I've had a handful of responses back from some of the volunteer projects I contacted. I'm now finding myself stepping closer and closer to making some sense out of the travel ideas flying around in my head. It turns out excessive amounts of thinking can in actual fact result in success! I was starting to feel a little dragged down by all the options and information, not knowing where to start or how to structure anything. Now I feel South America is definitely on the itinerary as a large chunk of the trip. I heard back from an animal rehabilitation centre in Bolivia and the reviews and testimonials are (for lack of a more suitable word) incredible. There is no requirement to book in advance, very little cost and you can stay as long as you like. The range of animals is fantastic; big cats, various monkey species and exotic birds, some of which can be seen here.
Each animal has their own individual story of how they ended up at the centre, many of which are extremely sad and involve terrible neglect or abuse.
Species: Puma (Puma concolor)
Age: approximately 10 years old
Gato was originally caught in the mountains of Chile when he was 2 months old. After his mother was killed by hunters, he was sold on to a Bolivian circus, where he spent a year in captivity in a very small cage and as a pay per view sideshow. Gato was then trained to jump through hoops of fire. When he failed to perform he was beaten. The repeated beatings led to broken back legs.
Species: Capuchin monkey
When Loca was a few weeks old, a group of Bolivians snatched her from her mother and sold her in a market in La Paz. The Bolivian family who bought her kept her in a metal cage just large enough for her to stand. They cleaned the cage rarely, so that her fur matted and her skin grew infected from constant contact with her feces and urine. Her lungs weakened from the lack of fresh air. She grew nervous, depressed and irritable. The family nicknamed her Loca, meaning crazy, because of her erratic, and sometimes violent, behaviour. Her skin infection and mood swings worsened, and the family wanted to dispose of her. They brought her to the jungle to set her free. Loca had never seen another wild animal before. She clung to the family, hid in their clothes, and wailed. They brought her back to their home. A neighbour took Loca from the family and brought her to Inti Wara Yassi.
Each one of them needs special attention and care to ensure their successful release and survival back into the wild. Those unfortunate enough to be too unfit for release need the time and TLC of volunteers to allow them to live out their lives at the centre as happy ones.
I don't deny the work and conditions will be tough, but what an amazing and unforgettable experience it could be.