Well our blog about the Galapagos might have sounded rather romantic but there was nothing romantic about the 2 weeks that followed after that when we embarked on the adventure that is volunteering with wild animals in Ecuador and crazy Ecuadorian people!
We can laugh about it now but running for our shallow little lives up an embankment because "lions can`t climb" was our reality! but more about that later...
The place had so many more animals than we were expecting lots of parrots, eagles and other birds, galapagos tortoises, a wooly monkey called Tim, some crazy capuchins who are due for release, and coatis, kinkajus and cabazas (don`t worry we didn`t know what they were either) but a quick description is small mammals that are very cute looking while generally vicious, except the coatis who were just cute.
And then we start on the cats, as you drive in there are 4 lions on the top lawn and then 2 in a circus trailer next to the house we were staying in while we made them a new cage, 4 more lions down the hill along with 3 osolots, 2 pumas (1 vicious + 1 tame) good luck getting them the right way round when you stick your hand through the bars to pet the one purring! and the most beautiful of all a Jaguar who is so pee`d off with humans who beat and teased her in the circus that they keepers reckon if she were ever released she would purposly go after humans as revenge, so luckily for Ecuador they decided that "she was a lifer"; although I would be surprised if any of the cages there are "lifers". And then finally 2 lovely speckled bears who are also due for release in the next couple of weeks back in to the wild, fingers crossed.
Our jobs were mucky, mucky, mucky, cleaning in tiny places and ever day being amazed by quite how much mess animals can make in just 24 hours but you also got to play with the fencing toucan, feed worms to very happy coatis and try to run the gauntlet of the capuchin cage, while the aggressive male was whooping and trying to tear either you or the cage apart. One girl Emma, managed to get attacked by the monkeys, cabezas and jaguar all in a few days but she loved the animals so much that she was straight back in there. but we didn`t see any poo throwing at least.
The more interesting jobs where rennovating the lions new enclosure, catching an escaped snake, and making cages for the rapidly breading rabbits, which became Chris`s main job when the coordinator realised she had a carpenter for a couple of weeks. Not so interesting jobs were helping to dig a s*** pit and Chris getting to skin a horse while I held the bag out for the meat - very bizarre experience that one.
However, the 2 circus lions were the main focus while we were there, as they were in a tiny trailer and he`d just had his bits done (cause he was too aggressive) and sleeping with in 10 meters of them certainly had me lying in bed at night praying the doors were secure enough and that they`d had plenty of chickens that day!
The new cage, was being made with trees, mud, rocks, old wire fencing and nails (when we had them!) When I asked about concrete for the pillars I was practically laughed at and told "mud and rocks are fine" - our patio is therefore made with a stronger foundation - oh joy! It then also seemed that they had some riduculous urge to get them moved one day and that day was probably our strangest day yet...
Normally you tranquilse lions to move them, but the vet couldn`t come that day and ketamine is too expensive from another one apparently - so nevermind we`ll devise plan B - oh yes that would be to move them while they are awake, in a small cage which we`ll knock up in the morning. whoops number 1.
Cage built; lion 1 in and tractored down to the new house backwards on a steep bend with the poor thing going out of her mind and her roar ripping through those standing close by. Only to find that they hadn`t checked that the new house was finished, and so that will be another whoops then, so an hour more distress for her and the cage is finished "enough!"
Now maybe I`m being a little anal but when you build a cage for moving a lion it would also be wise to check it fits through the new enclosures door, whoops again they didn`t do that either!
So now we have 1 angry lion, 1 sort of finished enclosure and 1 trap cage that doesn`t fit; so whats plan D???? clearly it is "lets just open up the trap cage and hope that angry lioness runs in the right direction!!!" I have NEVER experienced anything like it. When the farmer worker went to open the cage most of the volunteers and the owners doberman (you know its bad when animals sense danger) all started screaming NOOOOOOOO and scrambling up the enbankment as we`d been told earlier in the week that lions can`t climb!
Through sheer luck she did bolt in to the enclosure rather than through the big gap by the door and I do now feel a little silly for `worrying slightly`but in many ways its sums up our time down here in South America, fun, with an element of danger round every corner.