Tales from the Bush

A WILD WORLD OF RIP­PING YARNS

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wel­come -

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.”

Do you have a tale that you would like to share? If so, please email a syn­op­sis of your idea to [email protected]­me­di­ate.co.uk

Pow­er­ful puma: Wara’s lead is tricky to hold on to when she de­cides to run. Right: Matthew and his cat com­pan­ion.

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