Best travel tip: Volunteer at Parque Ambue Ari the largest wildlife centre of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi. It is unlike anything you have heard of before!
When you are looking for something new, something different, some adventure, an anything but standard travel story, and when you are looking for jaguars and puma’s you must go to one of the wildlife centres of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi. The best park to visit is Ambue Ari! Going there is not just a good idea, it’s not a nice idea, it’s mind blowing brilliant and it will provide you with some superb experiences.
Walking ‘your’ jaguar or puma
Where do you have to go? Bolivia
And more specific? In the jungle on the highway linking Santa Cruz and Trinidad.
Why? Because it is unlike anything you have heard of before. Only a couple of hundred tourists visit this place a year. It assures you of the best story in the pub once you made it back home.
What do I have to do? You will take care of spider monkeys, howler monkeys, tapirs, parrots and not to forget the big cats (read pumas and jaguars)! The level of interaction with the animals will amaze you. Jaguars and puma’s don’t like to sit in their cage all day long. To give the cats some exercise volunteers are needed, and this is the moment where you make the difference. Being dragged through the jungle face down in the mud by your cat is part of the daily concerns. The best part of the job is walking ‘your’ cat. It’s like walking your dog, but with a bigger animal on the leash.
No experience needed
Is it difficult to join as a volunteer?
No, not at all. You do not need any training or experience as an animal caretaker; you don’t have to have any knowledge of pumas, jaguars or felines at all. You don’t know the difference between a jaguar, puma, cheetah, lion or calico? No idea what makes the front or back of a cat (hint: tail is at the back)? It doesn’t matter everybody is welcome! Such a thing is possible only in Bolivia. You will not be left to your own, volunteers who work at the park for some time will educate you in the art as an animal caretaker.
Best tall travel story
You are guaranteed with beautiful pictures and loads of tall stories. Stories you do not need to exaggerate; even when you tell your story stammering and looking at your feed, everyone is hanging on your lips. Down below there some examples.
Chasing a waving stick with feathers makes a house cat overjoyed. The same enthusiasm can be triggered in a Jaguar, the stick is a 4-foot pole, and a jerry can resembles the feathers. There are more unusual games. If a 100+ kilo heavy Jaguar starts a sprint, it’s 100% sure that you follow and there is a real chance that you do this flat on the ground, face down in the mud. And there are thrilling games. I worked with Katie, a Jaguar, well behaved, very nice and playful. Because jaguars (in the wild) hunt their prey from behind it is not a good idea to turn your back to ‘your’ cat, usually you are pounced on immediately. Not that it comes in your mind to turn your back to such an animal when she walks beside you. On one occasion my volunteering colleague lost her balance in knee high muddy water, which in itself is already annoying. Her situation worsened rapidly when Katie jumped on her from behind and placed her jaws around the head of my unhappy colleague. It was obviously meant to be a game, but it took a bit too long to be considered ‘funny’ for my colleague. After some begging and pulling on the upper and lower jaw of Katie she let go. My colleague was upset, and lost her joy (not surprisingly) for some days while working with Katie.
How is life as a volunteer?
If you want to volunteer at Ambue Ari you do need some time. Two weeks is the minimum time of commitment, and when you want to work with cats you have to stay for a minimum of one month. Transportation in Bolivia is slow and Ambue Ari is located at 340km from Santa Cruz, it will take about 6 hours or more depending on the weather. Stay a month! It’s Spartan, and a few things that you take for granted: athlete’s foot (up to four types), scanty food, a six and a half-day work week, a monkey who steals your and the communal candy, day in day out damp clothes and during the wet season countless mosquitoes and in the dry season ticks. To give an idea of the amount of mosquitoes during the rainy season; The next game was played: ‘how many mosquitoes can you crush with one hand and in one blow on your forehead?’ My score of 42 was dwarfed by the record held at 46. Now you’re thinking “the average woman hand has a disadvantage here” yes, that’s true it was not fair.
What is the Inti Wara Yassi wildlife center about?
Inti Wara Yassi is an organization dedicated to preserving the rainforest and wildlife. They have three wildlife centres in Bolivia: Ambue Ari, Machía and Jacj Cuisi with more than 430 animals of different species. The three parks are largely run by volunteers. As a volunteer you have to pay a small contribution for your shelter and food during your stay at the park. It’s about 400 euros for the first month. Part of their focus goes to the rescue and rehabilitation of animals affected by animal trade. Some of the animals at the park were confiscated by the police and brought to the park, others were dumped by the owner. To work with so many different and special animals is fantastic, a lot of fun and very rewarding. Among the tasks of pampering your Puma or Jaguar includes walking it through the jungle, preparing and bringing the food, cleaning the cage and all sorts of tasks related to the maintenance of the park. I added a massage to my job responsibilities. It is pretty awesome to be able to massage ‘your’ Jaguar.