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Kiwi´s Unite To Protect The Amazonian Jaguar

Kiwi´s Unite To Protect The Amazonian Jaguar

By Rhinal Patel

A growing number of Kiwis are exchanging their i-phones for a backpack and heading out into the Amazon in an attempt to help protect the dwindling number of wild cats and monkeys in the Amazon, including the prolific but endangered jaguar.

Threats to the Amazon mean that the number of wild cats in refuge centers is out weighing the quantity in the wild. I travelled into the Amazon along with 2 other Kiwis and worked with a refuge organization to see exactly what the issues were and how they could be addressed.

The refuge organization is called Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY), it is a non-governmental organization dedicated to environmental education and the care of sick, mistreated and abandoned wildlife. Based and operated in Bolivia (with na Office in the UK), it is the country's largest single destination for confiscated wildlife (including jaguars and pumas), though due to space limitations they are unable to accept all. The organization also carries out environmental activism and educational roles, focusing on animal rights and conservation. The organization is supported by international volunteers that stay for a minimum of two weeks.

The objective of the organization is to give the animals as natural a life as possible. For this reason, a volunteers duties would involve feeding the animals and taking them out into the jungle to exercise and stimulate their senses.

Here is the story of a Wellington, New Zealand resident who volunteered with the organization for 5 weeks:


I worked with 2 night monkeys (specific to the Amazon) early in the morning called Petie and Cucu. They were really lovely, CuCu is really shy and it is hard to get her out and into the trees (if she did come out of her house, she would only want to sit on your head) and Petie is very much the opposite and like to snatch and eat the bugs while sitting on your shoulder and race up into the trees as high as he could go.  


After working with the monkeys I would go to care for a blind, caged jaguar. He was really fascinating. Even though he was blind, he would love running around looking for his food. He also loved being with volunteers, which was amazing considering how badly he had been treated by humans, in the zoo. He was basically hidden in the small cell in the back because he was not considered beautiful enough to be on display and one day when they were painting the workers accidentally got paint in his eyes that made him blind. There were also a lot of wild jaguars around the park and sometimes I would go to the cage and he would be distressed pacing in a corner and there would be wild jaguar prints outside. It was hard for the caged cats as they could not mark their territory as well, leaving them frustrated sometimes in the cage when other cats invaded their space. But he was really gentle and calm on the whole although it was important to build up a relationship where he trusted you and knew you would not hurt him. All of the jaguars in the park were very different; one of them was really wild because he had been dehumanized with the plan being to release it back into the wild. Unfortunately the Bolivian authorities changed their minds about this at the last minute considering him too much of a threat and he could not be released. During the dehumanization process, the local Bolivians would throw stones at him to make him hate humans so he was not at risk in the wild by going near them, sadly now he associated Bolivians with bad things and if one goes near his cage he gets really angry and roars. But he has a really beautiful side too and when he is alone with volunteers who he knows will look after him he is gentle and playful, wanting to stalk and run around the cage but he would switch personalities quickly too and was by far the wildest of the jaguars in the park. There are also other jaguars in the park that are walked through the jungle by volunteers, these have been here since they were a baby (generally as a result of their mother being shot for her skin) and are  also very well trained so pose no sever threat to the humans walking them.


In the afternoon I worked with a lovely puma called Carlos, his mother had been hunted and he was abandoned with his brother to grow up in the park but sadly his brother later died from being stung by a scorpion. He is one of the best behaved puma in the park and really fun and fascinating to be with. He really made me realize how intelligent cats really are. Every day he would take me for a walk through the jungle, marking his territory, sharpening his claws on logs and smelling everything around him. I seemed to bring out the more active side in him and he would generally climb trees or want to hunt when I was with him. The first time he climbed a tree I had no idea what to do and was scared I would strangle him with the rope he was attached to but I got the hang of the ropes after that. It was also amazing to see him hunting especially as it was all based on his innate instinct having not had a mother to learn from. He would stop, listen, smell, maybe stalk a little and then out of the blue start running really fast, I would struggle to keep up with him and often end up flying into the bush as he pounced but he always stopped when I commanded him too. He once caught a baby piglet and he was so proud, he kept looking at me and the other volunteer like a child with a look of triumph on his face. However, the piglet was clever too and pretended to be dead and then siezed the opportunity to run away while Carlos was playing with it, to the relief of me and the other volunteer as we were not liking the idea of spending hours in the jungle getting eaten by mosquitoes while he played with it. Carlos was so frustrated and his animal instincts took over for the next few days and he became obsessed with going back to that same spot to look for it. It was even worse another time when he smelt a sloth, I could not even see it but he was obsessed with trying to get up the tree to get at it, it was really hard to get him away from it but he was never angry at us for stopping him from getting to it. It was really amazing though to get an insight into the jungle through the eyes of a puma. He was also a very considerate puma and understood that us humans were not as agile as him so would go slowly when going over logs and wait for us to catch up, he would also always come back to us for some reassurance, he was the youngest puma in the park and really incredible. Although having never lived in the wild he also had no idea of danger and thought everything was a game, calmly walking past wild jaguar prints without a notion of fear or anxiety that it was a bigger animal that could hurt him.


In the evenings I would help with the many different birds and tapirs (again only found in the Amazon region). I would try to take them different leaves to eat and once one tapir got so over excited that he escaped out of the enclosure and into the bush to find some more leaves for himself, it took 6 people to get him back in, I felt so bad! But the other tapir was worse and once escaped and went wandering off to one of the jaguars cages; I am thinking that tapirs are really not so bright!

What the organization does though is great and really simulates as well as possible what life would be like for these animals were they free to live in the jungle, much better than life in a zoo. But it is really sad as jaguars like sharks are very close now to extinction due to overhunting and lack of education locally, what people do not realize is that these are apex predators that are really important to the survival of the eco-system which we as humans need to survive also and I am glad that us Kiwi´s can band together to help them.

If you would like to volunteer, donate or find out more information about Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi you can visit their website: www.intiwarayassi.org or facebook page.


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