I’ve been in the park for four weeks now, and I’ve decided to extend my stay by another three weeks. The work we do here is simply unbelievable, and I do not want to leave.
I have been working with a female puma named Wayra in the mornings, and a male puma named Carlos in the afternoons. I will be working with these two pumas for the duration of my stay.
Over time we develop a relationship built on trust, something that can take weeks with certain animals. Constant change of volunteers would be too stressful for them.
Every morning I wake up at 6:30, prepare my breakfast and walk 20 minutes with another volunteer to Wayra’s cage. We take her out of her cage and attach her to a system of ropes (we call them runners) tied around several trees. This setup allows her to walk around the jungle freely and not be locked up in her cage for the rest of her life. On these runners, Wayra can run around and interact with us if she wants to. We would prefer to see her run around without these ropes and without a collar, but this is a great compromise in order to give her some freedom. Every once in a while she lies down next to us and falls asleep. It is a truly unforgettable experience to be in the middle of the jungle with a sleeping puma at your side.
In the afternoons I walk 45 minutes on a road and then through a swamp to reach Carlos. As we approach the cage we can hear him calling out to us, and we respond with our best attempt at a puma call. We then attach him to a rope, similar to a long leash, and take him for long walks in the jungle. It is hard to explain how amazing it is to walk alongside such a dangerous but beautiful animal in his natural habitat.
It is obviously frightening to work with pumas, but the relationship we build with them lets us know we can trust them. This relationship is based on mutual respect.