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.

Inti Wara Yassi 1

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.

Inti Wara Yassi 3

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.

IMG_4098

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.

P4170052

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.

04.03.09

Eye of the Puma

Posted in Bolivia at 5:48 pm by Jackson Lee

The morning light, softened by the night’s tropical rain, hid secrets the monkey king had refused to share with humans since we had walked upright and mixed Banana’s with other things. Greens and browns, embarrassingly, had attempted an all night tango which had ended badly – leaving it to an army of happy ants to clean away. Somewhere in this messy collage a fat lady was singing – the storm clouds were victorious and it was time to start growing again. My second day’s welcome to the jungle was glorious.

River near Parque Machia after heavy rain

News arrived that Doug would not be joining us. Unlike the nine previous Roy volunteers, none of whom lasted more than 10 days, Doug had not succumb to exhaustion or intimidation; instead he was lame with a dose of trench foot. His feet looked nasty enough for a medical documentary or a bit part in a Peter Jackson splatter movie. Opting to walk the trials in old running shoes, the wet season had turned his feet into a soft mush which had attracted a supermarket full of bacteria. With his feet covered in blue medicinal iodine and his disappointed face sporting a disheveled beard, Doug looked uncannily like a Gallipoli veteran. Unfortunately he did not to return to work with us before leaving to continue his travels with his girlfriend.

Anxiety is an open license for nervous thoughts to play a leading role in our lives. Yesterday I realised that it would soon be my turn on the rope and with today’s news on Doug, I knew the moment was one step closer. Having spent time in the territory army, Josh had a certain amount of heroism in his blood. Noticing, via various hints, my anxiety as we made our way to the cage, Josh offered to take the rope for the morning session to give me more time to become familiar with the trials.

It requires a considerable amount of mental energy to work the rope. As draining as arguing (about anything) with teenagers, it is most important to avoid stepping on Roy’s tail (big no no) or to step on the rope – which can result in Roy’s head being violently yanked backwards (especially on a fast downhill). The reward for either of these is a can of industrial strength, feline powered, restricted viewership, whoopass.

After preparing the camp for the morning we set out and were quickly into a rhythm. Acting as second, I had a good view of what Josh’s was doing – switching rope hands as we jumped over large rocks – letting out a few meters as Roy moved slightly ahead – never turning his back to Roy – keeping the rope short as we passed a difficult section and so on. I began to feel more comfortable with the jungle trials, with reading the body language of the puma and with the handling skills needed. Without Doug’s knowledge of the trials, we got lost a couple of times but had little other drama’s during the morning. Roy, in what can only be explained as a classic application of the silent treatment, ignored me.

Noon, with diamond crushing temperatures torturing much of the jungle, is siesta time for fur covered puma’s. Due to the risk that they might become entangled with the runner and chock, one volunteers must stay with the cat at all times. The other volunteer heads down to the parks cafe to collect lunch (vegan as per park policy), chill out and socialise with other volunteers. As Josh had advised before leaving, I set up a ring of mosquito coils to send their angry fumes around our large, military green, hammock. Climbing inside, I glazed down to the sleepy shape of Roy below, who was coiled into a happy ball; before I could count my tenth bikini clad sheep, I fell into an exhausted sleep.

Dense Jungle

The jungle around the park belies logic – it can be simultaneously unbelievable hot and refreshing cool – I woke feeling cold. Staring through the tall canopy, the rain clouds had taken their own siesta and blue sky’s were making a dash for aerial dominance, why the cold sensation? The hungry vegetation of a healthy, primary fauna jungle, sucks away every ounce of energy it can latch onto. Heat, the dominant element this close to the equator, falls victim to the jungles gluttonous habits and cannot penetrate down to the lower reaches. Josh’s opinion on the matter was in addition to the air on the jungle floor being cooler than elsewhere our bodies naturally cooled after a long morning of intensive exercise. Its a usually feeling to be huddled in a polar fleece, eating lunch and admiring a flock of bright tropical birds weave their way gracefully through the trees.

Setting out for the afternoon, it wasn’t long before Josh was untangling the rope around his waist. Reaching a calm section, he decided it was my turn to take the rope. Taking position directly behind the moving puma, I grabbed the heavy rope and managed to tie it around my waist without to much drama. Maintaining steady footing, keeping a watchful eye on Roy while working the rope into a manageable coil took hurtful amounts of concentration. Thankfully, this section was flat and my only moment of concern came as we went under a pile of fallen trees – I slipped but regained my footing before the rope had reached its end. We maintained a steady pace through this part of the trials and twenty minutes later, having burnt out a good many brain fuses, I was relieved to hand the rope back to Josh. Roy had still not shown me any attention – this, in a science experiment kind of way, was starting to worry and interest Josh.

On the Rope with Roy

The trials became more demanding. Afternoons are the time when the bone sore body starts telling the mind, with constant nagging tone, that stopping is a wonderful concept needing more attention. The tiredness is physically like pushing yourself to finish the final hundred meters of the amazon-rivers marathon – over and over again. Unlike Jerry Bruckenhiemer productions, the string section was not hammering away, reviving up the tensions, immediately before Roy took the opportunity to assert his alpha dominance.

Puma’s, sitting high on the food chain, are driven to define their hierarchical relationship with other animals. Being solitary in the wild they patrol and defend their territory aggressively. Having lived at parque Machía since kittenhood, with constant and close human contact, Roy has developed a less aggressive, but equally animalistic, method to stating, ‘I’m the boss around here!’.

The Proud Hunter

With gumboots sloshing in ankle deep water rain started to fall again. In response, the jungle humm soften briefly, but quickly returned to remind us that everything here was alive, constantly vying to survive and flourish. The humidity increased noticeably as we left the stream, fueling the richness of the jungle flavours. Before the start gun could fire or camera’s roll, Roy, with unexpected force, suddenly burst into a full sprint and raced away down the path. Josh, reacting remarkably quickly as the rope reached maximum, threw every limb into the chase and disappeared after him.

“Roy aqui (Roy here)”, I heard Josh shout, warning others in the area of possible danger.

The Flash

What the hell was going on? Other than the famous shit and run, where Roy takes a shit and then sprint’s away for 50 to 100 meters (trying to keep up can be comic), no one had mentioned this situation. My surprised brain finally acted and I set off after them. Head down and arms driving, I did my best impression of Usain Bolt straight out of the blocks. Around a bend twenty meters ahead, Josh found a moment to pull back on the rope in an attempted to control the racing puma. Responding instantly, Roy came to a complete stop, and with a medal winning about-turn he raced straight back past the startled Josh. Microseconds later, in the time it takes bad pick up lines to take effect, Roy leaped into the air. Reaching chest height, paws tucked in, he braced for impact.

“Watch out!”, Josh screamed, but I only heard the ‘wa’ part before Roy burst through a well placed bush and into view. We were both moving at full speed; my caveman instinct instantly realised there was no avoiding a collision. Instead of crying out something worthy like ‘What the fuck!” or “Holy sweet mother of crap”, all I got out was a primitive, goodbye sweet world, ‘Arrrggghhhh’.

As Roy sailed through the air it occurred to me that Puma’s, fortuitously, are not the worlds largest cat but come in a respectable forth – after tiger’s (Siberian tiger’s can reach 380 kilograms in captivity), lion’s and jaguar’s. Paradoxically, Puma’s are considered part of the small feline family and in general have the same weight range as humans. The females being smaller (40 to 70 kg) while the males larger (45 to 100 kilograms). Roy, coming from close to the equator and therefore smaller than more polar orientated Puma’s – weighs a respectable 55 kg.

Puma’s, equally important considering my predicament, have the largest hind legs in proportion to body in the cat family. They are capable of jumping 6-12 meters from a standing position – if humans could do the same, it would make for some interesting late rugby tackles and Neil Armstrongs first step on the moon would have been a cracker. The human long jump world record by comparison, rather uninspiring, is 2.45 meters. In conclusion, puma’s aren’t huge but they packed serious power.

Sharpening His Claws - the Power of Roy

While my brain registered the flash of blond fur, menacing predator eyes and large paws hurtling towards my chest, other natural instincts took over. Perhaps developed during my days getting blindsided by large Polynesian rugby league players, my instant reaction was to drop my shoulder before impact. We collided.

Everything became a storm of explosive energy. With bar brawl dramatism, we bounced of each other and rolled several meters over plants with limbs flying in all directions. Feeling Roy at my side, I scrambled backwards and felt paws (with retracted clawed) bounce off my lower back and legs. Josh, by this time, had arrived at the chaos and was forcibly pulling on the rope. Everything was happening so fast; as I continued to scramble backwards more paws flashed across my vision but failed to grapple onto any part of me. Suddenly the assault stopped. Choked by Josh’s desperate pulling on the rope, Roy conceded and turned away, the wild animal mannerism quickly vanishing.

With the immediate danger gone, I realised that by some miracle I wasn’t seriously injured. This had been a display of dominance and Roy had not used either his claws or teeth. If he had meant me real harm, I would be in several bite size pieces by now instead of only sporting a few scratches and bruises. The initial shock was wearing off but I was still hyperventilating and still unable to climb of the ground. Sitting near Josh, Roy panted excitably looking pleased with himself.

Minutes later, with us both calming, we were back walking the trials. Continuing as if nothing had happened, Josh took the opportunity to reassure me that Puma’s like this kind of stuff and know how to avoid hurting people (other than an occasional claw mark). My mind, however, couldn’t stop replaying the sight of a puma flying through the air. Walking away from these kind of situations, like escaping a robbery or being verbally assaulted by the Pittsburg police force, reminds us of the importance of travel – of leaving behind comfort zones and facing impossible challengers – of escaping old versions of reality and finding healthier ones – of stirring emotions that capture the beauty of life.

An hour later, without further incident, we were back at camp. Roy was soon in his cage chewing on, as with every night of the year, two kilograms of raw chicken. During the past couple of days, my mind had been playing games about the possible dangerous of working with a puma, but now, having gone through this ritual and realising I could coup with the physical requirements of the trials, I was feeling more confident with being at the park.

One The Rope Close up

Having recounted, with over emphasised hand jesters and artistically placed dramatic pauses, the story of the encounter to anyone remotely interested, I was told a story about Roy that didn’t end so happily. Eighteen months ago an Irish volunteer on his first day at the park, for unknown reasons, was put onto the rope. Within minutes Roy jumped(from close range) onto the Irishman’s legs and pulled him to the ground. In park dialogue, we call this a ‘jump’; they are common and seldom cause injury. Each puma has its own style; Roy starts by rapping his paws (with claws retracted) tightly around the volunteers legs – next he places his jaws, in a vice-like grip (which seldom breaks skin), onto the knee or upper legs. The usual escape procedure is to wait for the other volunteer to pull hard on the rope and force Roy’s head back – the prone volunteer then pulls the puma’s paw’s apart (which, with the help of lots of adrenaline, isn’t impossibly difficult). On this occasion, however, in a Darwinian provoking brain explosion, the Irishman decided to punch Roy hard in the face. Unsurprisingly he ended up with a bunch of stitches, a wrecked state of mind and was asked to leave the park.

Over the month at the park, there were plenty of stories of puma jumps and drama in the jungle, but it turns out that monkeys are the cause of a lot more serious injuries than puma’s. Before leaving, I developed a real fear of some of the monkey species at the park and heard some hair raising stories.

Roy And Me

Posted in Bolivia at 1:52 am by Jackson Lee

Okay, I admit to some vanity as this clip might be a little boring – but it is the only one that has me (or, at least, my arms and voice) in it. It shows Roy near his roadside lookout spot cleaning himself.

04.02.09

Enter the Jungle

Posted in Bolivia at 1:07 am by Jackson Lee

My limbic system, the part of the brain poker players sell their grandmother to have removed, was still in control. The adrenaline had yet to ware off. Hypothalamus arguing knowing with amygdala, hippocammpus nodding agreeably, that something needed to be done or everyone was doomed. Roy, unaffected, calmly cleaned himself waiting to be let out of his cage. Ignoring the Sienfield episode in my head, I watched Doug and Josh set up camp for the day.

Matan preparing to link Roy to his runner

Before his cage can be opened, Roy must be connected to a 30 meter long steel cable which runs the length of his habitat. The cable – referred to as a ‘runner’ – allows puma’s the freedom to explore the immediate area around their cage’s without interference while also allowing maintenance on the cage. If not walking his trials, Roy spends his time connected to the runner – free, but as we all seem to know, locked into a space meant to protect him but in reality serves to keep society safe – quoting Oprah, “Mum’s sleep easier knowing escaped puma’s ain’t chewing on little Johnny thigh bone”.

Roy with his Runner in the distance

Knowing the morning procedure like the back of his paw, Roy stayed close to the cage bars, waiting for Josh to attach the runner to his collar carabina. Dressed in empowering black gumboots, khaki shorts any zoo warden would hug proudly after their weekly wash and a expensive black dress shirt, which somehow didn’t seem out of place; Josh obviously enjoyed being in the jungle. With a lopsided grin borrowed from an action hero, Josh was the kind of 18 year old you’d couldn’t imagine having to catch up on much in life. Like able and charming, mature in a way that provokes personal reflection, Josh made an excellent teacher / trainer. Raised, as his well-to-do British accent betrayed, in a privileged upbring, Josh was at the park as part of a British gap-year program called “Quest”.

Mixing adventure tourism with nature based volunteering, Quest takes groups of young British high school graduates through parts of the world mothers love to tell their neighbors about. Before arriving at Parque Machía, Josh’s 12 strong Quest group had spent 10 days in the north-western Bolivian jungle near Rurrenbarque (north west Bolivia) carrying building material 6 hours a day to help build new animal enclosure’s. Over the ten day period, the mixed gender group were without electricity or hot water while at the mercy of every bug mother nature has the good nature to make humans dinner. Quest provides a powerful environment for young adults to learn about themselves (notably their personal limitations) and about modern day realities like poverty, animal suffering and the rewards of providing for others.

With Roy now out of his cage and re-exploring his domain, thoughts about the nature of predators came to mind. Both Josh and Doug had been at the park less than 10 days. Between us, we had less experience with animals than Bindi Irwin had while still in her mother Terri’s womb. Can big cats become completely social domesticate after a life of ‘semi-captivity’? Every teenager has experienced the biological storm which accompanies a glimpse of their year seven math teachers bra-strap as she leans over to hand out the differentiation (to the third degree) exam results – does Roy sometimes find himself similarly overwhelmed glimpsing a volunteers thigh?

All cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are physiologically incapable of efficiently digesting vegetable matter – some cats eat vegetation (such as grass) to aid digestion or as an emetic (to induce vomiting). Of interest to people who often have digestive problems, Carnivores have comparatively short digestive systems – as they are not required to break down tough cellulose found in plants – and thus less prone to clearing out elevators full of their best friends. Thanks to Doctor Iams and lots of his science pals, synthetic forms of nutrients are used to replace meat to feed many of the furballs around the world.

Roys Carnivor Teeth

Puma’s can and do kill humans. The number of recorded cases has increased dramatically in North America with the increased encroachment of humans into puma habitats and the general increase in puma numbers with the cessation of their hunting. In total, however, only 20 deaths (from 88 attacks) have been recorded in the United states since 1890. In comparison lighting, which dishes out a rock-concert electrical discharge of approximately 100 million volts, killed almost 5000 Americans in the past 50 years.

Putting these thoughts aside, I noticed that Doug had sealed himself into the cage and was busy disinfecting the area where uneaten food scrapes had been left from last nights chicken dinner. The humid jungle air quickly festers any meat wastes, causing potentially health problems for Roy. Having checked his sleeping straw for ants, washed the water bowl and removed Roy’s droppings, Doug climbed back around the cage.

“Mate, if you fall behind today we can’t stop for you. Its just not possible to stop Roy when he’s moving. Unless, of course, he wants to stop”, Doug informed me candidly, I couldn’t help but think the crocodile hunter would have loved delivering that line.

“If you are not too far from camp, then make your way back, Josh offered in his usual nonconfrontation manner, “Otherwise do you best to get back. Stick to the trials”, he emphasis ed as if remembering a nasty horror story, “And if you do get lost, we will come find you when we can”.

Roy chilling

Covered by the mid morning heat and surrounded by the sounds of bugs, I looked up the hill, past the camps clearing. Within screaming distance, the trials became engulfed in dense vegetations and darkness, faithfully provided by the tree’s above, hid details of the distant terrain. The last few months of traveling in South America had been spent sitting around, eating digestive challenging cuisine, drinking cerveza’s (beer) and being as lazy as a travel is entitled to be. I had heard a lot of talk in the past day from park volunteers about the difficulty of walking Roy – of the steepness and length of his trials – of his aggressiveness nature and status as king of the park – of the many volunteers who couldn’t handle everything and quit – and I’d heard the tone of respect used when talking about volunteers from the past who’d thrived in these circumstances.

“Listo (ready) guys?”, Doug announced as he pulled the walking-rope out of the camps chest. Josh and I both nodded. Turns out that walking a puma is much simpler than it sounds. There’s no crack of whips, injection of sedatives or witch doctor magic. As thick as a weightlifting bar at its heavy end, a ‘rope’ is the well thought through tool used to guide puma’s on walks. One end of the 7 meter rope is tied around a volunteers waist while the other end hooks into a carabina on the puma’s collar – all that is needed next is for the puma to start moving. Jaguars, on the other hand, require two ropes as they are much stronger than puma. Each volunteer has a rope which gives more control over the potentially excited jaguar. Turns out that jaguars tend to have very predictably habits and it is very seldom that anyone is jumped seriously.

Attaching the rope to roys collar carabina

Roy getting ready to walk

With nervous excitement I watched as Doug attached the rope to Roy’s collar. Before I could register the details, Roy was leading the way swiftly up the hill. Doug scrambling after him and Josh, and then me, racing to catch up. My gumboots moved underneath, sliding with the contours of the rain soaked terrain. Within moments we were sprinting up a mudding hill, then stopping suddenly for Roy to mark a spot with his urine, another hill and then a knee jarring decent. In shorter time than a mountain dew commercial, my shirt was soaked in sweat and my breathing matched that of a hyperventilating academy award winner.

Hill decent on Roys short trial

Before I had time to doubt my ability to keep up my body realized that all hell had broken loose. My breathing found a regular rhythm and soon my legs felt less like three year olds were using them as swings. With Roy relentless leading the way, we moved into another long hill climb followed by a winding, stream filled, gully. Working hard to keep up, electrified by the surrounding environment and the serialism of situation, the trials started to blur.

It continued like this for about an hour with Doug and Josh talking about the different parts of the trial where special attention was needed. Hold the rope in this way to avoid being dragged down the hill at ‘Simon’s Drop’ – let Roy decide the left or right turn at so and so point – avoid grabbing spiky tree’s. At the half way stage Doug switched the ropes with Josh. Roy, so I was told, was happy – partly because three male volunteers gives him a sense of extra self importance.

An hour after sunset, Roy was back in his cage. There had been no jump attempts and the day had gone smoothly although apparently a little slower than usual. Roy hadn’t eaten normally for the last few days which, I was told, had impacted his energy levels. As exhausted as hydrogen after the big bang, I waved goodbye to a satisfied looking puma wondering to myself why he had shown me so little attention throughout the day – other than a few glances as we passed close at switch-backs he had hardly looked in my direction.

Social area at park

I trugged back to the parks cafe with a small amount of confidence building. Arriving at the cafe to the usual huddle of exhausted volunteers, there were no loud congradulations but only a slight acknowledgement that I’d made it through day one. They all knew the real test was surviving the first three days. A time Roy uses to define, with the passion of Freddy Krueger in a bar brawl, his alpha dominance with new volunteers.

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