04.30.09

Ciao Roy

Posted in Bolivia at 4:00 pm by Jackson Lee

Walking up the road, away from parque Machia, towards the village bus station I start to feel overwhelmed. I’ve said goodbye to my trusty boots, dropped my torn jungle clothes in the second hand pile and shook the hands of new friends. My diary is full with contacts, notes and memories. I’m on the verge of tears. I feel attached to this place – the animals, the cause, the way of life…but part of exploring the world as a traveler is knowing when to move on…

Roy Young Playing in River

Thanks for having me. I’ve loved it. It’s been defining. It’s changed me. I’m a better person… I’ll miss you. You’re amazing. I won’t forget you… but for now, the road beckons… goodbye everyone, goodbye Roy.

King Roy 2009

The puma is a symbol of strength and stealth in the Americas. For millenniums the Indigenous cultures across the continent have honoured the large cat with ceremony, ceramics and folk lore. The puma is everything Latin – it is of the land – it is fierce and independent – it represents its uniqueness – and it lives in the hearts of the people. In a small town in the Bolivian jungle, Inti Wara Yassi and its volunteers work with these special animals – ensuring their well being and respecting them with the honour they inspire in a culture.

04.25.09

A Little About Roy the Puma

Posted in Bolivia at 5:14 am by Jackson Lee

Born in early October, Roy is a classic Libran. As his zodiac symbol implies, he leans towards an easy and uncomplicated life which, being a puma of strict routine, he achieves through methodical patrolling of his territory and messing with the minds of volunteers. Named after a Samoan New Zealander who built his cage, Roy likes walking in the forest, moonlight dinners and wildlife watching.
In November 2002, at 6 weeks of age, having survived the death of his mother and brother during his abduction, Roy was bought and given as a gift to a teacher in Sucre: at this point Inti Wara Yassi learned of his situation and confiscated him to Parque Machia. Seven years later, Roy has grown to become a semi-domesticated puma with a healthy, predictable (which helps when avoiding jump
attempts) and serious personality.

Born in early October, Roy is a classic Libran. As his zodiac symbol implies, he leans towards an easy and uncomplicated life which, being a puma of strict routine, he achieves through methodical patrolling of his territory and messing with the minds of volunteers. Named after a Samoan New Zealander who built his cage, Roy likes walking in the forest, moonlight dinners and wildlife watching.

Cute and Dangersous?

In November 2002, at 6 weeks of age, having survived the death of his mother and brother during his abduction, Roy was bought and given as a gift to a teacher in Sucre: at this point Inti Wara Yassi learned of his situation and confiscated him to Parque Machia. Seven years later, Roy has grown to become a semi-domesticated puma with a healthy, predictable (which helps when avoiding jump attempts) and serious personality.

04.24.09

Day in the Life Of Walking a Puma

Posted in Bolivia at 3:41 pm by Jackson Lee

Inti Wara Yassi, parque Macha, at only 36 hectares (approximately 60 soccer fields), is small considering there are over 200 animals, including nine cats, needing habitats and territory. To get around this problem the refuge has agreements with some of its neighbors – the rubber plantation, for example, is paid a small fee to allow the puma’s to walk amongst their neatly farmed clearings. Other neighbors, however, worried by the presence of the dangerous looking cats close to their families, strongly appose the park and – even given the income the refuge brings to the local community – lobby aggressively to have the park relocated. As a consequence of these factors, the layout of the walking tracks is tightly organised with many paths overlapping one another.

In any given day, Roy walks between 15 and 20 kilometers through the steep terrain of the park – approximately twice that of the next most active cat. Puma’s are usually sedentary – spending long periods lounging like domestic cats – thus it would take a good animal psychologist to guess to the reasons for Roy’s unusual exercise habits. His short track, which intertwines closely with Sonko and Tigre’s paths, is his favorite and takes about 40 minutes to cover the 2.8 kilometer length. His other main trial, unimaginatively called the “long”, travels into the most distant parts of the park, is almost 4.3 kilometers in length and takes over an hour to complete.

The Jungle And the Puma Walkers

The features of each trial became engrained after repeating there loops 3 to 4 times a day, 7 days a week, for a whole month. Like a  down hill skier visualizing a difficult downhill, I am able to remember Roy’s paths in detail – the twists and turns, the location of helpful hand-grips, the areas of unique beauty and the exact spots where Roy had jumped me or one of my fellow volunteers. And of course there were scenes drama…

In one large clearing, Roy caught the scent of a couple giant rodents and soon spotted them hiding up a tall, barrel thick tree. The first rodent, being the size of a small dog, made a dash for it while the second stayed perched up the tree. In an instant, the cycle of nature: of life and death, had stolen away the tranquility of our walk with this intense encounter. Roy, focused like a Arnold Schwarzenegger action character, was one the offence – taking a couple of powerful strides he leapt into the air and landing a couple of meters up the tree using a strong bear hug. Lacking the physical ability to react quickly, the rope pulled me violently and I tumbling ungracefully to the ground.

The second giant rodent, having obviously underestimated the seriously of the situation, looked as terrified as the ice cream man on a cold day. Sensing the need to escape, it hurled itself into the air – Roy’s head trialed its flight as it flew above us. Landing agilely onto another tree, it raced to the ground and into the foliage. In response, Roy leapt to the ground and gave chase. Once again reacting too slowly, I was pulled powerfully across the ground with my face and upper chest dragging several meters through the soil and shrubbery. It was my body weight, connected to Roy via the walking rope, that brought Roy (and his chase) to a stop.

Roy At Defon Five

Aside from action, walking the trials offered other rewards. The rubber plantation, the only area with unobstructed views for any considerable distance, was my favorite part of the park for a simple reason – it reminded me off my father. Born and raised in western Malaysia, Dad grew up on the small family owned rubber farm near Ipoh city – in town called Ayer Tawer near Sitiawan.

I grew up to Dad’s plain, ‘matter of fact’ stories about his youth: waking early to avoid the daytime heat congealing the latex as it dripped – returning home earlier enough to eat breakfast and make the school bus – dodging aggressive cobras and ways to kill them – dealing with the heat, tropical rain and humidity. Walking amongst the neatly spaced trees I could almost hear his loud voice, which boomed when he sneezed, calling to his brothers as they worked the plantation. The stories he told came to life while we walked the plantation – it all gave me comforting insight into my fathers life.

In one large clearing, Roy caught the scent of a couple giant rodents and soon spotted them hiding up a tall, barrel thick tree. The first rodent, being the size of a small dog, made a dash for it while the second stayed perched up the tree. The cycle of nature, of life and death, had stolen away the our usually tranquil walk with this intense encounter. Roy, focused like a Arnold Schwarzenegger action character, took a couple of powerful strides and leaped into the air – landing a couple of meters up the tree with a strong bear hug. Lacking the physical ability to react quickly, the rope pulled me violently and I tumbling ungracefully to the ground.

04.21.09

Video – Roy Goes Bush

Posted in Bolivia at 1:27 am by Jackson Lee

Short video we took showing typical behavior of Roy as he sniffs around the undergrowth at the side of the trial: –

04.20.09

Inti Wara Yassi – Volunteering Facts

Posted in Bolivia at 10:07 pm by Jackson Lee

Volunteering With Inti Wara Yassi – Basic Information (May 2009)

The best place to find detailed and up to date information is at http://www.intiwarayassi.org
Locations – There are four locations
(1) Parqie Machia
Located In Villa Tunari near Cochabamba city
Felines (Pumas & Ocelots – Monkeys (Spider and Capuchin) – Aviary – Bear
36 Hectares
(2) Parque Ambue Ari
Village of Santa Maria Guarayos
25 Felines (Pumas & Jaguars & Ocelots)
40+ Volunteers
600 Hectares
(3) Parque Jacj Cuisi
Near Rurrenabaque – Connected to Madidi National Park
New Location (Late 2008) – Only 2 Puma’s
Animals being added all the time
300 Hectares
(4) Antiplano La Paz
Near La Paz
Antiplano Animals – Suri & Llamas
Costs
Volunteer ‘payments’ go directly to providing for the animals (food, medicine etc)
fortnightly or monthly
The park is not supported by the Bolivian government.
Volunteer Costs US$200 – $350 / Month (Dependent: Location & Time Committed)
Living Expenses US$200 – US$500 / Month (Average US$300) – Mostly Food Costs
Total Costs: US$400 – US$900 Per Month
Time Commitment
Minimum of 2 weeks – Restricted Animal Options1 Month – Full Animal Options (Felines)

The best place to find detailed and up to date information is at http://www.intiwarayassi.org

Matan with Roy - April 2009

Locations – There are four locations

(1) Parqie Machia

  • Located In Villa Tunari near Cochabamba city
  • Felines (Pumas & Ocelots – Monkeys (Spider and Capuchin) – Aviary – Bear
  • 40 + Volunteers
  • 36 Hectares
  • Most Developed Location

(2) Parque Ambue Ari

  • Village of Santa Maria Guarayos
  • 25 Felines (Pumas & Jaguars & Ocelots)
  • 40+ Volunteers
  • 600 Hectares

(3) Parque Jacj Cuisi

  • Near Rurrenabaque – Connected to Madidi National Park
  • New Location (Late 2008) – Only 2 Puma’s
  • Animals being added all the time
  • 300 Hectares

(4) Antiplano La Paz

  • Near La Paz
  • Antiplano Animals – Suri & Llamas

The River Passing The Park

Costs

  • Volunteer ‘payments’ go directly to animals (food, medicine etc)
  • The park is not supported by the Bolivian government
  • Volunteer Costs US$200 – $350 / Month (Dependent: Location & Time Committed)
  • Living Expenses US$200 – $500 / Month (Average US$300) – Mostly Food
  • Total Costs: US$400 – US$900 Per Month

Time Commitment

  • 1 Month – Full Animal Options (Felines)
  • Minimum of 2 weeks – Restricted Animal Options

04.17.09

Walking Roy – The Terrain

Posted in Bolivia at 1:43 am by Jackson Lee

This video shows the difficulty of the terrain – take it from me – following Roy through these area’s is more difficult than it looks.

04.15.09

Blood & Guts

Posted in Bolivia at 5:16 am by Jackson Lee

Chucky, Chairman Mao and capuchins have a lot in common – they are all small, have sharp teeth and possess the temper of a Happy Gilmour golf academy graduate. As the capuchins are usually rescued from hostile, abusive environments they are prone to unpredictably behaviour.The simple act of cleaning a food bowl can result in barrage of screaming, or worse, a physical attack. By the end of the day, the cafe, sprinkled with bandaged fingers, ears, noses, can look like the markup department of a Peter Jackson film set.

Named in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadors for their ‘perceived’ resemblance to the hooded monks of the ‘Friars Minor Capuchin’, capuchins interact with each other much like your local, Meatloaf loving, don’t-touch-my-woman-or-all-leave-a-dent-in-your-face threatening, biker gang. Living in complex heirarcacol groups of 10 to 35 members, which are dominated by a single male called the ‘Alpha’, capuchins instinctually treat volunteers with the same sets of rules as each other. Negatively speaking, at its best, a volunteer can be rejected by a group and require reassignment to another part of the park – at its worst, a volunteer can be attacked and require medical attention.
Chris from the Netherlands – overhangingly tall and gifted with that proud Dutch habit of silly sounding English – was one of the worst bitten. Having committed the age of error of telling everyone that morning he was still unbitten, Chris returned later, via the Hospital, with a blood redden bandage tightly wound around his elbow joint. Immediately after an apha male had sunk its pocketknife lengthed fangs into his elbow he had lost feeling to the two outer fingers on his hand. A month later, back wearing clogs and staying at the family windmill in his homeland, his arm was recovering from a complicated surgery which involved removing leg nerve’s and inserting them into his arm.
The worse injuries occur when a monkey bite’s down hard, refuse to let go and the victim struggles against the razor sharpe teeth. Jonno, a thick accented Englishman with a cheerful demeaner, received this treatment when he was bitten on the left index finger. Like anyone, Jonno’s immediate reaction was to pull away from the sharp teeth – the result was a huge amount of skin tearing and severe nerve damage to his finger. The local hospital, who’s services are free for both locals and foreigners (thoughtout Bolivia), treated his hand and told him it would heal within a few weeks. Weeks later, after further poor medical advice and a host of tropical weather associated problems, his finger was amputated from the first knuckle. To his credit, he cotinued on with his year long trip around the world.
Before joining the park, potential volunteers are taken on a candid, volunteer managed introductory tour. Using the same introductory worshop format as the SPECTRE corporation (for budding henchmen), the lifestyle and dangers of the park are clearly explained during the hour long tour. Given these risks almost everyone signs up – the rewards of working with the animals obviously outweighing the potential dangers – in addition to the mere effort to reach the park (located in the back waters of Bolivia) warranting at least a token commitment from most people.
Monkey’s, then, can be dangerous. 300 of them in Greek armour would have easily held off Xerxes and his Persian horde – at least, of course, if they had received 5 fruit-packed meals a day prepared by loving human’s.

Travel, in general, is not safe. South America, even more so, exemplifies the mantra that “life is cheap”. Whether it is riding on the back of a pickup truck to work, overtaking on blind corners or chasing poisonious snakes for a living, the people of South America live free to die tomorrow. This frivolous culture rubs off on us travelers and it is with lowered standards of personal safety that we volunteer at the park – at home we would never have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with tempremental puma’s, tumtrum throwing monkeys, sharp beaked psychotic parrots, earth rumbling bears or the general hostility of the amazonian jungChucky, Chairman Mao and capuchin’s have a lot in common – they are all small, have sharpe teeth and possess the temper of a Happy Gilmour golf acadamy graduate. As the capuchi’s are usually rescued from hostile, abusive environments they are prone to unpredicatably behaviour.The simple act of cleaning a food bowl can result in barrage of screaming, or worse, a physically attack. By the end of the day, the cafe, sprinkled with bandaged fingers, ears, noses, can look like the markup department of a Peter Jackson film set.

Named in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadors for their ‘perceived’ resemblance to the hooded monks of the ‘Friars Minor Capuchin’, capuchins interact with each other much like your local, Meatloaf loving, don’t-touch-my-woman-or-all-leave-a-dent-in-your-face threatening, biker gang. Living in complex heirarcacol groups of 10 to 35 members, which are dominated by a single male called the ‘Alpha’, capuchins instinctually treat volunteers with the same sets of rules as each other. Negatively speaking, at its best, a volunteer can be rejected by a group and require reassignment to another part of the park – at its worst, a volunteer can be attacked and require medical attention.

Chris from the Netherlands – overhangingly tall and gifted with that proud Dutch habit of silly sounding English – was one of the worst bitten. Having committed the age of error of telling everyone that morning he was still unbitten, Chris returned later, via the Hospital, with a blood redden bandage tightly wound around his elbow joint. Immediately after an alpha male had sunk its pocketknife length fangs into his elbow he had lost feeling to the two outer fingers on his hand. A month later, back wearing clogs and staying at the family windmill in his homeland, his arm was recovering from a complicated surgery which involved removing his leg nerve’s and inserting them into his arm.

Capuchin Looking Nasty

The worse injuries occur when a monkey bites down hard, refuse to let go and the victim struggles against the razor sharp teeth. Jonno, a thick accented Englishman with a cheerful demeanor, received this treatment when he was bitten on the left index finger. Like anyone, Jonno’s immediate reaction was to pull away from the sharp teeth – the result was a huge amount of skin tearing and severe nerve damage to his finger. The local hospital, who’s services are free for both locals and foreigners (throughout Bolivia), treated his hand and told him it would heal within a few weeks. Weeks later, after further poor medical advice and a host of tropical weather associated problems, his finger was amputated from the first knuckle. To his credit, he continued on with his year long trip around the world.

The inspiration for the emotion scary

Before joining the park, potential volunteers are taken on a candid, volunteer managed intro tour. Using the same workshop format as the SPECTRE corporation (for budding henchmen), the lifestyle and dangers of the park are clearly explained during the hour long tour. Given these risks almost everyone signs up – the rewards of working with the animals obviously outweighing the potential dangers – in addition to the mere effort to reach the park (located in the back waters of Bolivia) warranting at least a token commitment from most people.

Monkey’s, then, can be dangerous. 300 of them in Greek armour would have easily held off Xerxes and his Persian horde – at least, of course, if they had received 5 fruit-packed meals a day prepared by loving humans.

Travel, in general, is not safe. South America, even more so, exemplifies the mantra that “life is cheap”. Whether it is riding on the back of a pickup truck too work, overtaking on blind corners or chasing poisonous snakes for a living, the people of South America live free to die tomorrow. This frivolous culture rubs off on us travelers and it is with lowered standards of personal safety that we volunteer at places life Inti Wara Yassi – at home we would never have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with temperamental puma’s, tamtrum throwing monkeys, sharp beaked psychotic parrots, earth rumbling bears or the general hostility of the amazonian jungle.

Past Volunteers with Roy

Posted in Bolivia at 12:19 am by Jackson Lee

This video is taken in one of Roy’s favorite areas. Towards the end, in classic style, Roy jumps on one of the volunteers

There are other video’s on Roy on youtube.

04.10.09

Capuwars

Posted in Bolivia at 4:08 am by Jackson Lee

The capuchins had declared war. Other than strong language, unusual facial expressions and ineffective hand propelled objects, we were helpless to fight back. Their masterminds had deciphered our routines. That the cat’s food arrived at lunch, that we stored it in a locked chest – an unimaginably temptation for the omnivores primates – and that we walked, leaving the camp unguarded, during the afternoons. The monkeys knew too much; we either had a mole amongst the volunteers or the evolutionary tree was about to be rewritten.

Sonku’s cage was the first to be struck. Oren and Mike were out walking Sonku, who had been on a recent “jump-your-volunteer” bender, when the capuchins ransacked their camp. The bad news was Oren’s new camera was missing. Capuchin prefer to stay above ground while moving: jumping, swinging and climbing across the jungle canopy to stay away from the sharp teeth of predators below. As this requires every limb, they do not usually carry ‘stolen’ items far. Armed with this information, we soon found Oren’s camera, which had lost its front lens cover but was still in working properly. We soon found that the sneaky capuchins had left a short video of their heist on the camera.

Sonko - Roys Neighbour

Digesting lunch a week later, Adir and I sat swinging in the camps hammocks. Adir, a chapter-filling personality and Josh’s replacement, had just finished another colourful story about working as an officer in the Israeli army. Coming from a country at perpetual war gives any story teller the license for exaggeration – this epic involved Adir knocking out, with a meaty right hander, a enlisted man in the middle of a major Tel Aviv motorway, thereby creating a respectably large traffic jam. I wondered which slow motion camera angle Adir remembers that blow from…

Adir And Roy

Moments before setting out for the afternoon we noticed a disturbance in the jungle. The normally still trees, whose souls reach neck-breakingly into the sky, began swaying frantically – the distinctive effects of traveling monkeys stirring the still, humid air and enraging groups of tree-heads into a frantic flip-flopping dance. Ignoring their presence, with chests out as usual, we departed with only a passing suspicion that the monkeys were waiting for us to leave to begin their raid.

Trees

A few hours later, after wadding through numerous rivers, somersaulting impassable objects and conquering tiny Everest’s, we returned exhausted to camp and the scene of unleashed monkey madness. The bug covered remains of Roy’s food, as sobering as minimalistic art, was splatted limply across the ground. It told us the moneys had broken into the camps lockbox. All of a sudden it hit me: our cameras had been in the lockbox: the fibers of my materialistic upbringing surged into action. I figured I’d get robbed by some master of the otherworld at least once during my travels around Latin America but I didn’t expect that master to be a midget in a furr suit with a IQ less than the highest number on a one sided dice.

The Lockbox On a Good Day

As if a tornado had struck our little prairie town, in a post catastrophe daze, we drifted around the camp gathering items which had been thrown, by the rampant monkeys, amongst the vegetation. A empty chocolate wrapper here, rusty scissors there, an inverted backpack there and long lengths of pink (which, for those other interested collectors, is the preferred colour in Bolivia) toilet paper practically everywhere. It was as if some magic mushroom intoxicated interior designer had realised their warped vision, and gone about draping pink toilet paper over innocent looking plants and dirty patches of ground.

Most worrying of all was finding that my book, titled “Human Instinct”, had had a section torn out and bite makes left into its spine. The book was an well written summary on basic human nature: and rather worryingly it gave the monkey masterminds valuable insight into mankind’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Shuddering I looked over at Roy, who, from a perch in his cage, was watching us with interest, looking pleased that his jungle pals had got one up on us humans.

We soon found Adirs camera. With soap opera like drama, he had bought the camera (for a very Isreali pleasing price) only three days earlier during a day trip to the black markets in Cochabamba (I was a little, err hum, suspicious when Adir showed me photos of Japanese people from the camera’s memory card). The camera, much like Adirs hard-as-nails personality, was shock resistance and functioning perfectly. Moments later we realised the monkey’s had taken a series of photos of the invasion…

Monkey Arm

Monkey 2

Monkey 3

Monkey Paw?

The search continued for my camera. Clambering though the thick folliage, I was conscious of the danger of unsettling venomous snakes, which are common in the area, or getting a bite from one of the jungles numerous poisonous insects. After a phobia inducing length of time we finally found the camera. The LCD screen had been broken beyond repair and both the memory card and battery had been removed. The cheeky monkeys knew no limit. A few minutes later, while standing in a shine deep puddle of mud, I found the memory card. Just one item remained.

With darkness falling our cheaply evolved eye’s began straining in the dying light, there was still no sign of the camera’s battery so we wearily decided to call an end to the search. The sounds of the creatures of the night, unnoticed until the search ended, quickly grew into a hair-raising crescendo. All around us mothernature was flexing her muscles. Almost immediately, natures friendly faces: the birds, butterflies and sun-worshiping flowers had disappeared and been replaced by the lurking, invisible nasties of the night. With chests deflated, we departed.

Over the next few nights, a series of dramatic late night storms drenched the park in heavy rain and earth shacking lightning. Waking restlessly, I thought about that small little piece of my backpacking life, my trusty canon battery… it was out there, all alone, cowering from the power of nature or perhaps worse, held captive amongst the insidious thieving monkeys.

Days later, after what seemed like an emotional forever, I was finally getting over the loss of the little battery when the monkeys struck again. The camps lockbox had yet to be repaired and we had resorted to putting Roy’s food into his cage, locking it and expecting the monkeys to lack the courage to break into the puma’s habitat. We were, like the Nazi’s on D-day, terribly wrong. After cleaning the camp for a second time and collecting another chicken for Roy we sat in the hammocks, determined, with hammer and nail, to build a Fort Knox like lockbox in the morning.

I looked down. My eyes blurred. There, shinning like electronic royalty, was my little canon battery. I picked it up. A church choir sung. A flock of dove’s sprung forth. Rambo, for a brief moment, stopped killing people. Looking closely, I saw that the monkeys had left a series of deep, plastic deforming, bites into the battery’s edges, the poisonous lithium had not spilled out and given a monkey the shock of its tail swinging life. Back in my room, I put the parts back together and pressed the ‘on’ button – the green light of life sparked a wild celebration.

The week before I left the park the capuchins were still stirring up trouble.The new lockbox Adir and I had fabricated was up to the challenge and had kept the capuchins from reaching Roy’s food again – it didn’t, however, stop them from poohing in our hammocks. I’d learned my lesson: Oceans 13 would do well with a furry fourteenth member, monkeys were not as dumb as their star-sign implied and never, ever, underestimate tree climbing midgets with lots of time on their hands.

04.04.09

The Monkey Whisperer

Posted in Bolivia at 9:29 pm by Jackson Lee

Years ago, sitting in a quiet classroom with learning flying, I found myself looking around the room and wondering what would become of my fellow classmates. Barney – dress sense stolen from a metal worshiping cow and personality based on the lyrics from a “Rage against the Machine” song – if the music he loves rejects him where will he land? Josh – who’s ripped jeans prompted a dress etiquette review at school assembly – will his considerable intellect succumb and herd him up some corporate ladder? The ostentatious Angie with a lexicon thick with sentences Aristotle would cringe at and a faith based diet of roots and grains – where will the battle against “the system” lead her?

Everyone was weird (it was a common trait at Wellington High School) but a select few suffered acute Michael Jacksonism. Their outward display of individualism the first sign that generic conformity and mainstream security had been side-stepped well before their school uniform burnt. Unique and fascinating, with life paths leaning heavily towards the unpredictable, these people had an eye opening effect on my adolescent development. Turns out that there is a place in Bolivia, fill to the brim with organised chaos, where these kind of people like to settle and briefly call home.

“He doesn’t like that grass”, were the first words that Andres Gomez said to me, “It grows too close to the main road and tastes like machines”.

Machines, I wondered but nodded amicably.

Like most people who dislike wasting time thinking about their appearance, Andres was dressed as simply as possible – in classic park ranger fashion – large black gumboots a few sizes too big, dirty green khaki shorts and a tan coloured, Inti Wara Yassi branded, long sleeve shirt. His long hair, black and curling like a musketeers, was tied back into a ponytail helping to accentuate the Count Dracula cut of his goatie.

Andres at one of the weekly theme parties

Born into the miss world infested, Caribbean heavy, black gold drowning lands of Venezuela, Andres was quickly shipped off to Europe to be raised and instilled with European values and middle class ambitions. Besting these social expectations he completed a university qualification in animal care and was soon working in one of Spains best animal centers. A few years later, like Luke Skywalker intergalactic pull to complete his Jedi training in Endor, Andres arrived in Bolivia and happened across Inti Wara Yassi and its desperate animals.

“Follow me”, he said and with freakishly long strides strode into the jungle – I jogged to keep up. Before heading up to Roy’s cage each morning, in a hippie like stage production, we collect tall grass stems which are later fed to the waiting puma. Most of the cat’s in the park are hooked on the stuff as it apparently tastes great and helps with their digestion.

Feeding Roy Grass

An hour earlier I had arrived at breakfast to the news that Josh was sick with a exhausting stomach infection and wouldn’t be working today. Walking the afternoon trials yesterday had turned into a nightmare as without warning, his stomach had turned on a volcanic tantrum of cramps and toilet urges. Twelve hours later he hadn’t eaten, had run up a high temperature and saluted the white god with numerous barrages of bile-heavy vomit. First Doug and now Josh – it seemed like a bad sign that my training duo were both out of action within two days of joining the park. So entered the chance to meet the monkey whisperer.

“Do you chew coca?”, he asked with a distinctive Latino, intent on dancing with everything, slur to his English.We had already found a more appropriate spot to pick Roy’s grass and were heading up the trial to the cage. “It tastes best when you add some sodium bicarbonate”.

My head shook. As with most of Bolivia, coca is chewed to help with any activity involving the words difficult or hard – especially physically demanding work. Little else was said as we walked. Roy was obviously excited to see Andres. Unlike short term cat volunteers, who typically stay for one to two months, Andres had been (on and off) part of Roy’s life for a few years now. Watching the two glow with their mutual company I couldn’t help make comparisons between them. Both were long and thin, shaped by the demanding environment of the tropical jungle. Each had a wildness and confidence which seemed to originate from their knowledge that they were both in their natural habitat.

Leading the content puma with a calming aura for the day, Andre’s recounted stories about his time with animals. The stories, punctuated by questionable realism, were accompanied by hand movements that were a mixture of kung-fu strikes and movements best associated with Mediterranean cooking. Pointing to the large tattoo covering the majority of his chest, which depicts the face of the first Chimpanzee he was involved in rehabilitating, he told the story of ‘Pablo the disliked’.

Sharing 94% identical DNA to humans (not 99% as is often quoted), Chimpanzees are the only other animal to use tools (apparently dating back 4300 years), display empathy (some say they laugh) and enjoy David Hasselhoff’s music. This intelligence and emotional understanding come’s with a cost – anyone working with Chimps must have high levels of competence – competence which Pablo was sadly lacking.

At the park where they worked, monkey handlers interact with the chimpanzees via a specially designed cage built to create the illusion that the humans, and not the monkeys, are caged. This illusion is achieved by building a small, outside access only, cage into the monkeys habitat which the monkeys can freely look into.

Making his lone way into the enclosure, Pablo was unaware of his poor status amongst the Chimps or that they had a plan for him. As he entered a baby chimp and 6 year old started making friendly cooing noises and beckoning for his attention. Moving closer to inspect the chimps suddenly reversed tactics and began banging against the cage bars, screaming and barring their teeth. Startled, Pablo stumbled backwards into the arm reach of a teenage chimp waiting silently behind him.

Having up to five times the upper body strength of humans, chimps are incomparably strong. The teenage chimp grabbed Pablo around the shoulders and hoisted him prone against the cage bars. Seeing their plan was working, the baby and six year raced around the cage and immediately began pulling off Pablo clothes. Pulling off everything, they took delight in dressing like the prone Pablo and acting out some of his mannerisms. Releasing him to a humiliating naked escape, the chimps bounced around triumphantly. Six million years ago humans and chimps branched off the evolutionary tree but one thing remains – having a laugh at someone else’s expense.

In a positive frame of mind, I returned from lunch to find Andres swinging comfortably in the broken spare hammock, beneath him a pile of wood chips and the chiseled shape of a freshly carved Inca figurine in his hand. With Roy sleeping peacefully we sat around chilling, enjoying the early afternoon, Bob Marley inspiring, vibe.

Parque Machia has different zones catering for the animals. The largest being the puma tracks which spread several kilometers away from the administration area. The Aviary, which is stationed near enough to one of the accommodation to provide its occupants with a constant barrage of creepy macaw (parrot) chatter, is a good place to visit when volunteers have free time. Monkey park is the most secluded area as it provides spider monkeys with a rehabilitation habitat and thus prioritises avoiding outside contact. The tourist trial and monkey mirador (lookout) are the only areas where tourist are permitted to visit – and it is in these two area’s, free for monkeys to come and go as they please, where the skills of a dedicated theft can be well applied.

There are two things a good theft needs – cunning and dexterity. Capuchins, the arch enemy of absent minded jungle dwellers, have generous amounts of both of these skills. Weighting, on average as much as coke bottles (1.5 to 4 kilograms), capuchins have comparatively large brains (35 to 40 grams which is up to 3% of their total body weight) and are thus as cunning as a well placed Blackadder quip. With exceptional speed and dexterity evolved for jungle survival, capuchins famously beat the Chinese national table tennis team while heavily intoxicated on rice wine stolen from the local Shaolin temple.

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In addition to the standard verbal warning to anyone arriving at the park, there are numerous signs warning of the dangers of interacting with the parks monkeys – most of which are ignored. Pockets and anything shiny are hypnotic beacons to inquisitive capuchins. Naturally understanding the mentality of fascinated humans, capuchins approach and climb onto unsuspectingly tourists and act out the lovable, photogenic, cute animal. Then, without warning, they will grab cameras, car keys, money (US$ preferred) or any other object within striking distance and disappear into the jungle. The parks information board often reads, “Please report any monkey seen with so-and-so amount of cash and so-and-so electronic item” – nothing ever turns up. Andres, delighting in anything mythical about animals, is convinced there is a monkey “El Dorado” somewhere within the park.

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With a mouth full of vowel morphing coca leafs, Andres recounted walking the trials one day and coming across a smashed camera. Recovering the SD card, he found a series of photos depicting a happy western (gringo) couple as they traveled through Peru and into Bolivia. The first imagine of Villa Tunari is of the lovely couple posing at the front gates of the wildlife park, next they are in front of the tourist office, then another taken at the head off the tourist trial. With excited expressions the couples next photo is near monkey mirador and in the background, looking intently into the camera, a wide eyed capuchin. Acting as cute as his furry face will allow and looking lovingly into the camera, the next photo has the capuchin sitting on one of the happy tourist shoulders. The final photo is taken on a skewed angle from high in the tree’s, the couple waving vigorously at the monkey thief far above – shocked expressions showing their realisation that the cute little capuchin has stolen their camera.

With the day coming to an end, Roy was being repainted in my head as a angel in a fur coat with a spontaneous and often sung purr. Walking back to the parks base, Andres told the story about when Roy and him didn’t get along so well.

It’s practically impossible for Roy to escape his rope but he managed it once during the month I spent working with him. After rolling around on his back, as usual, in a pile of apparently aromatic dirt, Roy got up and proceeded down the trial. It took a moment for me to realise that, in a Houdini impressing act, he had somehow unscrewed and unhitched the usually tightly fastened metal carabina which is attached to his neck collar. Either he didn’t realise he was free or had no interest in escaping (which is more likely) and didn’t take the opportunity to run away from us. In that moment, like realising the French had kicked the All Blacks out of another world cup, a avalanche of negative thoughts raced through my head – Roy mauling a local resident, someone shooting him or not finding him again. With heart racing, I rushed after him, grabbed his collar and quickly reattached the carabina. Two years earlier, two new volunteers weren’t so fortunate.

The two had been careless and taken Roy off his walking rope – instantly the puma had taken the opportunity to escape into the jungle. Park management were quickly alerted and search parties organised. From previous experience, it was known that Roy, when free, liked to visit and investigate other puma’s walking area’s.

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At the time, Andres and another volunteer were walking with a puma called Simba. They weren’t aware that Roy was on the loose. Simba picked up Roys scent well before Andres saw him cross the track ahead of them. Using the emergency rope (which is always carried by the second), Andres tied Simba to a thick tree and ordering the other volunteer to keep watch while he set off after the roving puma. He knew what had likely happened and concluded recapturing Roy immediately was the best way to avoiding bigger problems.

Moments later he came across Roy crouched aggressively in the underbrush; being natural stalkers who use surprise to bring down prey this was the natural position of a puma if threatened. With Simba’s walking rope in hand, Andres slowly approached the tense puma. Whether it was the smell of another puma on Andres clothes or the thought of jumping someone new, Roy, without hesitation, leapt onto him and brought him to the ground.

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With the puma positioned above and over him, Andres only option was to go for the neck collar, knowing that getting Roy reattached to the rope was the best chance of controlling him. The paired rolled around in a pile of arms and paws. Hearing the sounds of the struggle, the other volunteer was soon on the scene but stood stunned – helpless to act on the manic spectacle.

Blood started to fly. Roy’s claws had torn a long gash down on the outside line of Andres nose (which is now a distinctive scar), barely missing his left eye – his hands and arms soon joined the blood fest. By this stage he had managed to connect the emergency rope and successfully used it to leverage Roy into a less hostile position. Pushing hard on the rope forced Roy’s head and body backwards which gave Andres the opportunity to regaining his feet. Roy, not giving up, moved in a series of circles in a attempt to maneuver himself in front of Andres . Andres, using the reconnect rope to guide Roy’s body, kept behind Roy and avoided another jump. Soon Roy was settling down and Andres used the opportunity to tie him to a tree, assigning the shocked volunteer to keep watch over both cats.

Bleeding from multiple wounds, particularly badly from the face cut, Andres shirt quickly become saturated in blood, the usual crazy look in his eyes reaching new levels – his appearance reminisce of Rocky Barboa after a 12 round showdown. He set off to get medical help and alert everyone that Roy had been re-found. Reaching the tourist trial, a monkey soon noticed him and climbed onto his shoulder – and as they do with everything it began licking the blood on his face. The pair, acting out a gruesome sequence from a Hitchcock movie, turned a corner and strolled casually past a group of startled Bolivian tourists – the story ending with one of Andres, “One flew over the cuckoos nest”, inspired hysterical laughs.

Anthropologists say that there are Stone Age societies, but there is no such thing as a Stone Age language. Humans, no matter there origin, have brains that communicate language with equal complexity. It is people like Andres, who interact so gracefully and meaningfully with animals, that help us question our understanding of the wider scope of language in the animal kingdom.

I’m not sure what Andre’s classmate’s thought of him while he schooled in his non-native Spain, but without doubt they knew he was different. All these years later, his eccentricities have found a happy home at Inti Wara Yassi. My favorite memory of Andres is seeing his mere presence inject dance-party amounts of energy into groups of monkeys whenever he enters their habitats.

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