04.01.09

The sun, moon, stars and Juan Carlos

Posted in Bolivia at 11:18 pm by Jackson Lee

Juan Carlos Antezana, affectionately known as ‘Juan Carlos’, unaffectionately thought of as clinically strange, is the determined mind behind ‘Inti Wara Yassi’ and its three animal refugees. Against Bolivian stacked odds, Juan-Carlos exudes a charisma which, wordlessly, explains some of the perplexing questions that go along with an organisation like Inti Wara Yassi (IWY).

Spider Monkey of Parque Machía

Founded in 1992 as a organisation to aid poor or orphaned children by sheltering and teaching them concrete skills like gardening and shoe repair, Inti Wari Yassi (sun, moon and stars in the local Quechua language), following a classic feel good moment, transformed into animal refuge maintained by Juan and the gang.

One of the results of the suicidal collision between Bolivia’s sick political systems and its jaw rearranging biodiversity is the fate of animals hunted out of the wild. Usually orphaned by hunters, baby animals are sold through black markets to private homes, hotels, witch doctors and circuses. Trapped within cages, tied to posts or kept as amusement objects, many ‘owners’ loose interest or cannot handle the adult version of the animal they have bought. Often malnourished or sick, these animals either return to black markets or have little future.

Balu the bear.

Most monkeys, having not seen others of their kind for years, lack the skills to survive in the wild and quickly die. Birds, wing’s clipped to prevent escape, cannot fly and require months for their wings to grow back. Jaguars, pumas and ocelots have it worst. Due to the Bolivian government’s blanket policy that large cats cannot be returned to the wild if they have been removed from it – possibly due to the fear that they will approach human populations – end up in overcrowded zoo’s, are illegally released into the wild or are euthanized.

Baby Capuchin Monkey

With the help of the orphans, Juan Carlos founded the first wildlife refuge in a little corner of Bolivia’s national park “Machía” – which is located near the town of Villa Tunari in central Bolivia. With herculean determination, he set about building a sanctuary and rehabilitation center. The goal of the park being to rehabilitate animals or, in the case of the big cats, to provide them with a home and future. Maintained by a handful of Bolivians (some being the original orphans) and aided by mostly backpacking volunteers – who most commonly stay for a two or four weeks (depending on the animal they work with) – the park is an inspiring success.

In a country where “law and order” are seldom spelt properly – social injustice can be overwhelming. Bolivia lacks the institutional infrastructure or social mindset to create momentum to address many of its problems. Amongst this chaos, which Western orientated fingers quickly judge and convict, Juan Carlos organisation is a breath of fresh air. Its success, driven by dedicated benevolence, is a lonely paint stroke to the way forward for a happier Bolivia.

Sonku with Adir and Mike.