The first day volunteering in Bolivia – Scarey and intimidating are two words that don´t even come close. I was working alongside Maarten, and in the afternoons we were joined by a Bolivian teenager called Hymie who had grown up with the cat. We went out on our first walk with him, with Maarten taking the lead and me holding the backup rope in case of an emergency. Maarten had defined an emergency to me as a situation where the cat jumped him and was on top of him. All I would need to do in such an emergency was attach the other rope to his collar and pull him off. What could be easier than attaching a spare rope to the collar of a deranged jungle cat in a frenzy?
Anyway, Maarten opened up his enclosure as I waited around the corner. He brought Rupi.jpg out of his cage and he immediately walked up to me and sniffed my legs, probably sensing that they were completely tense with fear! My heart was going a little at this stage! After a few minutes he started to walk away and after a sigh of pure relief I walked behind Maarten.
Now I had been told that Rupi.jpg would try and “test” me as a new person, and that included trying to jump me. Apparently it is all part of the process for the cat to see if he can play with you or not. I did not want to be played with. I was told he could try and climb onto any log on the jungle trails and use them as a platform to launch himself at me. Either that or he would most likely try and jump me down at the river, where he went every day for a swim. Basically places where he had room to manoeuvre. The thought of a jaguar jumpi.jpgng me made me a little nervous, and part of me wanted it to happen so I could get it over with. A larger part of me didn´t.
So, we were on the trail that first day, and we eventually (20 minutes felt like 3 hours) made it to the river. Maarten attached the lead to Rupi “runner”, which was a long rope that gave him freedom to go wherever he wanted in and around the river. This was the point where I felt most in danger!
Rupi went for a swim before running off up a hill and out of sight in the jungle. It was like something from Jurassic park when I watched in horror as his rope tightened, but he was out of sight. Then the rope loosened up and before I knew it he was charging down the hill towards me and Maarten, with his big hunting eyes solely focused on me!! Maarten tried to calm him down with a gentle “tranquilo chico” (relax mate), and I tried to say something similar, but my version was an incomprehensible squeal. It had the desired effect though, as he went from what seemed like 100mph to only 80mph, and leapt in the air towards me!! Now I like to think I have gazelle like reflexes, and luckily for me they kicked in when I needed them most.
I managed to step to the side somehow and watched as this big jungle cat flew past me!! Chris Irwin 1, Rupi 0.
My heart was severely pumpi.jpgng at this stage! It was the most scared I have ever been, and I just wanted to get away from that river! Rupi.jpg, as if taunting me, decided he wanted another swim, before attempting to jump me twice more. Unluckily for him though he had never before encountered such a fast human being as me. 3 – 0. I felt happy he had missed me, but then thought he would be more determined to get me next time.
As it turned out he didn´t try again that day. I think by now he had realized I didn´t want to play.