The trade of exotic animals is the third largest illegal business in the world. It follows drugs and guns closely and it is estimated by the US Humane Society that it is a $15 billion business in the US alone. As recently as March of this year, the head of the United Nations Environment Agency warned that the global illegal wildlife trade is now a multi-billion dollar criminal business and is threatening the survival of some of the planet’s most iconic species.
Bolivia is an important supplier for the market as it is one of the most diverse countries in the world with an extraordinary range of bio-diversity. In the developed world we are often shocked by images of puppy-mills, or the awful conditions that some breeders will keep their animals in. One can imagine the conditions that these trapped animals are housed in, in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.
The Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1992 that manages three wild animal refugees across the Bolivian Amazon, dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals that are repossessed from poachers or dropped off by owners that can no longer care for their non-domestic pets. Friends of Inti Wara Yassi (FIWY), a charity registered in the UK and established in 2008, supports CIWY’s work by raising vital funds and awareness of the issues surrounding their work. CIWY currently cares for over 600 animals – including species such as howler monkeys, jaguars, pumas, tapirs and macaws.
Alongside a handful of permanent Bolivian staff, CIWY relies on international volunteers to assist in the care and environmental enrichment of the rescued animals. Whenever possible, the animals accepted into CIWY’s care will be reintroduced into the wild; if re-release is not an option, they will be given long-term sanctuary (a new start in life and a chance to recover from their previous traumas) at one of CIWY’s refuges.
The sale of exotic animals is increasing annually, fuelled by Internet sales, and one of the most popular animals being sold online and coming out of Bolivia is the ocelot, a wild cat found in the Amazon. Tigre was an unfortunate victim of the burgeoning wildlife trade, as are many of the animals currently living at CIWY.
But an ocelot is not a house cat. They are ferocious and extremely territorial, thus they can be very dangerous. In the wild they roam for miles in an average day; this alone makes them an impossible domestic pet, as they mature and become more aggressive most people find them impossible to keep unless they are caged. When Tigre arrived at Inti Wara Yassi, she was in a cage that was much too small for the 25lbs ocelot. She could not turn around and had open sores on her paws from standing in her own filth since her owners were too frightened of her to clean her enclosure. They explained that she was much too dangerous to be handled and that she had been caged since she was a kitten. She was roughly three years old when she arrived.
It is difficult to estimate how much damage was done to Tigre before she arrived at CIWY, but she remains somewhat distrustful of humans to this day. While she relies on them for her food, the cleaning of her shelter and her exercise, she can be difficult and aggressive. It takes volunteers weeks of daily walks and incredible patience to earn her trust. Tigre will never be able to be released back into the wild as she is too comfortable with humans to not be a potential threat, but she has an excellent quality of life living at the sanctuary. She is back in her natural habitat and is cared for by a team of dedicated and patient staff and volunteers. She has a spacious enclosure and every day she is taken on long walks along her own jungle trails – free to pass as she pleases: walking, running, hunting, climbing or simply sleeping.
The Inti Wara Yassi community, both in Bolivia and abroad, makes every effort to ensure that each animal’s life improves dramatically once they are brought into the care of the sanctuary. Tigre is one of many animals saved from a life of misery by the work being done to protect these animals.