I was sat on a local bus, heading deep in to the Bolivian jungle. I was on my way to volunteer at an animal refuge centre called Inti Warra Yassi. The centre was founded by two Bolivians hell bent on rescuing many of Bolivia´s native animals who have for whatever reason had poor lives. The centre houses animals who were illegally poached, housed in horrible zoo´s, or animals that were in people’s homes around the country.
At the time I was there, the park had two Jaguars, six Pumas, four Ocelots (look like housecats, but with Jaguar markings), allsorts of amazing tropical birds, a baby king ant eater, howler monkeys, and spi.jpgder monkeys. Upon arriving there, I found out that there was a shortage of volunteers, and despi.jpgte not being able to commit to a month´s volunteering (the necessary amount to work with a jungle cat) I was told there was a real possiblility of working with one.
I spent the first day helpi.jpgng to build a new enclosure for the beautiful macaw´s. I was given the toucans to look after for the week, basically just feeding them every morning. They were amazing. After initially thinking they were plotting to attack me every morning, I soon realised they were harmless and I loved watching them eat their fresh papaya and banana every day! That first night, I was taking a cold shower in the dark, when as I looked up towards the shower head, I spotted Junior the baby howler monkey sat there staring at me!! Not knowing the monkey, I was pretty intimidated when he showed me his teeth and went to try and eat my soap! I managed to move my soap before he went back to the top of the shower and started to try and urinate on me!! It was at this point that I shouted for help, with one of the girls having to call him away from me!!
That night at dinner, I saw a dutch guy called Maarten had been cut on his forehead and beneath his eye by a Jaguar. I was starting to think it wasn´t for me, when Noemi (the Bolivian lady running the place) came up and told me I would be working with Jaguarupi.jpg, Maarten´s cat!! She said I didn´t have to, but I said I would give it a go as it was a great opportunity. This jaguar was the biggest attraction in the refuge. Literally, he was between 120 and 130 kilo’s – about as big as a Jaguar gets. I was both nervous and excited about my first day….