Inti Wara Yassi

Volunteer Work with Wild Animals in Bolivia

During a couple of weeks in march/april 2004 me and my friend Markus worked as volunteers at Communidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) in Bolivia. This is a voluntary organisation that takes care of animals that have been illegally captured and held in people's homes, hotels, circuses etc. They also take care of some former zoo animals. They have a lot of monkeys, birds, various large cats and other species. Anyone who wants to help and work with wild animals can go there and volunteer, and people come here from all over the world. Below is a small presentation of CIWY and our experiences there.

The Monkey Park
Other Animals
The Inti Wara Yassi Premises

Swedish readers might also want to read this article that I wrote for the Swedish Mensa magazine Legatus Mensae:
pdf format / text format

Most photos were taken by me (Pelle Einarsson) and Markus Einarsson. A few were taken from the official CIWY CD.

Newsflash 2006-08-28 Animal Planet in the USA recently aired the program Jane Goodall's Heroes, where the acclaimed primate researcher and animal rights figure Jane Goodall introduce you to five extraordinary people who are an inspiration in making the world a better place for animals. In the program Jane shares personal stories of five of her heroes, including the story of Juan Carlos Antezana, founder of Communidad Inti Wara Yassi.

Unfortunately the official CIWY web page is having some technical problems. If you want to get in touch with CIWY then the official mail address is

The Monkey Park

I was assigned for work in the monkey park, which was great since I've always been interested in monkeys. The work in the monkey park involved taking care of the monkeys (especially the ones kept on a leash), cleaning their cages and bedclothes, preparing and serving the food, welcoming the tourists, comforting sad monkeys after monkey dispute, taking the leashed monkeys for walks, taking sick monkeys to the clinic, restoration work around the premises and other activities.

This is a small capuchin monkey, the most common type of monkey in the monkey park. Many of them were very sociable with people and liked to sit in your lap, or sit on your shoulders or hang on to your leg while you were working. Some of them were more reserved, which is actually better since they will act more natural and independent in the wild.
Grown up capuchin monkeys can look like Anita here.
This is Nenita. The spider monkeys are bigger and can be about 80 cm when standing up. They have slender limbs and move in a very cool, flowing way. Most of them were very sociable. When they wanted you to come along they would sometimes come up to you, grab your hand, put their tail around your wrist and try to drag you with them.
There were a few of these squirell monkeys. This monkey type is probably most famous from the "Herr Nilsson" character in the children's books and movies of Pippi Longstocking. These monkeys were a bit wild and not as sociable as the others.
This is Uza, the capuchin monkey that I had special responsibility for. She was new in the park, brought here from a Bolivian family who kept her as a pet, and she was kept on a leash in order for her to stay put and get used to the park and the other monkeys. She was very gentle and sweet but a bit afraid of the other monkeys, especially while eating. I had to make sure that she was getting enough food and wasn't picked on by the other monkeys, and I also took her to walks down to the river and put her in her cage in the evening.
UPDATE: I have been told that Uza was set free from the leash soon after I left CIWY. She has now been adopted by a pack of semi-wild capuchins (other rehabilitated monkeys and maybe even some wild ones?) that occasionally come to feed at the monkey park but mostly keep to themselves in the jungle. Uza is doing fine with them so her case was a true success story!

This is me and Monto, the monkey park rascal. He was attached to a leash, but he was an expert at untying knots and setting himself free so we didn't bother with tying him up. We let him run around freely but the leash was still useful for grabbing him when he was up to one of his tricks, like stealing food from the birds in the bird park or trying to get into the volunteer's house. Monto was brought to the park voluntarily by a hunter who had shot his mother. He didn't want to keep Monto as a pet any more once he got older and started to destroy things in the house.

This is me with Tano. He is kept on a leash in a special place in the park because he doesn't like women. Depending on what they have gone through in their previous captivity, a few of the monkeys don't like certain types of people (women, men, children or Bolivians). Even though he didn't like women Tano was very friendly with men. Sometimes when you came up to him he would scream with joy and throw himself around your neck. While this is flattering, it would of course be better if Tano was less dependent on humans.
UPDATE: Tano was later moved to a more secluded area called the Mirador, with the intention of making him become the dominant alpha-male in that area. After some attacks from other monkeys and some biting of volunteers he has now calmed and settled down there. He is now apparently very friendly with all volunteers, especially the females.

The monkeys were very nosy, and if you had anything in your pockets they would soon find it and try to steal it. Above you can see two monkeys that were very interested in my camera bag, which was thankfully fastened to my belt. Incautious tourists often loose things like coins, camera film or hair buckles to the monkeys. Once a monkey gets hold of an item, you have to try and trick him/her in order to get it back, because if you try to reclaim it by force the monkey will get very upset.
This is Baby. I guess he got that name because he often sucks his thumb. He was rescued from a circus where they planned to put him in deadly fights against dogs. Baby liked to sit in my lap and suck his thumb while gently grooming my beard with the other hand.
The spider monkey Micaela.
This is Omero. Some of the capuchins were especially fond of hanging on to your leg while you were walking around. The monkeys liked to hide under your shirt. Sometimes just for fun, but when it was raining you could find yourself sitting with three wet monkeys trying to warm themselves under your clothes.

This is Beto, a friendly and curious night monkey. He has sadly passed away now, possibly due to a urinary infection for which he was being treated.

Coatis ("teijons" in spanish) roamed around the jungle and the monkey park. They are like a cross between a badger and a racoon and could be a bit agressive if you came too close. One of them bit a big hole in my new rubber boots! The coatis sometimes came in large packs to eat the monkey's food and then had to be chased away. But there was one exception...

Gustavo was a small coati that loved people and cried with joy when he got to lie in your lap. He was a bit of a loner since neither the monkeys nor the bigger coatis seemed to like him, but the monkeys enjoyed pulling his tail.

More monkeys (click for a bigger picture).
Richi in the food bucket.
Monkeys grooming.
More monkey grooming.
A squirell monkey.
Micaela in my lap.
Capuchin with crackers.
Dinner time.
Gustavo sleeping in my lap.
Curious Tano.
Capuchin clinging to my neck.
Same capuchin clinging to my neck.
Mother with baby.
Baby Pancarita with mother Quilla.
Adrian with friends resting.
Playing in my lap.

Micaela in my lap.
Tano eating papaya.
Liesbet from Belgium with Pepper.
The capuchin boss.
Me serving lunch with Maren from Norway.


There are several different types of cats at Inti Wara Yassi. During our visit there were at least four ozelots, several pumas and a jaguar. Working with the cats involves getting them food and taking them for long walks through the jungle every day.

My friend Markus was assigned to work with Sonko, a 7 month old puma.

Markus and Sonko taking a refreshing swim in the river.

This is Gato, an older puma. He was held at a circus where his legs got deformed due to malnutrition and physical abuse. They had been hitting him when trying to make him jump through fire hoops, and when he arrived at IWY he wasn't able to walk at all. He's ok now and is being walked every day, but you can see by his large paws that the rest of the body is still a bit underdeveloped.

This is Roy, a quite young puma. The volonteers working with him often have to buy new clothes due to Roy's playfulness and sharp claws...

This is Sama, the jaguar. He came to Inti Wara Yassi as a baby after his mother had been shot by a hunter. Now he has become huge and is too large and dangerous to be walked by the volonteers. He spends most of his time in long runners by his cage located quite a bit into the jungle, where a volunteer keeps an eye on him and gets him food.

This is the ozelot Boudecia.

More cats (click for a bigger picture).
Sonko on the rocks.
Sonko on the lookout.
Playful Sama.
Scary Sama.
Fierce Sama.
Roy as a cub.
Tigre sleeping.
Sama with a cow's head.
Markus and Sonko resting.
Playful Sonko.
Sonko sleeping.
A young ozelot.
Sonko with Anat from Israel.
Me with Sonko.


There were many different birds in the bird park at Inti Wara Yassi. This included various parrot species, a wild turkey, tucans and two birds of prey. Many of them have had their wings clipped but can be released once the wings have grown back. Some have been clipped so badly that the wings will not grow back, and the bird is doomed to a life in captivity.

Me with two macaws.

This is a released macaw that still hung around the CIWY premises.

This is Speedy, a Mountain Caracara. The bird handlers were trying to make the birds of prey come and get their meat on a signal from a whistle. If this works, the birds can then be released into the wild and still be fed by humans. (Grown up in captivity, they have not learned to get prey on their own.)

More birds (click for a bigger picture).
A bird of prey named Keyser Söze.
An Orange-winged Amazon parrot.
A tucan.

A red macaw.

Other animals

Various other animals can be seen in the Inti Wara Yassi area. Apart from the ones seen below, there have been sloths, howler monkeys, kuchi-kuchi monkeys, weasels, anteaters, snakes and even a deer.
Large turtles could be seen wandering around the monkey park. There were also some small water turtles that were kept in a pool.

I this creature that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a rat is called "agut".

More animals (click for a bigger picture).
A cool insect.
Large ants.

The Inti Wara Yassi Premises

This is the "Casa de voluntarios", the volunteer's house. This is where the volunteers meet, and there is a communal kitchen, an office and more. The house is located by the road very close to the Espiritu Sancti bridge in Villa Tunari, so keep an eye out for this if you're going to Inti Wara Yassi.

Some volunteers socializing in the evening. During our stay there were volunteers from Israel, Australia, Belgium, Norway, USA, Holland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Germany and England. Note that the walls and ceiling are full of "tags" from former volunteers.

The view of the river from the monkey park. Despite the rain period, the water level was very low at the time. The bridge goes to the town of Villa Tunari, and to the right you can see "The red restaurant" where many of us had lunch every day.

Inti Wara Yassi owns two hostels where the volunteers can stay. This is our house at the hostel Copacabana. There are also a small number of rooms in the volunteer's house.

More surroundings:
Inside the CIWY casa.
The village of Villa Tunari.
The CIWY casa.


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