this management cage was a priority of the park as it would give volunteers a safer way of feeding and caring for Amira.
The first day starts with walking out to Amira’s existing cage, a walk through the jungle which would become very familiar in the course of the next two weeks. It takes about 20 minutes through mud and boot high swamp. We arrive along with Bob Heazlewood, the park’s construction and jaguar coordinator, who sets us to work with digging four post holes for the fence posts to sit in. I am excited to get my first glimpse of a jaguar, but I cannot see her in the dense foliage of her cage.
It is while I am digging my 30 cm deep trench hole when I see Amira for the first time. I look up to see this absolutely stunning jaguar staring at me from a raised platform about five metres away. It is a moment in the park which I don’t think I will ever forget.
Once we have completed digging the post holes with an assortment of hand tools, we manoeuvre the tall metal posts into place and attach all four together with the four roof columns.
Then starts the next phase of the project: concreting the structure to the forest floor. I soon find out the jungle alternative to concreting; mixing a pile of sand with cement and water on top of a tarpaulin on the jungle floor. The mixture is then placed in the trenches along with a massive quantity of rocks from near the camp.
Unfortunately for us, the large quantities of materials needed to concrete in four posts and the approximately 25 metres of perimeter fencing can only reach the site on our own backs…
Each day we walk back and forth from the road near the camp to the site carrying large loads of either sand, rocks or cement in bags on our backs. I feel at times that I can carry no more bags of material to the site when wading through slippery, thick mud and tripping over hidden roots in the path. Yet these necessary materials are essential in the process of making concrete to bind the fence poles and fencing to the forest floor.
After a week of this my whole body is aching and I am mentally knackered!
The project starts to take shape, with many days spent mixing concrete and pouring it into the fence trenches. The two coils of metal fencing were awkwardly stretched and wrapped around the posts and over the roofing columns and then attached with metal wiring. The door is then fitted and rocks are constantly added to the wet cement, as they act to strengthen and bond the structure of the fencing with the cement.
After two weeks, we finish our construction phase at Ambue Ari, and leave Bob and Candy, the deputy coordinator of construction, to finish off the two safety doors and tunnel between Amira’s main cage and the new management cage.
To sum up our two weeks spent constructing the management cage for Amira: At times it was physically and mentally draining, the mosquitos were a constant irritation and the heat could be unbearable. Yet it was so rewarding to be working each day just inches away from a stunning jaguar.
Our time on the construction project came to a satisfying end on our last day at the camp. We walked out to the site for the last time with Bob and cleared away the last remnants of tools and building materials from the now finished management cage. The door was then secured and Bob then pulled open the intersecting doors between the management cage and the main cage. I will never forget the mesmerising moment Amira tentatively entered her new and finished management cage. She very slowly and inquisitively made her way through the tunnel and into the separate cage. She then elegantly leaped onto the new raised platform and looked as if she was incredibly pleased with her new space.
Before leaving the jungle for the last time, Bob told us that what we just saw was the best thing that had happened to Amira in five years. Experiencing this unique and unforgettable event and hearing Bob say this to us made all our hard work worth it. I personally found the construction project so rewarding as I know that we all worked so hard as a team throughout the two weeks to accomplish this project for Amira and for CIWY.