If you are reading this, then I’m guessing/hoping you may well have read Keely’s other blogs about the highs and low of jungle life in general, as this blog is just going to be allllll about Roy. And a word of warning - this blog is loooooooooooooooooong. So in the assumption that most of you won’t want to read all of it, I’ve listed the contents below so you can just skip to the sections you want to read. The first piece is about my first day with Roy, but also acts as a general day in the life kind of thing, whilst the rest of the articles are some of my more memorable moments shared with Roy throughout the month. There are some pics along the way too.
1. My first day with Roy (a general day in the life kind of piece)
2. My first handfeed
3. Roy swimming
4. The snake encounter!
6. Tree climb
7. The first jump
8. The river jump
9. Reaction to new meds
10. Increased affection
1. MY FIRST DAY WITH ROY:
Roy was the puma I was assigned to on our second day in camp. The first day and a half was an anxious wait as 5 other volunteers arrived the same day as us, and we were all absolutely desperate to work with a cat. The breed didn’t matter (pumas, jaguars, ocelots and Brazilian Wildcat being the options), just as long as we were working with a cat was all that mattered.
Before we found out which cats we had been assigned to, we spoke to people in camp about which cat they were working with etc. One of the other volunteers heard our discussion and said something along the lines of “Well if you like to do nothing all day and stare at a cat lying down all day / sleeping, and you want a really unaffectionate cat then you are more than welcome to have my cat Roy”. Anyway after a few more discussions with other volunteers as we killed time around camp and did jobs, we were eventually summoned to the admin office to hear our fates. I entered the room thinking “OK any cat but Roy and I’ll be over the moon”. So of course when it came time to receive a cat assignment, the news I was so hoping to avoid was upon me…”Mike, you’ll be working with a male puma called Roy”……………BOLLOCKS!
I tried not to let my disappointment show, and the cat coordinators went to great lengths to explain what an awesome cat he was, and that although he wasn’t quite the walking machine he used to be, he was definitely one of the best cats to work with. However I had my doubts, and upon reading the “Roy information file”, my suspicions were confirmed by testimonies of past Roy carers which described his slide from marauding walking machine (6-7 hours walking a day), to a cat clearly in too much pain from arthritis to want to walk much at all.
I don’t actually know too much about Roy’s past, but he definitely arrived at Ambue Ari from Macchia, one of the other IWY parks. At 12 years old, Roy is getting on a bit, and in the wild he probably wouldn’t be expected to live much longer than that, however in the captivity they can live as long as 20 years so the fact that he was suffering from arthritis wasn’t all that surprising. Anyway I brushed off the disappointment, and thought well I’ll give this as good as I can, and who knows maybe I’ll be lucky and he’ll be more active with me.
So anyway, the next day arrived, and with it my first chance to meet and walk with Roy. Like Koru (Keely’s cat), Roy was an early morning and full day cat, which meant we left camp before the official breakfast, and returned at anywhere between 3.30 and 5.30pm depending on the events of the day. This of course meant we missed lunch every day, but the kitchen ladies would save a plate for us to eat upon our return. Unfortunately Roy’s was one of the cages furthest away from the camp, and it consisted of a boring 15 minute walk along the road, followed by another 10 – 15 minutes through the jungle, depending on conditions. Now this was not 10 – 15 minutes of nice jungle, oh no, the jungle section of the trail commenced with a huge log with ropes/branches attached that acted as a bridge over thigh deep standing water. The bridge actually worked ok for the first two weeks which were mostly dry, but during one of many storms, it effectively broke and the rope system was almost entirely useless. Then upon successful navigation of the bridge, we had to walk through a second pond of standing water. I definitely saw splashes caused by something in this particular water, and something tried to bite Cedric on his boots (my crazy walking partner from Quebec) so every day we just tried to plough through not thinking about what was in the water. During the first two weeks, a successful assault on the bridge and a careful measured walk through the second pond meant you had dry feet for the entire day! However for the last 10 days on which it rained every day, often torrential, the water was above boot level anyway so it was wet feet & boots for the best part of 8 hours. That got reallllllllllllllllly old, realllllllllllllly quick, and was the main reason many volunteers suffered from fungal infections on their feet. Luckily I managed to avoid any problems with my feet, as feet problems w ere just terrible when you consider your main responsibility was walking the cat!
Anyway eventually we arrived at the cage and by this point I was super excited to meet Roy. We always announced our arrival a little way from the cage with a “Hola Roy” so that he would know it was us making the noise and wouldn’t get stressed out. Roy would answer back with these lovely yelps which were his way of saying hello back. I was then instructed to put my hand through the cage so that Roy could come and sniff my hand and start to recognise my scent. That first little sniff was definitely a special moment, and my first up and personal encounter with Roy, even though it only lasted a few seconds. I realised quickly he was a very good looking cat, although he had sadly recently suffered from a fungal infection on his nose. By the time of my arrival the infection had gone, but it had left some lines around his nose where the fur looked different. We then set about releasing Roy from his cage onto the runner system, which was a series of two wires/ropes between the cage and trees, which we would attach his lead to by carabineer. He was then free to roam around outside his cage without having to be attached to one of us. To get Roy on the lead, we would release him from the main section of his pathetically small cage, into what was called the management cage. This was effectively a small corridor, not much longer than Roy himself, with doors at either end leading either back into the main cage or outside. Once Roy was safely in the management cage, he would approach the front door, and would wait to have the lead attached to his collar. At this point you would normally get a great big lick on your forearm which was a great sensation, and was usually accompanied by some pretty loud purring. His tongue was really just like a domestic cat, rough when it licks you, but certainly not unpleasant!
So eventually after Roy had amused himself for long enough on his runner system, it was time to hit his proper jungle trails. To communicate to us that he was ready to walk on his trials, Roy would walk to the start of his trails, to the extent of his runner slack, and stand there looking back at us as if to say “Hurry up you slackers, I want to walk now!”. The person on first rope (explained below) would disconnect Roy from the runner, and onto a harness wrapped around his waist, and then it would be off on the trails.
Now Roy is always a two person cat, which means there must always be two people walking with him when he is on trail. This is a safety precaution in case he decides to get grumpy and take out his frustration on “first rope”. The person on first rope is the person actually walking Roy, and is attached (by carabineer) to Roy’s collar by a 3-4 metre rope, so that if Roy decides to sprint off, he can’t get more than a few metres away before he reaches the end of the slack and is reined in by the rope. The person on “second rope” walks behind first, and has an additional hand held rope only, which gets tagged onto his collar when he is misbehaving etc. If he does get grumpy, second rope tags him, and then both walkers move in opposite directions to split, effectively locking Roy in the middle and giving him nowhere to go.
I was really stoked to get on trail with Roy on my first morning because I had expected him to lay around the cage all day and not going walking at all! So there we were walking along Roys trails, just being happy to be out at all, when out of nowhere Roy jumps over a little puddle (quite normal) and then haired off down the trail and what felt like a million miles an hour. I was so taken by surprise it took me a few seconds to catch up to Crispin (volunteer who left shortly after I arrived) once Roy had decided to stop. Still buzzing from the sensation of crashing through the jungle behind a sprinting puma, Roy was off again! That morning he sprinted 4 times, which I think was the most sprints Crispin had experienced in one day – and this happened on my first day! At this point, I was thinking well maybe all those previous volunteers were wrong, and Roy was going to be a rampaging machine again!
The rest of the day was spent walking, and enjoying a bit of time out down by the river. The river was his favourite place to chill out, as the river bank was often bathed in sunlight (during the first two weeks only of course), and he would often spend hours down there, alternating between sunlight and the shade provided by the jungle canopy. In fact he liked the river bank so much, that on day 3 or 4, he walked straight to the river from the cage, and spent 6 hours straight down there! The fact that Roy spent 6 hours by the river meant we also spent 6 hours by the river! At this point there were three of us, as Cedric, my partner for most of my month at the park, had arrived. Cedric was less than impressed, and I too felt my initial optimism from day one melt away with each hour spent on the bank. We would kill time by reading, playing cards or just lying down in the sanctuary provided by the mosquito net!
Anyway back to the completion of my first day. Once Roy had decided he had relaxed enough by the river, he walked himself back to the cage which meant it was feeding time! As it was my first day, and I was on second rope that day, my responsibilities during feeding were cleaning/disinfecting Roy’s feeding table and water bowl, and then refilling his water bowl. Meanwhile first rope crushed Roy’s arthritis medication, adding it to his mince balls, and put the remaining chicken and red meat on the feeding table (Roy received 700g of red meat, and 1kg of chicken per day, apart from the two starvation days a week where he only got 1kg of liver and a big bone). We then left the cage, and Crispin wafted the mince balls in front of Roy’s face which acted as an incentive for him to go back into the cage. Once safely in the management section of the cage, Crispin detached the lead from Roy’s collar and proceeded to hand feed Roy his mince balls! At this point I’m watching a fully grown puma eat mince balls out of someone’s hand, thinking I can’t wait to do this! After Roy demolished his meat balls in no time at all, we let him into his main cage, where he proceeded to absolutely devour a full plucked chicken (dead of course) and the remaining red meat. I stood outside the cage to watch him eat the rest of his meal, and watching him eat the chicken, neck, head, feat and all, whilst hearing the cracking of the bones as he chomped his way through it was pretty awesome. Upon completion of feeding time, our day was finished, and it was back to the camp to eat a late lunch and reflect upon my first day with Roy.
- That's my boy!
- Chilling out by the river
- Walking on trail
- Walking on trail 2
2. MY FIRST HAND FEED
It was on day 3 that I finally got to hand feed Roy (I think Roy was the only cat that was allowed to be hand fed). I was super excited whilst on preparation duties and it was certainly an awesome experience to watch and feel him eating mince balls right out of your hand, especially given the eating was accompanied by some very loud purring. He was actually very gentle whilst doing it, using his tongue to lick bits off your palm, but every so often he would get a little bit of your hand when closing his teeth around the mince, although it wasn’t painful at all. Even by the end of the month, the hand feeding never got old
-Hand feeding time!
- Hand feeding time 2
- The rest of dinner (can't hand feed this bit!)
3. ROY SWIMMING
In my short time with Crispin, he mentioned how much Roy liked to swim when down at the river. I couldn’t wait to see him do it, but for some reason it took him 10 days before he finally went for a dip. Prior to that he would often look at the river, but would only stand on the edge of the bank, rather than descending it to the water’s edge. One day he went down and I thought “This is it!”, only for Roy to put one paw in the water, and proceed to turn around and walk back up the bank. Anyway he eventually went in on day 10, much to Cedric and I’s delight! He didn’t splash and jump around though as I thought he might, he just went out into the middle of the river (on his river runner of course) and swam against the strong current in a straight line for about 5 minutes. He then came back up the bank and gave himself a good shake off, usually right in my vicinity! Sometimes he would go into the water as often as 5-6 times a day, despite very high water levels, so I don’t know why he didn’t swim in those first days.
4. THE SNAKE ENCOUNTER!
Being the Bolivian Amazon, we of course knew there were lots of nasties around in the way of spiders and snakes, but thankfully we had only one hair-raising encounter. This happened half way through my month with Roy, and up until that point I had only seen one snake, and it was such a brief sighting that I wasn’t even positive it was a snake at the time. If it was, it was only a very small one. Anyway said encounter happened on a day when I was on first rope, meaning Roy was connected to me. He was merrily making his way along his trail, and had turned a corner when I caught something out of the bottom of my eye. I stopped to look down, and noticed a huge snake lying right across the path. Roy, of course, hadn’t stopped, meaning he had somehow managed to walk right over the top of the snake without even realising it was there. We reckon it was about 3 metres long, although quite slim, and was black with yellow rings. At first I thought it must just be a skin, as at the time its head was concealed by a tree leaf, but when I bent down to get a better look, to my horror I saw its head moving around, and its tongue flashing out. At this point I said something in a fairly loud voice that is completely unsuitable for inclusion here, to which Cedric replied “What?”. I said again “Look!!!”, to which he replied again “What”. So rather than beating around the bush I pointed down saying “There’s a great big (censored) snake right here”!!! Much like myself, Cedric exclaimed something unrepeatable, but promptly got out his camera so we could capture the moment (sadly I don’t have the picture yet!). Now as I mentioned Roy had walked over the snake, but I hadn’t, meaning he would eventually get to the end of the slack while I was rooted to the spot about 2 feet before the snake – the worst possible scenario as it meant Roy may well turn around and come back to me when realising he couldn’t walk any further. I told myself “Don’t panic, this will be fine as long as Roy doesn’t turn around and come back”. So what does Roy do? He turns around and comes back, except this time he obviously notices the snake. He isn’t spooked at all, more curious than anything, and being curious he lowers his head to get a better look at the snake. At this point the snake isn’t particularly happy, and when Roy sticks his head in to get a good look, I’m thinking he is either going to get a bite on that cute little nose of his, or the snake is going to turn around and bite me instead! It all happened in slow motion, but the snake reared up, hissed at Roy and then just when I thought it was going to lash out and bite, it sped off through the bush to our right… “Pheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeweeeeeee, that was a close call buddy” I say trying to act all cool, but in reality my heart is beating a squillion miles an hour. I don’t think Roy realised there was ever any danger in the situation, and turned around and plodded on without a care in the world. When we got back to camp that night we relayed the event to quite a few volunteers, but no one could confirm whether the snake was actually poisonous or not. For every no, we got a yes, so we of course prefer to think it was poisonous for drama purposes!
Unlike most of the other cats in the park, Roy had a bug bear which we could exploit to get him moving when he was being too lazy - he hated having people hum in his ear. I’ll never know why this irked him so much, but it provided peace of mind to us as we knew we could always get him up and get him moving if we needed to, although we only used this technique when we absolutely had to. I remember bursting into laugher the first time we did it as it all felt so strange – “Here I am in the middle of the jungle in Bolivia humming into the ear of a lazy puma…” Sometimes it took a while to get him going, especially if he was down at the river and was happily lying in the sun. Sometimes he would even pull a fake, meaning he would get up, tricking us into thinking he was ready to walk, only to move 3 feet and lie down again. He was definitely a crafty old bugger sometimes. Often he would reluctantly start walking, but every so often would try to sit down – as long as we were quick enough with the humming i.e. between him going from seated to lying down”, he would get straight back up, but we had to be quick! Although the humming was obviously not to his liking, he thankfully never got aggressive with us when we did it. I would definitely have felt less comfortable sticking my face an inch away from his head if was he prone to retaliating…
6. TREE CLIMB:
Unlike Keely’s cat Koru, Roy was in absolutely no way a tree climber, with sprinting being the extent of his acrobatic activities. Anyway one day he was walking along a trail when he looked up and noticed a howler monkey in the canopy some 15-20m above us. This monkey was doing absolutely nothing to encourage Roy aside from being alive, and Roy mostly couldn’t care less about monkeys as we encountered them almost every day, but for some reason this time Roy was completely infatuated with this monkey. Having sat at the bottom of the tree boring holes through this monkey with his eyes for a few minutes, he jumped on the tree and scrambled up. He only got a few metres up before deciding he was probably too old for this and jumped back down before we had the chance to whip out the cameras. That was the one and only time he jumped on a tree during my stay, but other volunteers at the park who had worked with Roy in the past had never seen him do it so I definitely feel lucky having the opportunity to witness it.
7. THE FIRST “JUMP”
Pumas like to jump, and are incredibly good at it – from a standing start they can jump between 6 – 12 metres horizontally! They often jump on people as a way of playing. Every other previous Roy volunteer had said that Roy will jump you at some point, normally at the start of your month – this being his way of testing you out. My first experience came about 7 days in, just when I was thinking he wasn’t going to do it. At this point Crispin had left, meaning it was two inexperienced guys, Cedric and myself, looking after Roy. It happened first thing in the morning when Roy was on his runner system prior to going out on trail. He sauntered over to the start of his trails, which was his way of telling us he was ready to walk. So we left the cage, and I walked over to unclip him from his runner. When I was about half way there, and in what we later referred to as “No mans land” Roy turned around and came at me. I knew I was in trouble straight away because his eyes dilated, which was a sure sign he was going to get frisky. In no time at all he was on me, and I felt his full weight crash into my body via his front paws. At this point he was still on the runner as he had jumped me before I had the chance to transfer the carabineer to my waist harness. Somehow the runner lead had got caught around my legs and tripped me over, meaning Roy now had me on the ground…not a good place to be in with a mountain cat! About 2 tenths of a second later, as we are rolling around on the ground together, amidst his snarls I feel his jaws clamp around my thigh and squeeze…hard!! I’m thinking right, he is about to puncture my femoral artery and I’m going to bleed out and die here. But no, Cedric arrived in the nick of time to slap the second rope on his collar and pull him off me. I stood up with adrenalin coursing through my veins thinking “Wow, that was intense”, and looked town to see a big rip in the thigh of my trousers. I knew he hadn’t punctured the skin with his jaws, but he had still drawn blood via a couple of scratches from his claws.
As I mentioned before, Pumas often like to jump as a way of playing. To this day I’ll never know for sure whether he was playing or whether he was actually being agressive. When I approached him on the runner a few minutes later, he hissed at me which was the single and only time I ever saw him hiss at anyone or anything. But at the end of the day I guess he must just have been playing because, if he wanted to, he could really have hurt me. It taught me very quickly, that Roy could hurt me, even if he didn’t intend do. Afterwards I was almost relieved that it had happened, because I knew what to expect in the future. As it turned out, he did jump me a few more times over the course of the month, but they were much more playful and didn’t result in bruised muscles and scratches!
8. THE RIVER JUMP
So whilst on the subject of Roy jumping, another rather memorable one happened towards the end of our time in the jungle. By this point, it had rained constantly for about 10 days, so the trails were mostly flooded, and the river had submerged a good portion of the bank. Much to our surprise, Roy actually decided to go for a swim that day as we had been told he doesn’t like to swim when the water level is too high. He didn’t stay in for long, and when he came back up to the path on top of the bank, I gave him his usual post swim affection consisting of lots of pats and scratches under the chin. However, my positioning for this little bout of affection was less than ideal given the path behind me at this point was only about half a metre wide. Roy proceeded to nuzzle my thigh which is normally fine, but unfortunately the nuzzle was followed by Roy jumping on me. Now this jump was certainly only playful, however when I put one foot behind me to try and steady myself, this foot landed not on the path but on the bank. The bank being very slippery due to the rain, was just about the worst place I could have put my foot and sure enough I slipped over, tumbled over backwards down the river bank and SPLOSH!!!!!!!!!! Yup, I ended up fully submerged in the river! I lifted my head out of the water, with the water draining out of the mosquito net, and looked up at Roy. To this very day, I swear Roy had a look on his face that was tantamount to “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh hohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, but I’m sure he really enjoyed the fact that he had pushed me into the river. This moment was almost, but sadly not, captured forever on film as Cedric had been filming the prior affection. However as I had said “Roy is going to jump me” just before said jump occurred, Cedric had stopped filming to come to my assistance.
- River covering the bank & path
9. REACTION TO NEW MEDS:
About half way through our time together, Roy had started to develop a limp which looked to originate from his front left shoulder. We filmed him limping and showed it to the vet later that day when we arrived back in camp. The vet decided that in addition to his daily dose of arthritis medicine, he should also receive daily doses of painkiller and glucosomine in his water bowl. So the next day we gave him his new meds, wondering what state we would find Roy in tomorrow – would he walk for hours on end and jump up trees, or would he just be normal….Boy were we about to find out. We arrived at the cage and let Roy out onto his runner system. At this point he seemed pretty normal but all that was about to change. Cedric was on first rope that day, and when it appeared that Roy was ready to hit the trails, we walked out to unclip him. However this is when things started to go wrong. Roy did his usual fake, and turned around to find Cedric right in the middle of no mans land approaching the runner. Roy jumped him, and jumped him hard. As I was on second rope, it was my job to tag Roy with the second rope and pull him off Cedric. After a few seconds they ended up rolling around on the ground together, but it was proving difficult to get the rope on Roy as he was constantly moving around on the ground while trying to kill Cedric. Well that’s what it looked like, although he obviously wasn’t trying to kill him. Eventually I had to kneel on Roy’s throat to get him stable enough so that I could put the rope onto his collar. I pulled Roy off Cedric and was really quite worried about what state I would find Cedric in underneath him. Luckily the only damage inflicted was some bloody scratches and bruising on his thigh – much like what happened to me. But this jump had definitely appeared to be aggressive, rather than playful, and we were both a bit spooked. We left him to cool off on the runners, and eventually we ended up out walking. But the jump was sadly not the last of his erratic behaviour that day. He behaved like a complete lunatic out on trail – he sprinted more times that morning than he had during the entire first two weeks, and although sprinting is normally something we really encourage, his character seemed really off as he was also giving us nasty looks and a few snarls to accompany then. But the most alarming of his behaviours that morning was his desire to turn around on trail – something he is categorically not allowed to do. He would reach a certain point on his river trail, and then turn around and sprint hell for leather in the opposite direction back towards the river. Whilst Cedric and I would try to prevent him doing so by splitting our leads, Roy was straining so hard against us that we were actually choking him. We eventually let him turn around as we were really quite afraid that he was going to hurt himself badly. This happened about 5 times that morning, with us getting more unnerved each time it happened. At about midday whilst down at the river, Cedric left me with Roy to go back to camp and get his leg checked out – during one of Roy’s sprints earlier that morning, he had pulled Cedric over and Cedric had landed on his already sore thigh. I left Roy tied to his river runner and made sure I was well out of his range. He kept trying to walk back onto his trails and was very grumpy about not being taken for a walk, but there was no way in hell I was going to walk him on my own when he was in that state – we were having a hard time controlling him with two ropes so I was positive I was going to get hurt badly if I tried to walk him back to the cage on my own. He eventually settled down, and I awaited the arrival of someone else to help me get him back to the cage. One of Roy’s previous walkers turned up about an hour later to find Roy nice and peaceful down by the river. We got Roy up and sure enough, he behaved like an absolute angel for me on the way home, demonstrating none of the antics that had characterised the rather stressful morning. Bloody typical I thought. I suppose I could have risked trying to get him home on my own, but his behaviour was just so off that morning I didn’t think it wise to risk it – if I had got hurt everyone would have just said I was stupid and should have waited for help. In terms of what caused this behaviour, we were at first convinced that the new meds were too strong and had almost made him delirious/high. The long termers at camp thought it could have also been a wild puma / jaguar’s scent that had spooked him, but at the end of the day we never were able to fully pin down just exactly what it was. The next day he was much better, and although he did try and turn around on trail, he did so with much less conviction and we were able to prevent him doing so without fear of hurting him, although it took about 5 days before he would successfully complete that trail without becoming visibly distressed or trying to turn around. That eventful day was certainly my least enjoyable with Roy, and served as a big reminder that we were working with a powerful and unpredictable cat.
10. INCREASED AFFECTION:
As I mentioned previously, I was told that Roy just wasn’t an affectionate cat. At first this was devastating news as I had had visions prior to arriving at the camp of lots of pats and cuddles with which ever cat I was assigned to. And this largely proved to be true for the first week while I was with Crispin. But once Crispin left and it was just Cedric and myself, we decided to make a real effort to increase the affection given to Roy, in the hope that the affection would be reciprocated. We basically instigated this at the cage, and down by the river, but not on trail as we didn’t want him getting overly excited during a walk. Slowly but surely Roy became much more affectionate over the course of the month, and although at times it got him a little too excited (see River Jump), it was such a rewarding experience to see Roy becoming so much more comfortable in our presence. By the end of the month he would happily nuzzle our thighs, and let us both pat and scratch him pretty much to our hearts content. And whilst we would like to take the credit for that, we think the new medication may also have helped in this respect, as he was clearly in less pain and perhaps that made him more comfortable with affection. During the first 10 days or so, I was surprised at just how little I felt emotionally attached to Roy, but by the end of the month I felt we had a really strong bond and was really sad to have to say goodbye.
- Affection with Roy
- Affection with Roy 2
- Affection with Roy 3
So as I have clearly rabbited on for far too long, it’s time to finish things up. My month with Roy was an incredible adventure, filled with lots of amazing memories that will stay with me forever. And whilst I wasn’t exactly devastated at the prospect of leaving the jungle, leaving Roy behind was a different story altogether. I really miss him, especially hearing his welcoming yelps when we arrived at his cage in the morning, his strange little ways, those huge deep eyes, and of course the pats and cuddles. I think about him all the time, wonder how he is getting on with his new volunteers, and whether he has managed to push them into the river as well! Whilst walking home on my last day and having just said goodbye to Roy for the last time, a certain phrase from a magnet on Keelys’ mum’s fridge popped into my head. It says…
“Cats leave a pawprint on the heart”……..they sure do.
- Tired kitty
- Close up
- About to growl
- Just doing what cats do
- On alert
- Love this picture of his eyes