Yes, bears and cats! More precisely – Three andean spectacled bears, a jaguar, two ocelots, a puma, and a margay.
The bears and cats are part of the same section because they all live together (not literally 🙂 ) out in the forest near the river behind the other animal areas. They need a bit of peace and quiet, so their section is out of bounds for normal visitors, and also volunteers are not allowed in this area except when they are with a keeper.
The routine for the bears and cats section is basically clearing away food, a bit of a clean, and then putting new food down. The bears were fed three times a day, and the cats were fed twice a day. Being on the section basically meant following around the keeper and doing whatever was required. The number of volunteers on this section varied a lot, and if there were more than two it wasn’t uncommon for the others to just be standing around. Tasks included throwing peanuts to distract the bears, cleaning up bear poo from around the pond, getting water from the river to clean the bear cage, scrubbing the cat cage areas, chopping up meat for the cats, and putting food down for the bears and cats.
Feeding and cleaning didn’t take very long, and followed a circuit around the animal cages – which included going over the ‘bridge of death’ – a precarious makeshift bridge over a river, made of bits of bamboo tied together.
The schedule was what you might call ‘flexible’ – meaning whenever the keeper felt like it. The keeper was not the most communicative fellow in the whole world, so often people had no idea what was going on…. (even if you could speak Spanish! 🙂 )
Because there was a lot of spare time outside the feeding/cleaning times, then generally speaking during these times the bears and cats people would join in with the specials section and help them out with their tasks. The most frustrating thing about bears and cats was the fact that you never really knew how long your break was, or what you were doing next – as the keeper was not very good at communicating. He also always insisted on leaving super-early before you had chance to finish breakfast… 🙁 and was known to leave without volunteers when they were in the bathroom – as he couldn’t be bothered to wait for them.
Of course, the upside to this section is the amazingly beautiful cats and bears! 🙂
There were two male bears called Aruma and Ajayu, and one female – Tipnis. Aruma and Tipnis had enclosures next to each other, and Ajayu was out on his own in another area. Bears are very dangerous, and so they must be distracted and at a safe distance when anyone is in the enclosures – except for Ajayu. This was because Ajayu was blind – he had stumbled into a village and had rocks thrown at him – which resulted in him being blinded. He also had a damaged jaw, and so couldn’t chew properly. He spent his time sleeping in a hammock, and got food that was easy to chew – like fruit and porridge.
The big cats are generally nocturnal – so you don’t see them all the time. When they do make an appearance, they are very striking and impressive creatures. The jaguar is called Cubai, and was apparently being kept as a pet by a park ranger?!?! The ranger was persuaded that Cubai would be better off in a sanctuary, and gave him up. Cubai was well looked after and fed correctly, and apparently the park ranger sometimes comes to visit him! 🙂
I’m not sure of the stories of how the other cats came to be at La Senda Verde. Out of all the cats, the Margay was the most elusive – not appearing much at all. CC and I both managed to see it – but we didn’t get any pictures 🙁
All in all, CC spent 4 days on bears and cats, and I spent 3 days. Although the running of the section was a bit haphazard and frustrating – seeing the cats and bears so close up made this section pretty enjoyable to be on.