May 16-May 24, 2007
The last week has been more of the same routine. I make the long walk with Nick up to Simba's cage, walk Simba around all day, then return him to his cage before dark. The weather has been miserable lately with at least the last five days being cold and rainy. I can't even remember what it feels like to be dry during the day. The sun is a distant memory. And this is the dry season!
The puma people seem to have formed their own clique. We always get together for each meal and for parties at night. We rarely see the monkey people. All of us are infinitely glad we work with pumas because the monkey people have to start earlier, end later, and get pooped on all day by the ungrateful beasts. All we have to deal with is the occasional mauling.
The only problem amongst the puma people is that there are constant arguments. Everyone thinks their puma is the best and is prepared to state their case for endless hours to prove it. My puma Simba, for example, is a jungle puma, so he's smaller than most of the rest of the pumas, which are of the mountain variety. However, he's more colorful and affectionate than any of the mountain pumas, and his trails are the toughest to walk. Roy is big and strong but he walks like he's gay. Li Shu is huge but doesn't attack much. And so on and so forth. Someone once proposed a "Puma Death Match" to decide once and for all which one is the best, but somehow I don't think that idea would go over too well in an animal shelter.
Every day continues to be a new adventure for walking Simba. We went to the beach again one day, and Simba greatly enjoyed taking a swim just like last time. He was a big baby once he got out of the water and was all wet, though. He barely walked the rest of the afternoon.
One day Simba saw four other cats, including one ocelot. Every puma's cage is located far away from each of the others for obvious reasons, but the park isn't big enough for each of them to have their own paths. Some of Simba's trails are shared with other cats', and sometimes the pumas run into each other. It usually isn't a good experience because they want to kill each other, so we try to avoid it. One other cat is tough enough to deal with, let alone four.
Seeing four cats was already more than enough excitement for a puma to have in a single day, but there was much more for Simba that day. Oh yes, when we got to the usual river we walk down, we spotted a wild ocelot. I had heard of wild cats living in the area, but this was the first visual confirmation. Near the ocelot siting, Simba suddenly jumped into the trees and started digging around for something. When he came out, he had a dead capuchin monkey in his mouth! He walked around the river with it for a bit, but decided it wasn't good enough to eat and dropped it. The monkey people figured it was one of theirs so they asked us to bring it back the next day. That's right, we had to bring a grain sack back to the river (about an hour walk), collect the rotting specimen, and carry it all the way back down to the casa, and of course Simba might have a thing or two to say about us messing with the animal he found. The situation sounded like one of those stupid Internet banner ads: "Catch the dead monkey in the grain sack and keep it away from the puma." I had Simba's leash at the time we found the monkey again, so Nick agreed to take it all the way back as long as I kept Simba away from it. And since he succeeded in his quest, he won a free bar of soap to wash his hands! If only the real Internet banner ads delivered prizes that good.
Another day Simba ran to a tree and started digging in the ground next to it. Dirt was flying up everywhere, and I decided that once Simba got his mind on something like digging, he was unlikely to think of anything else for awhile, so I tied him to a tree. Soon his head was under the ground, then his front legs, and about ten minutes later, all I could see was his wagging tail sticking up through the hole he had dug. Suddenly I heard a noise and saw a large mammal that had escaped through a back door run away from the tree. I must not have been thinking too well because the blur I saw running looked like Simba at first, and I thought he had escaped. However, soon Simba emerged from the second hole and I saw that all was well. For the next hour, Simba wanted to stick around the hole just in case the animal he almost killed came back for more. We had to drag him away from the area in the end.
The other continuing saga is that the locals keep cutting down the trees on Simba's trails. One particular place, called the "five points" because it's where five trails come together, used to be a dense forest. Now it's just a bunch of fallen trees, some of which have fallen on top of other trees and are bound to fall the rest of the way to the ground soon, causing a dangerous situation for the volunteers. The frustrating thing is that none of the trees have even been removed from the park. That area is on private land, so we can't do anything about it, either. The saddest thing is that this is what has become of Simba's life. All we're trying to do is simulate to the best of our ability how his life would have been if humans hadn't taken him out of the jungle when he was a baby, but it doesn't look like that will be possible. Simba's future is going to include being terrified by the sounds of chainsaws at least twice per week.
I only have one more week left here and it's crazy how quickly the time is flying because I have somewhat of a daily routine now. I have loved my experience here so far, but I will be ready to leave soon. Being in the cold, pouring rain every day while sliding around in the mud and trying to avoid getting eaten alive is wearing me down. Maybe I should have thought it through a bit better when I left the paradise beaches of Brazil.