The Puma Years is the memoir of Laura Coleman, who in her twenties and feeling rather directionless in life, quit her job to backpack South America. After some months, she grew thoroughly fed up of backpacker life and spontaneously decided to go and volunteer for a couple of weeks an animal sanctuary in Bolivia.
When she first arrives at the sanctuary, Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi, she is startled by just how brutal the living conditions are: the rancid smell, the copious amounts of mud, the mosquitos, the stale and bug infested food and the waist-high swamps. Not even to mention the spider the size of a teacup that lives in the ramshackle toilet. But somehow she finds herself agreeing to stay on for longer in order to care for one of the sanctuary’s big cats, a puma named Wayra.
The book is an inspiring story of how Laura overcomes her self-doubt and her initial reservations about life at the Bolivian sanctuary, to falling in love with being there. Bonding with both people and animals, in particular Wayra the puma.
Of course, nothing is plain sailing and without spoiling the book, there are details of the heartbreaking challenges that the sanctuary faces, forest fires being one of them.
Inevitably, Laura stays much longer than intended, otherwise it wouldn’t be called The Puma Years.
She leaves. And returns. Completely spellbound by the place.
I will avoid any spoilers but she does eventually return back to the UK and sets up ONCA an arts charity, the first arts space in the UK dedicated to environmental justice, inspired by her love of art and her time in Bolivia.
As an extra treat, there are some photos at the end of the book taken by Laura and other volunteers which help to visualise the experiences they all had and the beautiful animals they cared for.
This book really struck me as I am passionate about animal care and welfare, and I think I am probably a similar age to Laura too. I have also done volunteering in Latin America (although not quite to the depths that Laura experienced!!!) and even though my experience was very short and sweet I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done.
To end with, a poignant quote from the book:
“When the last tree is cut, when the last animal is hunted, when the last river is polluted, it will be then that man will realise that money cannot be eaten…”