Gato the bear

Trip Start Aug 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, November 10, 2006

(Sasha) Gato was the first puma to arrive at the park. Nine years ago the owners of the park went to the circus to rescue some mistreated monkeys and birds. When they arrived they saw a young, unhappy, Gato as well. He had 2 broken legs since they were trying to teach him to jump through a ring of fire and was very malnourished ( a diet of milk and bread for a puma is not good).

When he was first brought to the park he could not walk. After 9 months with a dedicated volunteer he began doing daily trail hikes. Now he walks 3.5 to 5 hours a day.

Volunteers always work in a pair with the pumas. Although Gato is not aggressive like the some of the other pumas (hence the name Gato, meaning Cat...he is like a little kitty cat) it is still important to have 2 people with an animal of his size. I worked 1st with Bierke, from Germany, and Barbara, a French girl, who trained me. Then with Vered a girl from Israel who only lasted a week because she couldn't handle his trails. And eventually it clicked with Courtney- the Aussie- who stayed on as a Gato Girl for a full month. We had a blast together!

The best part is the morning run. We hike up to his cage at 9am and bring him fresh grass (pumas eat it and throw up...good for digestion) and then one of us straps on right away for the sprint- he is always eager to get out in the morning. Gato runs this first bit, and although he is the "grandpa" puma of the park I have still been pulled down during the sprint phase. A "grandpa" puma is still a puma! He chooses his long or short trail (he is the boss; he walks us and not the other way around!) and we hike through the jungle, past coca fields, up rivers, and over landslides (sometimes using a machete to cut our way) until about 1pm when we arrive at his mirador (lookout)and we rest for the afternoon. Sometimes we all nap, we read books, picnic, sunbath, etc. Gato can either be cuddly during the rest, which I prefer, but he can also be grumpy Gato. Then he goes back to his cage for dinner around 4 pm and we call it a day.
Some Gato memories include...beach days- swimming with a puma at the river is amazing, egg treats- we break a raw egg into a leaf for him to slurp up, he loves it!, oh and the time he didn't want to go home and we almost spent the night in the jungle- that was exciting, removing ticks from a puma is a rush as well,...hmmm, and his kitty toy which replaced the zebra I threw over a cliff (accidentally), his television debut (and mine!)- we had a film crew follow us for a whole day, and of course, the bear!  My favorite Gato trick, which I assume they taught him in the circus, where he stands on his two hind legs, just like a bear!

Best Gato adventure: Beach days! Getting to swim with a puma is amazing! Need I say more?

Worst Gato adventure: Beach days! He hates to go home after beach days, he refuses. One time he set up camp in the forest, intent on not spending the night in his cage. We had to hike for an hour in the dark to find help..left he tied to a tree, a big one...and then hiked back to try again. When the emergency team saw how stubborn he was being, we left him for the second time at 1:30 a.m. At 6am we returned to him again...and found a happy, stubborn puma!
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