They walk the jaguars, talk with the pumas and play with the monkeys. Deep in the jungles of Bolivia, Ambue Ari is an animal reserve like no other.
It has become a hot destination for backpackers touring South America. The reserve draws an international mix of Americans, Europeans, Israelis and Australians. Adventurous travelers volunteer as caregivers and companions for some of the most exotic and savage beasts on Earth.
These are animals most of us see only in a zoo and only from a distance. But here, those who dare to can hold, pat and play with wild animals they are caring for. It's not quite a petting zoo: Volunteers here work hard in tough, isolated jungle conditions with no luxuries. But adventurers are drawn the price -- $9 a day for room and board -- and the training requirements: there are none.
All of which makes Caroline Dougherty of Greenwich, Conn., a perfect candidate. At age 18, she has just graduated from high school and is traveling through South America on her own. For the last two weeks, Dougherty has been here at Ambue Ari, feeding and walking an ocelot -- an animal that looks like a small jaguar -- that they call "Lazy Cat."
As Lazy Cat purred loudly at her feet, Dougherty said she had no jungle experience, no training with animals, "but I've always loved animals my whole life."
"They get better care than us sometimes," Dougherty joked. "Every morning when we are chopping up fruit for the birds, I want to grab some papaya and some fresh oranges and eat it. But my ration is two pieces of bread, so that's all I get for breakfast."
Volunteers have to commit to work at least two weeks on the reserve......
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