Peru Day 1: Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary

After lunch we piled back into the van. Most of us were still feeling tired from the altitude, and now we’d had a few… Will took us the rest of the way up out of the valley the city of Cuzco was nestled in, headed to the ruins at Pisac. About fifteen minutes or so into the drive, Danny planned for us to stop at an animal shelter run by a friend of his.

Uh oh. My spidey sense was tingling. I’m well acquainted with the notion of the tour guide that has a bazillion uncles, and he stops at each one’s shack where you’re encouraged to buy some of his crap. We did NOT want this trip to be one of those, which is why we’d (Tiff, really) worked so hard to find a well-regarded guide. I was worried, but went along with it.

The animal shelter (notice I’m not using the words “wildlife sanctuary”… I’ll explain later) was nestled in a mountain pass, between the road and the mountainside, with a creek running through the middle of it. There was no parking by the entrance, so Will dropped all of us off at the entrance and parked at the other end, by a snack shop and a very well-maintained gift shop. We were going to have to walk all the way through everything to get to the van.

Genius.

Danny’s friend met us at the gate, his son tagging along behind, dragging a broom handle twice his height. We got the run down on their purpose (to restore the Andean Condor to sustainable population levels) and then began our walk through the complex.

They had several pens set up for the various animals they kept. First there were llamas…

llamas

… and then different llamas …

llama up close

… and then a creek with a bridge!

bridge over creek

The bridge led us to the mountain lion pen. They had a couple mountain lions in a fairly large pen. One sat up in the sheltered area, while the other one paced along the very edge of the fence. The closer one followed the boy as he toddled along. Both watched him hungrily. The boy was oblivious.

pacing mountain lion

hungry mountain lion

I’ve seen Brendle make that face. That’s a hungry face.

From there we passed a couple of parrots. One was a pretty normal looking Macaw; the other was gray and had probably on 20% of its feathers, the rest of him covered in scaly skin. Apparently it’s a skin disease that some tropical birds get that causes them to be unable to fly or survive in the wild, so they had been fostered here. While his father told us more about the shelter, parrots, and Peruvian animals, the boy tried to get the gray parrot to say “Hola”. The parrot ignored him. So the boy thwacked it with the broom handle.

“Que Pasa?” said his father, irritated. The boy stopped, but said nothing.

From there, we continued on to the Condor pen. I’ve seen the California Condors at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. They’re kept in a very large netted area with plenty of space to fly around in, and of course the people are kept out. The birds themselves looked pretty fearsome. The Andean condor is no less fearsome-looking – perhaps a little smaller – but the important point is that this pen was small and we were going inside.

This is what’s beautiful about getting out of America once in a while, and also why I have trouble calling this place a sanctuary. There just aren’t many rules; ordinarily I’d have two dozen conservationists tasing me with cattle prods if I tried to get into the animal exhibits, because sanctuary. In Peru, this kind of behavior is encouraged. That makes it hard to justify sanctuary status, at least for me.

The two condors were perched on the other side of the pen, on the hill, across the creek from us. We were on an opposing hill, next to a couple thick poles set into the ground. The keeper put out some food near us to entice the condor over. The great bird looked, turned, stretched out its huge wings, and swooped right over our heads. I felt a strong whoosh of wind as it passed and landed on the ground nearby.

 

Condor flying overhead

Condor flying overhead

Condor flying overhead

Condor flying overhead

Condor flying overhead

condor_6

Condor flying overhead

Condor flying overhead

I tried to be quick with the camera, but wasn’t quick enough.

Condor eating

It went over to the chunk of meat and went to work, holding it down with its great claws while it pulled bits off with its beak. Another condor saw the action and swooped over as well.

Second condor

During all the action, the boy had picked up two Macaws with the broom handle and carried them over to the chicken wire of the condor pen, and was trying to get them to latch on. Once they grabbed on to the wire, he thwacked at them with the broom handle.

Boy with the parrots

“Que Pasa?” again from his father. The boy stopped, but said nothing.

We left the condor pen, so the father could have a word with his son. We checked out the wildcat pen (they’re no bigger than housecats!) and a hawk that was tied to a post and eating some meat that the condors hadn’t seen.

All that was left was the gift shop gauntlet. As Mom got her shop on (with Mike attending), Tiff and I tried to think of ways to politely say “Really we’d rather not shop so much”. The condors, however, were pretty amazing to see that close. Once Mom was done, we got back in the van and continued on to Pisac.

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