Bolivia – Volunteering with Jaguars : Down at the river

As my time progressed in the animal refuge, my bond with the cat went from strength to strength as he got to know my very smelly (fear) scent. Even in those early days there was a sign of recognition when we turned up to the cage, and he loved to lick the sweat off my hands and arms. The licking became painful after a while as it was like pure sandpaper!! I was becoming closer to the cat and the experience was becoming amazing.

Then after four days or so, I had my first encounter with his teeth. Rolling around on the floor, he suddenly decided he would take my leg, put it in his mouth and wrap his teeth right around it!! He didn´t bite, he was once again just testing me. He had his foot wrapped around it as well for grip, and if i´d have moved my leg, it might not be here now. I remained completely still whilst all sorts of thoughts flew around my brain. He spat me out after a short while and decided to carry on with his walk, much to my obvious delight. My sweat glands have never been as active.

We were challenged to a game of football by one of the local villages, so on the first sunday in the camp, we walked 2km, then got a boat across a river before arriving at the footy pitch. There was one boliviano per man riding on the game (8 Bolivano´s to a $) so it was taken seriously by all! After a closely fought encounter we ended up victorious after penalties!!

So back to the day job. I had begun to take the lead with Rupi now, and he was really starting to respond to my voice. Maarten (fellow volunteer with Rupi) and I were in a position to be able to walk Rupi in the mornings on our own which was amazing. We had both become so close to the cat. He never tried to jump us and was mostly calm during our walks. Obviously they are completely unpredictable but on the whole I honestly believed he wouldn´t hurt me, certainly not intentionally.

Then Maarten had to leave to continue with his travels, and I stayed with Rupi. By this time Aussie Andy had expressed an interest in working with Rup, and knowing I was due to leave soon, another new volunteer called Daryl (Irish) both said they would come with me the next day and start working with him.

Daryl´s initial confidence disappeared when he first saw Rupi. He was very nervous, but after some reassurances from me he came out with Andy and myself. Everything was going reasonably smoothly until we got to the river. Rupi went for a swim and managed to get the rope stuck on something in the river. The cat started to panic a little and began to freak out a bit.

Hymie (The Bolivian kid) realised something was wrong, and decided to stop sleeping in the tree and help me. Andy and Daryl were completely freaked out and decided to replace Hymie and climbed up in to the tree!!

Hymie and I managed to unhook Rupi from his rope and attached the spare one to him. After tying him up to the tree (he didn´t like that) he was staring at Andy and Daryl! I had to strip off and dive in to the river to untangle the rope which was stuck really badly on a log. Then Rupi sprinted off nearly strangling himself on the short rope he was attached to. It was a nervous time!!


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