A Call to Nature
29 Oct, 2019 | Nicole Marquez Aguirre
Photos: Nicole Marquez Aguirre
The Bolivian Amazon’s Ambue Ari wildlife sanctuary
My arrival at the Ambue Ari wildlife sanctuary, or ‘the park’ as the volunteers call it, began as a journey in search of a place where I could disconnect from city life and help others. It became a place that changed my life, where I connected with other volunteers, the animals and the nature surrounding us.
Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) has three centres in Bolivia that work for the protection of wildlife, rescue animals from illegal trafficking and educate the public about the importance of respecting the ecosystem.
The first thing one notices when arriving at the park is the dedication, respect and affection the centre and its staff have for each of the animals. Even deceased animals are commemorated with the ‘tree of memory.’ The facilities are basic, but volunteers quickly find that with a mosquito net, some tape and food, they have everything they need.
At first, like many others, I didn’t find it easy. I made mistakes and I felt out of place. It took about two weeks, with the constant support and help from the experienced staff and volunteers, for me to feel completely immersed and connected with my surroundings.
The work was hard but the reward was enormous. We worked six days a week, from six in the morning till six at night, taking breaks only to eat. We worked with vulnerable animals, many rescued from dire situations, and rehabilitated them physically and psychologically to a better and fuller life. This also entailed endless hours of fun for them, and for us. The daily routine is established according to each animal’s needs, so despite following a strict schedule, every day turned out different for us. After all, this is the Bolivian Amazon, and the jungle is constantly changing. There were wild animals inside the park, and the behaviour of the rescued animals varied depending on the surroundings and the volunteers present.
The work of the Inti Wara Yassi community is essential for the conservation of endangered species in Bolivia. This work couldn’t be done without the help from the volunteers who give their best in each situation with effort and good will, whether they are building new enclosures to provide better comfort to the animals, keeping the shelter clean or even putting out fires in the dry season.
My time at Ambue Ari was by far one of the greatest experiences of my life – and one of the hardest. During these two months I ended up connecting with the animals and nature, and with the other volunteers who came from around the world. I miss the Amazon rainforest, and I fondly remember how magnificent it is with its torrential rains, nocturnal sounds, and the wildlife and the people who live in complete sync with their surroundings.
Nicole Marquez Aguirre, a La Paz–based photographer, volunteered for two months at the the Ambue Ari Park, a wildlife sanctuary owned and managed by Inti Wara Yassi. Learn more at intiwarayassi.org