‘I could hear the fear in her voice’: Aussies’ nerve-racking job in Bolivian sanctuary

Michael Dahlstrom reports for Yahoo News Australia:

A Melbourne woman is pleading for help as flames surround an animal sanctuary in Bolivia where five Australians are currently doing volunteer work.

Milli Spence, 34, spoke to Yahoo News Australia as fire fighters continue to battle blazes at the 800 hectare Parque Ambue Ari, 400km north of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in central Bolivia.

“We’ve been receiving messages from parents of volunteers who have been concerned after seeing images from Facebook and Instagram on the other side of the world,” she said.

“I want to reassure people that the fires haven’t entered the sanctuary, we aren’t needing to evacuate.

“But, it would be absolutely tragic if it got inside the sanctuary.”

Wildlife is continuing to be killed by fires in Bolivia. Source: CIWY

A map shows hundreds of fires burning across Bolivia with some threatening the sanctuary. Source: incendios.fan-bo.org

‘Fear in her voice’ as fires burn near sanctuary

While the Amazon fires have faded from world headlines, blazes are continually igniting around the region, threatening sanctuaries managed by conservation group Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY).

“It’s very nerve-racking,” Ms Spence said.

“There was one message that came from a volunteer in a WhatsApp group where I could hear the fear in her voice.”

Ms Spence began work for CIWY last November to assist in the protection of 500 exotic animals, most of them rescued from wildlife traffickers.

“Within the sanctuary, there’s not just the animals we care for, but hundreds of wild animals that seek refuge within the sanctuary grounds,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“There’s actually a very large jaguar population, because the forest is much more dense than other areas.”

An armadillo brought into care by sanctuary volunteers underwent emergency surgery but did not survive. Source: CIWY.

Fire crews continue to battle fires around the sanctuary. Source: CIWY

Fires at the sanctuary border are threatening wildlife. Source: CIWY

Lawless burning in Bolivia is ‘a constant battle’

Fire, deforestation and agriculture have continued to destroy forests surrounding Parque Ambue Ari, making it a significant home for the country’s wildlife.

Ms Spence said Bolivia lacks the strict burning regulations that Australia has, making the fight against fires a constant battle.

“You never know when another one is going to start up,” she said.

“A lot of the fires actually start because people are burning off … The one that happened this morning happened because a neighbour decided he was going to burn some logs on a thirty-something degree day, with high winds and very dry conditions.

“In Australia it wouldn’t be permitted to burn in conditions like that, but unfortunately here there aren’t strict rules for burning off.

Parque Ambue Ari is a refuge to rescued and wild animals. Source: CIWY / Ella Wood

500 jaguars affected by fires

Ms Spence said the number of animals killed by the current fire season is largely unknown, because everyone is caught up trying to protect remaining habitat, but an estimate from conservation group Panthera suggests 500 jaguars have been killed or left homeless.

Having used all of their fire fighting funds for the year in the last week, Ms Spence said CIWY needs financial support to keep the sanctuary safe.

She said volunteers often have to fight blazes until they can secure fire fighters in the under resourced nation.

“For the fire fighters to come up to us we’re having to cover the cost of fuel and having some of them camp with us at our sanctuary tonight and providing them with food,” she said.

“A lot of the fire fighters are volunteers as well and if they don’t have funds, they can’t come and help.”

Readers wishing to make a donation towards the Ambue Ari Fire Relief Fund can do so via PayPal account fiwyaustralia@gmail.com or direct deposit at Friends of Inti Wara Yassi Australia Trust, National Australia Bank, BSB: 083-453 Account No: 25-524-7769.



Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: