In the year 2005, I was lucky enough to volunteer at a wild animal refuge in Tambillo, Ecuador. La Hacienda Santa Martha rescues endemic animals that are being trafficked, kept as pets, used in circuses, or abused in other forms. It is a wonderful establishment tucked away in the flora of north Ecuador’s rolling mountains. Wooly monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, parrots, ocelots, Andean bears, lions, a Galapagos Hawk, a 150-year-old Galapagos Tortoise, and a sole jaguar found refuge here. Chickens, nine dogs, and three cats also called La Hacienda home. Needless to say, it was quite a thrilling experience.
I took this picture of the one jaguar at La Hacienda, who was kept in a large cage and loved to be pet through the fence. The immense vibration of her purr resonates within me still. The catch was, when she realized it was a person causing this pleasant sensation, she would quickly turn around and bear her teeth, swatting at the fence. When it was feeding time, we had to lure her into a smaller cage, held shut with a spindly stick, and enter her larger cage to give her the daily allotment of chickens. It’s actually quite a wonder that I left the refuge with all appendages in tact.
This photo captures her playful, yet ominous, character. I wonder if she’s still there.