Inti Wara Yassi

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
Trip End Jun 12, 2007

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Alex: Inti Wara Yassi turned out to be a lot of fun but also hard work. I was working with the birds and initially was just going to stay with them for 1 week but ended up staying for the full 2 weeks. We had about 70 Parrots, 4 toucans and (for a little while at least) 4 Rea/Emu (no-one was quite sure, we just called them Pios, the Spanish word) and there was between 4 and 2 volunteers looking after them depending on general comings and goings. After 4 days Hila who showed me the ropes left for the monkey quarantine and I had to train up the next person, Justine, who also stayed for 2 weeks. We also had Hermina, Marie, Laura, Jesus, Jackie (+ her monkey which never left her person, it even slept with her, it wasn't very good for her productivity though!), Denise and Orchid at various times and in various combinations.

Everyday was fairly similar, we started at 7.15, fed and watered the birds then went for our breakfast. Got back did a few maintenance type things, fed the birds again then went for our lunch. Got back cleaned all the cages, maybe had a short break and then fed them again, put them to bed (i.e. put their covers on) and then finished at about 17.30. We worked hard and, after travelling for 6 months, long hours but a lot depended on who was working with you (not to mention how hard they were working)

Despite everyday basically being the same there were various other things to keep us amused, some due to the disorganization of the park, for example, some time during the second week I arrived and went to check on the pios and they were gone! "Shit!", was my first thought before checking and double checking the 5m X 2m cage, they definitely weren't there - poachers maybe or they found some way to escape....turns out they had been moved to the other park at midnight and no-one had bothered to tell us, we (read Dean and Dan) had done loads of work trying to drain their  muddy cage the previous day as well!

Other excitement came from some of the other animal in the park, Leroy had to go for food for Chico (now called Tupac after the last Inca king) the baby puma and needed someone to look after him, as you can imagine we reluctantly agreed. Sometimes he just slept or lay around, but occasionally he wanted to play - much like a kitten, something on the end of a string went down very well, in this case a doll. As he is new to the park, he doesn't have his own play area yet so uses the other cats territory while they were walking in other areas. While I was looking after him one day the volunteers who look after a fully grown cat came to ask me to move him - it is then you realise this is a wild animal, he was growling and it took a lot for convincing to get him out of the area, in the end I had to pick up this growling puma to get it away - craziness! Even at a safe distance he was growling and not his usual playful self, and decided that he wasn't moving from the line of biting ants!

We also gained a baby Cuchi Cuchi to look after, once again as a newbie he didn't have a cage yet so had a hostel room near the lower aviary where we were (actually in the same hostel we were staying in!). He needed feeding and cleaning everyday but as a baby and a sociable animal he was bored in the room on his own and wanted to play. Playing was definitely the highlight of the job, so we were a little upset when another (more vicious) Cuchi Cuchi was brought to the refuge and he found a friend and went back to his natural nocturnal ways, but it was good thing really.

The birds is considered the boring bit of the park, monkeys and cats being far more exciting, but I ended up really enjoying it and it wasn't until the second week that I really started to get to know the birds, before that I had just known which ones nip. We had our scandals, like Robin who left his mentally unstable mate Cleopatra to move in with the Red Macaw next door, we nearly had a couple of Jerry Springer moments when she went over to confront them! There were regular escapes to deal with, sickness, one or two deaths, new arrivals and vets visits to keep us on our toes. I also felt some progress was made while I was there. We did simple things like move birds to bigger cages, or improve the cages slightly but hopefully they will make a difference. When I arrived there was only one bird that would sit on your shoulder, a few others arrived while I was there but by interacting on a daily basis with them I discovered a beautiful large blue parrot was very friendly and by the time I left had him sat on my shoulder. I presume he has always done this but no-one had given him the time before. When you spoke to him (or brought him food) he got really excited and kind of bounced up and down and clicked his beak - very cute! He was nameless when I arrive but Justine and I named him Casanova!

We also had a good time with the other volunteers, Christmas was great, about 60 people gathered together after work to drink, eat a whole pig, 10 chickens, kilos of potatoes and other veg, stuffing and generally have a good time. I got a little drunk and getting up the next day was difficult - fortunately we didn't take our camera so have no incriminating photos but I am sure some will turn up! We have lots of email address and people to visit and bump into along our way. Unfortunately a few of the people we really liked left early due to disagreements about the running and the politics of the park and we did share some of the concerns but decided that the park and the organisation is doing good - there is nowhere else doing the same, necessary, work in the whole of Bolivia.

All in all we had a really good two weeks and it was nice to stop for a little while. We will be glad to get away from the mold (even dry stuff goes moldy because of the humidity), the rain (wet season), the mosquitoes and sandflies (no explanation necessary - I am bitten to shreds). But we will miss our animals (for me especially Casanova and the Cuchi Cuchi) and the people we have met but we will definitely be in touch with some of them! And if you are passing through Bolivia it is definitely worth checking out.

Dean: In the same way that Alex decided to stay with the birds for the whole two weeks (something that very few people do), I stayed in the small animals area. Both Alex and I felt that the best way we could help the animals was to stay in one area for our relatively short stay at the park, in order to give the animals as much stability as possible (they must get fed up with having new people looking after them all the time!). I really enjoyed the small animals area straight from day 1. It was a one person job and so once Carabina had shown me the ropes, she left me to it - just what I wanted, nobody trying to tell me what to do, just me and the animals.

As I have mentioned previously in the blog, I looked after three Tyra, four Night Monkeys (George, Olivia, and two new ones to the park with no names yet), and four Cuchi Cuchi. My day started at 07:30 with the feeding of the animals and the cleaning of their cages. This tended to take between two to three hours. After that I would walk the Tyra, one at a time for about 30 minutes each. They are really strong for their size (maybe three times as big as ferrets), especially the boys, Tito and Ban Ban. This was a really cool job, as they were really interesting to walk. Tito would treat each walk as a hunt and so would be stalking termites and attacking plants! Ban Ban loved playing football with the fallen coconuts, until he would get bored and rip the thing to shreds with his teeth and claws (reminding me very much that he was still a wild animal). Chica would be more relaxed and just enjoy the walk. Sometimes we would bump into Bolivian tourists around the park - most of the adults recognised what the Tyra were and they all kept their distance - the Tyra could be a bit unpredictable and even though I felt that they knew me (I felt like the fourth member of their pack!) and they understood that I was the one giving them their food, they could still turn on you and you needed to keep an eye on them all the time while they were outside of their cages. Ban Ban and Tito were the worse for trying to have a go at you, Chica just loved me (and me her!). Most of time you could see that they were just playing (in their wild way) but occasionally Ban Ban would get pissed off with being in a cage or being on a rope and try to take it out on me. They are so ready for release back into the wild. They act as a pack and can really look after themselves. I have no doubt in my mind that these three would easily survive if they were released somewhere well away from humans. Apparently they are due for release and the park is just waiting for the government red tape to be sorted out. I get the impression that this is taking some time.

The Cuchi Cuchi are nocturnal and so I did not have much to do with them. In the morning I would clean out the cage from the previous nights party - that's what it always looked like in the morning! The only real interaction I had was my daily fight with Frank (one of the Cuchi Cuchi). To clean the cage I first had to block the two doorways of the hutches. This was done with some heavy bricks and the key to it was being really quiet so as to not to wake Frank up! Once the bricks were in place I could clean the cage and put fresh food down. The hard part was removing the bricks and getting out of the cage before Frank would attack! On a few occasions he got to me before I could get out of the cage. Luckily he liked attacking wellys rather than legs, but after the fourth time he got me (!) I saw the gash in the welly (it would have made a mess of my leg) and decided that enough was enough. After that, for the second week, I would put the bricks in place but Carabina would remove them. Strangely, he only ever went for Carabina once (and he ran off scared when she hissed like a puma at him, freaking him out!) - so I think that it may have been a male territorial thing with him or maybe he had been hurt by a male before he got to the park? I don't know why he was so mad, but he did only have half a tail, so maybe he had a bit of a complex about that?

In the afternoon things were pretty quiet in the small animals area so I tended to do other things for a few hours. I went up to the monkey park and sat with the volunteers up there on a number of days. This is a pretty cool job, as you basically keep an eye on the monkeys (and park tourists) and look after the new monkeys who haven't quite got use to be around the other monkeys yet. A lot of the monkeys are use to humans, due to where they have come from, and will come up and check you out. Some of them will jump on your lap/shoulder/head (and then usually urinate on you!). A few of them have previously been trained as pick-pockets and so will be really nice to you, while gently padding you down and checking in your pockets - it's really funny to watch once you know what they are doing. A lot of the tourists ignore the signs and don't empty their pockets. They soon learn the hard way - the monkeys have stolen lots of cameras, car keys, glasses, etc. You can't get them back, as they run off into the forest. If you quickly try to grab the stuff back the monkeys will attack you, as once they have it in their hands, in their minds, it is now theirs. I also spent my afternoons building a bigger cage for the Cuchi Cuchi. This was started by the volunteer looking after the small animals before me (Antony) and I carried on with it during my two weeks. The cage was almost finished as I left but this is mainly due to two of the Bolivian handymen been assigned to it for the last few days of my stay.

Of all of the animals I looked after, George was my favourite, closely followed by Chica the Tyra. George and Olivia are two Night Monkeys. Olivia is quite timid but George is a character. By the end of the two weeks, as I would approached the cage, he would start doing summersaults! While I cleaned the cage out, he would sit on my back. I felt that I really bonded with him but he is still not humanised like some of the monkeys up in the monkey park (which is a good thing, if he is ever to be released).

The day would end with feeding and cleaning again at 16:30 and this would take me up to 17:30-18:00, at which time all of the volunteers would meet up at the park cafe for a beer and to compare cat bites etc!

I really enjoyed being with the animals and I am glad that we spent the two weeks at the park. As Alex has said, some of the volunteers decided that the park was not for them, for one reason or another, and so left early. Alex and I felt a bit sad about some of the guys leaving as we really like them, but we understood why they were leaving (and also agreed with their point of view). Alex and I talked it over and decided to stay - we both feel that a good number of the animals in the park could and should be released back into the wild but for one reason or another this does not seem to be happening very quickly. However, the animals are having a much better life in the park than where they were before, and that is what we went to the park for - to help give the animals a bit of a better life. As Alex has said, if you are in Bolivia and have a spare two weeks (or even a month or two), stop by at Inti Wara Yassi and give them a hand.
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