Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inti Wara Yassi - in the jungle helping save monkeys!

After Sucre we decided we were rested enough to do some hard work. Following another gruelling 17 hour bus ride we were on the edges of the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia´s second city, Santa Cruz. There was nothing worth reporting, it was just a city. From here we cycled for 3 days into the jungle to find Inti Wara Yassi near the town of Villa Tunari. This region in the Chapare was once one of the largest coca growing areas in the world and the town was once rife with drug dealers and smugglers. Luckily none of that exists anymore.

Jungle outskirts

Deeper jungle

Inti Wara Yassi is a community of international volunteers all working extremely hard to help animals have better lives. Many of the animals there were from circuses, zoos or were mistreat pets. At Inti Wara Yassi they are given an opportunity to live amongst other animals and in a more natural environment.

For 2 weeks Gemma set to work with the so called "Small Animals". These really should have been named "Vicious Killers" as they included 13 coatis (a small badger like creature with huge claws and teeth), and 3 tyras (like a weasel but again with ferocious teeth claws and teeth). The latter, we were told, were so dangerous they can kill pumas!

It took only one and a half days for Gemma to learn about their reputation as one of the coatis bit her on the back of the leg. A chunk of flesh was found in her trousers by the vet who did brilliantly in trying to stitch together such a large hole. A large scar will definitely form and it will most likely take the form of a smiley face where the top fangs form the eyes, and the bottom row of teeth make up the smile.

However, Gemma quickly became attached to her little killers and likewise they began to like her. The little critters were also friendly and enjoyed having their backs scratched, they enjoyed sleeping on laps and loved their walks to find wood they could scratch.

Gemma´s daily routine was mainly feeding, cleaning, walking, scratching and watching the animals sleep. It sounds fairly easy but the critters were often getting into fights with the local wild monkeys who would come down to try to steal food.
We soon learned that the monkey invasions were being led by a capuchin monkey named Victor, who had escaped from the park and formed a terrorist group bent on wreaking havoc for food and fun. Victor was a powerfully strong and large alpha male capuchin. It was always wise to just give up food if he attacked as it was not worth finding out how much damage he could actually do.

Although Gemma loved all her little killers she became very fond of Suicide (her attacker), Barbara and Adriana.
Suicide was normally quiet and loved having his belly tickled but as Gem found out, he had a vicious streak which was terrifying considering he had the largest fangs of all the coatis.

Safest time to take his picture!

Barbara liked to climb on Gemma´s head and just sit there.

Barbara nibbled her arm when happy

Barbara in her favourite place

Adriana was quite needy and wanted 24 hour attention but was very sweet and loving in return for any affection.

Adriana shows off her teeth

Smiley Adriana

Ian spent his two weeks working with 41 capuchin monkeys and 5 spider monkeys in the quarantine area of the park. The quarantine area was used for new arrivals (to reduce risk of spreading any disease or parasite), for the sick (again to reduce spread of illness) but also for problematic monkeys. Many monkeys arrive at the park in bad condition and unfortunately some arrive with terrible psychological problems due to being mistreat. These monkeys can be completely unpredictable and very aggressive in certain situations. It also means they are less likely to be accepted into social groups by the wild monkeys due to their behaviour. This sadly meant that a few of the monkeys were kept in cages for theirs and for others protection.

Despite all these problems Ian quickly formed good relationships with many of the monkeys. This was probably helped by little things he did for the monkeys like collecting termites for snacks, stealing coconuts from nearby gardens for treats, lots of grooming and playing (especially with tools) and for being pretty good at scaring away the wild monkeys that would try to steal the food.

Ian made monkeys very happy with his own monkey like ways

During the first few days, Victor the terrorist monkey descended upon the quarantine and attacked two of Ian´s favourite monkeys (Harold and Doctor). Doctor was wounded quite badly and had to have stitches in a gash in his right wrist. The very next day , Victor returned and attacked Doctor again, this time breaking the little finger on his left hand and leaving a terrible gash in his palm. Doctor was miserable for days and so Ian spent a lot of time grooming him.

During the following few days the head vet (Flash) spent much time hunting Victor with a dart gun in an attempt to capture him and put an end to the war. Amazingly, the hero turned out to be Ian as he managed to capture Victor himself using the old fashioned method of luring him into a cage with a banana and closing the door behind him. It sounds very easy but there was much bum-squeaking by Ian and his little army of capuchins. For his efforts, Ian was rewarded with looking after Victor which proved very interesting as Victor´s hatred of him was absolutely clear.

A caged Victor is not happy

Ian´s daily routine with so many monkeys was mainly taken up with feeding and cleaning several times. There was still plenty of time for fun and games though, as the days were very long.

Ian´s favourite monkeys were Doctor, Oscar, Harold and Oliver (capuchins).
Doctor was a large male with a mean looking face but a very sweet nature. He enjoyed being groomed and was noticably more happy once Victor was captured.

Doctor trying to look excited

Oscar was very playful and loved to learn how to use tools, especially hammers and pliers. He was also a keen forager and enjoyed eating termites.

Oscar looking very innocent - he was very naughty though.

Oscar admiring Ian.

Harold was another big male who enjoyed grooming Ian and picking Ian´s nose and ears. When saying goodbye, Ian received a bite on a finger which showed just how upset he was that we were leaving.

Harold before the goodbye bite

Oliver was very smiley and would rub his hands together when happy. He also had a little bit of rage which made him quite unpredictable.

Oliver found it hard to hide emotions

Following the amazing experience it was difficult saying goodbye to the animals. The bonds we had formed were quite strong and it is strange to think we may never see these lovely animals again. Although we wouldn´t say it was a life changing experience, it was definitely one we will never forget.

We have have amazing memories and many more fantastic photos but unfortunately we can´t sit here all day and load them all up so here are a couple more favourites...

Gem, Kiswara and Vladecito

Gem being groomed by Abraham

Ian being hugged by Marucha

With teary eyes we left Villa Tunari and ascended the mountains again, out of the Amazon jungle and back to the dizzying heights of the altiplano. Now in Cochabamba we plan to rest for a couple days until Gemmas wound properly heals before heading to La Paz.

Lots of love to everyone back home, we will post again when in La Paz.


Globalmum said...

I am going to have to check your bags before you leave Lima - I bet there will be a monkey in there somewhere...!

Josh Lowe said...

Randomly came across your blog... I was there (with Balu the bear) and left shortly after you guys arrived I think, late June. Can't believe Victor was taken out. Maybe Speedy will take over the crew. Safe travels!