Otto and Kimba need a new home!
A guest post by Gart van Gennip
It was on a blessed day in June of this year, when I visited the San Martín de Porres church in Iquitos. The occasion was a happy one: Bill and Marmelita were getting married. Bill knows me; I am a staunch defender of animal rights and I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when I run into a situation where those rights are violated. So he warned me in advance; “Gart, there are some animals at that church, and you are not going to like how they are kept there!”
When Bill says something like that, I know it´s probably an understatement. The last time he gave me a similar warning, I was taking some tourists on the Dawn on the Amazon I to visit the Las Boas serpentario on the Amazon River. And what an understatement it was! The situation there was simply appalling. But my visit and the article I wrote about it did cause Bill to remove Las Boas from his tour destinations. Later, I worked with the authorities of Inrena to close two of the illegal serpentarios, slap them with a fine and confiscate all the animals. Not that it had much effect; at least one of them reopened for business two days later, with a whole new set of animals. Exploitation pays.
But I digress! At the church, I hooked up with my dear friend Gudrun Sperrer, a kindred soul where the solidarity with animals is concerned. I told her about Bill’s warning, and after the ceremony we decided to take a peek out of the window of the church. And there it was; a full-grown jaguar, lying on a concrete floor. Even though it was inside a cage, it had a chain around its neck that even further limited its ability to move around. On the other side of the church, we noticed a spider monkey, also kept on a metal chain, with a padlock around its neck. Needless to say, we were shocked at the sight.
But we are gringos, and it is not our place to lecture or to criticize. No matter how hard it is, we have to hold our tongue, keep our peace, grind out teeth and let it go. Animal well-being is not a priority in this town, and when I discussed it with some of my students once, trying to find out if there would be any interest in starting an animal rights organization, one of them said; “Forget about it, Teacher; people are going to say that it is just a stupid gringo-issue!” And this young man was a biology student at the UNAP! So I forgot about it and let it go.
And so did we this time; we let it go. Until last Saturday. There is an organization in Iquitos that stands up for the well-being of animals, and actually does a much better job at it than I do. It’s called Amazon CARES. They run a veterinarian clinic on the first block of Pevas and regularly treat street dogs against scabies and what have you. They are currently running a sterilization campaign, the second one in just a few months time. To my delight, they organized a March for Animal Rights last week, which I enthusiastically helped promote on my website ikitos.com and on Facebook. Finally! Animals rights are on the agenda in Iquitos!
Much to my surprise, one of the prominent figures at the march was Padre Raymundo Portelli, the very man responsible for the dire situation of the animals at the San Martín de Porres church! He came to bless the marchers and the pets they brought and spoke about how all animals were God’s creation and how they deserved our respect and care. I decided not to confront the preacher, but they could hear my teeth grind all the way in San Juan!
Before I had a chance to speak to the good Padre, he had left already. Never mind, I thought; I cannot let this kind of hypocrisy go! So I went home and posted a rather critical piece about the animals at the church on ikitos.com. And, thorough and efficient as I am, I also sent a mail to my Iquiteño contact list of about 1,300.
Within less than 24 hours, Padre Raymundo called me. By that time, I had already realized I had acted a little bit hastily, and when the Padre explained to me that he did not keep those animals as pets, but rather was desperately searching for a solution for them, I understood that I had made a mistake. I went to visit the church and the Padre showed me around. And guess what? He has an adult puma, too! Its name is Kimba; the jaguar’s name is Otto.
The animals had been abandoned as kittens, and were given to Padre Raymundo by people who wanted him to either take care of them, or to find them a good home. He decided to do the latter, but found himself unable to. There was nobody who could or wanted to help him, and there was no money to build them a decent place to live. So Padre Raymundo ended up having to take care of the animals, and foot the bill for their food. Beef is just too expensive in Iquitos, so the cats eat chicken, and sometimes some fish. That is not what one would call adequate nutrition, as large cats like these need red meat for their protein.
To sum it all up; the cats aren’t happy, but neither is the Padre. He would much rather find a better home for his animals than keep them at the church, and he realizes that when duty calls (or rather the Bishop, to tell him he is being sent elsewhere), he cannot leave the animals to his successor.
I have started a campaign to help Padre Raymundo find a better solution. I have published a special page on ikitos.com, as well as on Facebook, and have already received some reactions from countries like the United States and France. A zoo in Arkansas, of all places, has offered to adopt Otto and Kimba, if we can arrange for their transportation. A lady from New Orleans is searching on the Internet for professional big-cat-movers and is looking into the ins and outs of permits, licenses and other red tape. A young man from France has offered to raise money to buy a piece of land and build the cats a new home, right here in Iquitos. He even wants to pay for their food until the day when they can move into their new home.
It is all very exciting and encouraging and I hope that we will be able to fix this situation. My personal preference would be to keep the animals in Iquitos and find or build them a home here. I think it could present an excellent opportunity to attract some tourists, and to start an education project, aimed at children, to raise animal rights awareness. It is the children who will have to save the rainforest and its inhabitants. This might be another effective impulse on that long road ahead.
Meanwhile, we are not preaching, we are not lecturing, we are not telling anyone how to run their country or their lives. Well, not much, anyway, though ikitos.com does allow me lecture anonymously from time to time. I just can’t help myself!
If you think you can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can reach me via ikitos.com.
Gart van Gennip, CEO ikitos.com
PS: I was told the organization Inrena, which was a governmental agency, does not exist anymore. It has been replaced with another agency, called PRMFFS, run by the regional government.
Otto and Kimba need a new home.
A guest post by Gart van Gennip
To read more thoughtful articles by Gart, click these links below;
I wrote this review of Gart van Gennip’s unique web site back in December 2008. Since those times it has grown up into a force in our virtual Iquitos community.