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The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

The Puma Years is a memoir by Laura Coleman. The story recounts Coleman’s work at a parque in the Bolivian jungle.

The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

In 2007, Coleman traveled to a wildlife rescue “parque” deep in the jungles of Bolivia. She was only 24 years old and had already traveled extensively. This low budget, volunteer-based reserve housed a smattering of formerly wild animals from coati to howler monkeys, parrots to pigs. Also found there, a puma named Wayra.

The memoir centers around Wayra, an animal that Laura earns the trust of. She ends up caring for and even walking the puma through trails in the jungle. She even swims with the big cat, an animal that could easily kill her.

Laura’s growth is what makes this memoir worth reading. She starts out as a “lost” youth, unsure of what her life’s purpose is. She meets a lot of interesting characters: those running the parque as well as volunteers. But it is the jungle that really helps her grow.

Wayra came there as a kitten, her mom killed by a hunter. She can never return to the wild, despite making her own attempt to. Thus, we get an ongoing paradox of giving formerly wild animals some dignity, however limited that may be. Laura provides her opinion on zoos (negative) but at the parque the animals are in enclosures, are fed and provided with veterinary care. Plus, no matter how comfortable the cats are with their handlers, there is no mistaking the real threat they pose.

I read this memoir with a mix of fascination and surprise. The fact that random volunteers show up from all over the world to work with cats (and other animals) is really cool. But it is also not that sustainable. The conditions at the parque are abysmal. Some of the volunteers leave quickly while others stay on or return multiple times. But they all eventually leave.

Laura changes a lot through this story. She helps fight a devastating wildfire. She leaves and comes back. She ends up founding an organization, ONCA, to help fight environmental and social justice.

I disagree with some of Coleman’s points of view on environmental justice. Refraining from eating ice cream doesn’t absolve you from living in the world. Traveling to far away jungles uses fossil fuels. Everything everyone does has some impact on the environment.

It may be easy to blame “consumerism” or “capitalism” for the world’s woes. But she (admittedly) benefits from the luxuries of global progress. She may call it “privilege” but it is part of civilization. How else could a 24-year old from the UK make multiple trips to the Bolivian jungle?

We must not forget that conservation does not, it can not, cleave itself from capitalism. Facilities, infrastructure, animal care, and volunteers all need money to operate. The more sustainable the better. But always blaming the “others” will get us no where.

Pair this read with some Bolivian coffee from Larry’s Coffee.