During the summer, Principals Go Abroad funding gave me the opportunity to travel to Bolivia where I worked as a volunteer at an animal rescue centre. The centre works within the local community to help rehabilitate animals that have been injured or mistreated and to educate about conservation in an area where an abundance of other social problems means the issue is low priority. I was assigned to work with an elderly jaguar Juancho, who suffers with numerous physical and mental medical problems as a result of years of mistreatment at a local zoo. It was an incredible experience to form an unforgettable bond with a magnificent animal and I learned so much first hand, about feline behaviour and management which will be of huge benefit working with cats in the future. The vet at the centre was willing to spend time explaining the various treatments I was giving Juancho and talk about ways to increase his exercise level and minimise stereotypic behaviour. The centre payed a huge amount of attention to every detail of each animals wellbeing and personality, and through thoroughly recording behaviour it was really interesting to appreciate the huge impact a cats environment has on its mood and mental wellbeing. Although sometimes difficult, it was really interesting to see the long term effect that trauma had taken on the animals at the centre. I really hope to work with exotic and wild animals in my future as a vet so appreciating how trauma and habituation to humans often prevents reintroduction of wild animals was highly invaluable. During my stay I also had the chance to work with a wide variety of other animals and had the opportunity to watch the vet treat wildlife that was brought into the centre from the rural surroundings.
The centre itself was in an amazing location in the middle of jungle and I had a brilliant experience meeting many likeminded people from all round the world with a shared passion for conservation and animals. On the trip was able to learn some basic Spanish which I have continued to work on since coming home, with lessons planned next term.
Before leaving I was worried that I might not agree with how the animals were being cared for at the centre and that the work at the centre may not be legitimate. I had spent a lot of time researching the centre but I was still relieved to find their main values and aims were similar to those I hold important. I was also worried about safety on the trip as I had never been somewhere so culturally different with a reputation for being unsafe. I was so reassured when on my way home I realised that at no point on my trip had I felt unsafe (except from hearing the stories of the deadly venomous snakes lurking in the jungle). This has given me a huge confidence boost for any future trips as I now feel more able to solo travel.
The beautiful Juancho, pulling his funniest face to smell in his jungle enclosure.
The volunteers of Comunidad Inti Wari Yassi rescue centre