After finding out about this I immediately saw it as an opportunity to temporarily quench my ever-growing travel bug and experience, not only a new work environment, but a new country, or even continent! After many online searches of “cheap volunteering abroad” I came across Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY), a Bolivian wildlife sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates wild animals being sold in the illegal pet trade, trained in circuses or kept as pets. After doing a bit of research and reading numerous blogs by previous volunteers I knew that this was where I wanted to spend my summer, so, flights booked, vaccinations done and myself and my classmate, Cillian, were off on our South American adventure.
Check out Eoin’s short video about his time at Parque Machia>>
After two full days of travelling we arrived in Parque Machia, one of three parks operated by CIWY. The role of each volunteer at the park is to care for and enrich the lives of the unfortunate animals, many of which were physically abused as well mentally traumatised. Volunteers are assigned to work with a particular species of animal ranging from spider monkeys and capuchins to ocelots and pumas. However I was assigned to spend my time at the park caring for a spectacled bear named Balu.
As a cub, Balu’s mother was killed and he was taken with plans to sell him on the black market. However at 2 years of age he was rescued by CIWY, but unfortunately he could not be rehabilitated after his years of captivity and abuse. He now lives in Parque Machia where volunteers aim to give him as natural a life as possible, and they do this by talking him on long meandering walks through the Bolivian rainforest.
Despite some initial apprehension, meeting Balu was amazing. Having being surrounded by humans for his whole life he was extremely affectionate, though proper contact could only be made through the gate of his enclosure (even an affectionate bear can do some damage, especially at 130kg). The process of walking him was quite complex, and the main focus was giving Balu as much freedom as possible. Often during the walks we would be joined by a mischievous troop of squirrel monkeys or the spider monkey family, who without doubt give the best hugs in the animal kingdom. As well as walking through the rainforest, there was feeding and cleaning. A lot of cleaning. But all the bear faeces in the world couldn’t take away from what an incredible experience this was and how privileged I felt to accompany this remarkable animal through his natural habitat, as well as encounter animals I had only dreamed of seeing in the flesh.
I must thank the School of BEES for giving their students the freedom to pursue ventures such as this. I feel I have gained more than just work experience, but have also learned so much about different people and cultures. I strongly urge any prospective final year students to take full advantage of the opportunity being presented to you and try something completely new. To find out more about volunteering at CIWY visit www.intiwarayassi.org