Before coming to La Senda, I’ve never heard about the exotic pet trade and all its’ effects on the environment. Maybe I was somewhat ignorant or maybe it’s just not a very popular topic in Switzerland, I’m not sure. But from one day to another, I was surrounded daily by the victims and survivors of the illegal wildlife trade. I was shocked by all the horrific numbers; only 1 out of 10 animals survives the long trading route, it’s the 4th biggest crime worldwide and 2nd biggest threat to wildlife, especially to already threatened species… It made me speechless, angry, sad, desperate… why are we humans so ignorant? How can we be responsible for so much pain and suffering and why do we destroy our own planet, our habitat with our behaviour? And how can we stop this?!?
What touched me the most were the countless individual stories from the animals living at LSV – like Nina who was a pet and forced to wear clothes, watch TV and basically replace a kid – which you still see when she walks upright through the refuge. Or Maruka who was chained up outside a house, had her canines removed and is having a lot of issues with her stomach because she was fed food scraps. All the monkeys who had to witness how their mother was shot dead, so the baby could be removed and sold. Especially Balu, “my” baby howler monkey I took care of, who had two broken fingers, because he wouldn’t let go of his dead mother so the hunters had to rip him off breaking his fingers in the process. Or Aruma who was supposed to be sold on a black market for 200 dollars, the countless tortoises who have holes in their shells in order to be leashed, the talking birds who can’t fly because they were held in cages way too small for them to even stretch their wings. The new birds arriving without any colors in their feathers or no feathers at all because of all the stress they had to suffer. The list goes on and on and all those fates touched me so deeply and still bring back a lump in my throat when writing about it.
To come back to my most concerning question about how we can stop this filthy business called illegal wildlife trade I see – as well as La Senda does – the only key in raising awareness about this topic and educating people, especially kids. If people are not aware, if it’s just random ugly numbers you hear about and if it doesn’t concern you, you just don’t care. But if people hear the stories of Nina, Aruma, Balu and co., if you can make them feel empathy, if you touch them right in the heart where it stings, then it brings change into the world. Even more so if people have the chance to visit a place like La Senda by themselves, if they get an educational tour, see the suffering and need for change themselves. And even more so, if they stay as a volunteer and work with those victims, those survivors, those ambassadors of illegal trafficking. Then it could happen – like it happened to me – that they are not only aware of the exotic pet trade, but decide to fight against it, to educate people all over the world and to support their wild Bolivian family by raising awareness and the much needed funds to care for the more than 700 animals living at Senda Verde Animal Refuge. This is my true wish of this article – to reach people, motivate them to go to Senda Verde, work there as a volunteer and experience the magic and tragic for themselves, to go back home with a new outlook on life, to spread the word about all they have learned and inspire and touch more people. Like I once read:
You only protect what you love – you only love what you know.
By Konrad Lorenz
Wild animals – a mirror to your soul: When I arrived at La Senda for my first volunteer experience in February 2012 I was exhausted… exhausted from three months of constant travelling, from being away from home, family and friends, from searching for my purpose in life, which I still haven’t found. And I just had my heart broken really badly… I felt alone, tired, sad and lost. I was desperately in need of a timeout – a timeout from the world! Senda Verde was THE place for that – I could settle down and call this lush green place in the Bolivian highland jungle my home for a while, be outside all day long livin
g in the rhythm of nature (is there anything more beautiful than waking up with the sun in the morning and feel this fulfilling tiredness after a long day of dirty work outside, falling into bed happily and asleep right away?) and being surrounded by amazing monkeys, stunning birds, chilled tortoises and fascinating bears and jungle cats every day.
These wild creatures taught me an invaluable insight: That those wild animals can feel my emotions and respond to it one way or another! One sassy capuchin monkey could feel my broken heart and my sadness, use this weakness to test his dominance and give me a nibble or steal something to prove his higher rank, while a Spider monkey like Wara, with whom I connected from the beginning would come up to me, climb up my volunteer shirt and give me a real good hug to comfort me in this difficult moment. And then make me laugh by doing something silly =) There were countless moments like this during my time spent at La Senda and I realized that those wild animals are like a mirror to my soul: they show me the good and the ugly, they show me the truth about myself. And step by step, day by day, they healed me. They made me take a real good honest look at myself, work through my pain and also see all the beauty inside of me. Those wild animals that went through so much suffering only because of mankind made me a better human being! A person who wants to protect exactly those wild creatures and Mother Nature. And who therefore finally found her purpose in life, she was looking for for so long…!
So after an amazing and inspiring three months working and learning and growing at the refuge, it was one of the hardest things ever to leave this place, my home, my family and move on, but a pretty big junk of my heart stayed there, wherever I went afterwards. I was drawn back two years later, leaving my well-paid job in IT, because my heart was calling for Bolivia. And after another three months full of heart touching moments and the realization that Senda Verde desperately needs more funds to care for the ever-growing numbers of animals and to set up their educational program, I decided to found an animal welfare association to support them from Switzerland. Animalma (a mixture between the word “animal” and “alma”, which means “soul” in Spanish) is my way of giving thanks to these beautiful souls that changed my life, to spread their stories and make them ambassadors for the fight against the exotic pet trade. And to support Senda Verde Animal Refuge and the people behind it by raising funds, so they can continue their important mission of giving my soul mates their much needed home and educate people from all over the world. Vicky, Marcelo and all the people supporting your cause: I thank you all for your inspiration and efforts to make this world a better place! I am proud to be a part of this movement and I hope that more and more people will join us.
With heart and soul for animal welfare