In 2012, UVic Biology/Geography student Travis Muir went to Bolivia for five weeks to volunteer at Ambue Ari Park, an ecological reserve and rehabilitation centre that houses jaguars, pumas, ocelots and a variety of birds and monkeys. Muir is documenting his experience for the Martlet. This is the second of three installments.
A minimum of a month-long term is required for people working with the park’s cats. The rationale behind this is to help maintain a structured routine for the animals, as a high turnover of volunteers can be stressful.
The other volunteers at the park were of various nationalities: Irish, Israeli, American, French, Australian, English, Belgian and others. I had been assigned to work with Carlos (see last week’s installment) for my duration at Ambue Ari; however, things were always fluctuating within the park. Ten fellow volunteers had completed their stay and were off to continue their travels or return to their homelands — this left myself and just over 20 other volunteers to run the park and take care of all the animals. I would no longer be responsible for walking Carlos as a full-day cat. Instead, I would have my day split with two half-day cats, Roy and Tupac.
Roy’s story is similar to that of many pumas now living at Ambue Ari. His mother was poached and Roy and his brother were taken to be sold over the black market as exotic pets. The two puma cubs, roughly six weeks old at the time, were found with a teacher in the town of Sucre before Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) — the organization that runs the rehabilitation centre at Ambue Ari — stepped in and confiscated them. Roy’s brother died shortly after he was rescued, though I never discovered the cause. About a year ago, Roy was diagnosed with osteoporosis, most likely due to the lack of mother’s milk and essential nutrients he should have naturally received as a cub. CIWY decided that Roy should be transferred from the hilly trails in Machia, another CIWY-run park, to the more level grounds of Ambue Ari.
On my first day with Roy it was obvious that all was not well. He took each step on his front left leg with great effort. Roy had been limping for a number of days before I started working with him, and his limp became ever more pronounced over time. The park did not have facilities to adequately measure the extent of the damage. I was part of the team formed to help transport Roy to a human hospital in the nearest town. First, Roy needed to be tranquilized; several darts were fired until one was properly injected. A primitive stretcher had been fashioned from blankets and wooden posts to help move the puma. While in his hazy, sedated state, Roy would occasionally break into convulsions. One of the long-term Bolivian volunteers prayed for Roy while trying to reduce his spastic movements with his gentle touch. We then ran with the stretcher along the winding trails, only stopping to set Roy down when he had additional convulsions.
Once we were out of the jungle and on the road, we loaded the cat into the cage that rested in the back of a truck belonging to some Mennonites. The team members managed to squish themselves into the back of the vehicle as well and we were off. It was an anxious hour-and-a-half drive to town.
When we arrived at the hospital, our next challenge was to disperse the growing crowd of curious locals so we could get Roy into the radiology room. The doctors took X-rays on his problem leg and also tested his blood for deficiencies.
The X-rays revealed a fracture in Roy’s leg. The next couple weeks would continue to be slow for the poor boy. He was no longer taken for walks. Instead, I would take Roy out of his enclosure each day and attach him to a runner rope so he could walk up and down the line or lie down and rest as he wanted. His medical regime stayed roughly the same, with additional calcium and glucose supplements. I would crush up the tablets with the edge of a knife and mix them into balls of mincemeat as best I could, and would then hand-feed Roy through his cage to ensure he got his meds. He was always very gentle while taking his meal from my hands, even licking them clean with his rough tongue afterward. Some days I would read to him, but more often than not I would just watch him and feel helpless, wishing there was more I could do for him. I did not see his condition improve during my time at the park; however, I recently received an email from a volunteer still at the park who said Roy will be walking this month.
In the next article, I will take you through my work with the quarantined animals and provide more information for those interested in donating or volunteering their time to CIWY.