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.

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