Tales from the Bush
A WILD WORLD OF RIPPING YARNS
Meet the man who took a puma for a walk in the woods
Wara abruptly halted. Her cushion-sized paws were firmly planted in the leaf litter and the great muscles in her forelegs were rippling. Her ears, with their distinctive white markings, stood to attention as she focused on what appeared to be nothing more than a motionless tree. I appealed to her to move on as we were only at the start of the trail. A short, frustrated hiss clearly indicated that we were staying put.
I walked to her side to investigate the cause of our sojourn and became aware of a rustling from the forest floor. At first I thought she had been distracted by an invertebrate but, when I looked closer, I recoiled like a spring. It wasn’t an insect. It was the tail end of a very long kingsnake. I was caught between a muscular puma and an enormous, agitated serpent. This was far from ideal.
Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi is an organization in Bolivia set up to enrich the lives of animals that have been orphaned or are unfit to survive in the wild. Volunteers are assigned to an animal that they are solely responsible for, and they spend a minimum of a month feeding, cleaning and walking them if possible. During my stay I was tasked with looking after Wara, a semi-wild, orphaned puma.
Wara would be fed once a day and taken on walks in the morning and afternoon, depending on whether she was in the mood for exercise. A number of trails had been established in the surrounding rainforest and, once clipped on to a lead around my waist, she could wander along any trail she chose.
Walking with a puma is like having your own keen-eyed wildlife guide, as she could sense another animal’s presence before we’d even turned a corner. When her body went rigid and her movements slowed I knew she was in stalking mode so tried to keep as quiet as possible. This enabled me to record an extensive list of wildlife sightings, which included southern tamandua, owl monkey, collared peccaries and nine-banded armadillos.
However, these sightings were mostly fleeting. The animal in question would almost certainly spot me and Wara and dash into the undergrowth with a shriek. I’d have to lock my legs and get ready for the inevitable lurch as my feline companion attempted to chase after it.
Our eventful walk had started as any other. It was a hot afternoon so Wara had decided to take the trail that passes by the river. After she had made me aware of the large kingsnake a couple of feet from us, I slowly backed away and stood behind her. Despite our time spent together, though, I was unable to coerce Wara to leave. In fact, it was only the squeal of a coati nearby that eventually stole her attention away from the danger, and had me once again running through the jungle to keep up.
SOMETHING STOPS WARA THE PUMA IN HER TRACKS WHILE OUT ON A WALK WITH VOLUNTEER MATTHEW. “WHEN WARA’S BODY WENT RIGID AND HER MOVEMENTS SLOWED, I KNEW SHE WAS IN STALKING MODE, SO I KEPT QUIET.”
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Powerful puma: Wara’s lead is tricky to hold on to when she decides to run. Right: Matthew and his cat companion.