An injured cougar that was diagnosed as blind and taken in by an Argentinian animal rescue center has learned to respond to his carer’s voice and the pair have formed a unique bond.
Kai Pacha, 54, is the president of Pumakawa Animal Reserve, a nonprofit conservation, rescue, and rehabilitation center in Villa Rumipal in the province of Córdoba, Argentina.
It was the summer tourist season of 2017 when an injured, one-month-old cougar was brought to the reserve by a concerned family who found him on the roadside.
Pacha told The Epoch Times: “He was run over by a combine harvester. … He was transported in a small cage. He was very careful with the family: parents and two adolescent children. They were very worried about his contortions, and they believed he had epilepsy. Only when I saw him, I knew he had a severe stomachache.”
Pacha suggested the family stay with the cougar cub for a while to calm him down. The family administered reiki, a non-contact energy healing practice popular in Latin America, and he slowly overcame his cramp. They then left the cougar in the hands of Pumakawa’s expert staff for treatment.
The staff named the cub Estanislao, meaning “one who achieves glory.” After initially treating him for neurological problems and various veterinary check-ups, an ophthalmologist delivered an unexpected diagnosis that Estanislao was “totally and irreversibly blind.”
“From there, our care was more accurate,” Pacha said. “I started to have him with me all the time. I also do this with other pups until they are a few months old and can part with my close attention. In the case of Estanislao, due to his blindness, he continued to need my guidance.”
Soon, Pacha and Estanislao developed a daily routine in which Pacha attended to the cub’s needs while teaching him to fine-tune his non-visual senses and rely upon her cues to navigate the world.
“I had never worked with or accompanied a blind animal or blind person,” Pacha said. “I started by doing things to calm him down. It was mostly contact to guide him and small vocal sounds similar to those of his mother. … I tried to make myself feel like a cougar.”
Pacha would walk in little spaces and mark her steps without dragging her feet—just stepping firmly on the ground. Estanislao followed her and soon began to stop in front of obstacles such as uneven ground or steps. Pacha also made use of various audio such as jungle and nature sounds to help with the process. Additionally, she used incense sticks to stimulate the cougar’s sense of smell and to mark a safe area.
The first time Estanislao responded positively to Pacha’s voice, he stopped in his tracks and walked backward, orienting toward her. He approached her feet, sniffed, and began to follow her.
Pacha said: “I felt a maternal relationship.”
Pacha began experimenting with different sounds, including purring when Estanislao was calm, to encourage the cub to relate sounds to moods. While storms and new noises still frighten him, Estanislao is no longer the cowering cub of the past—he can be territorial at meal times and will call for help when required.
“When I am physically close, he begins to groom himself suddenly and exaggeratedly. He grooms me; it seems like a recognition and a great approval of my presence,” Pacha said. “In the afternoon he likes to play. … His favorite activity is playing with a boxing bag that is hung high, where he can swing his paws on two legs and run in a circle.”
For Estanislao’s first three years at the reserve, Pacha’s partner assisted with his care. When Pacha’s partner left, the cub was very subdued.
“That was proof of how much [they had created] a bond,” Pacha said. “It gave me greater confidence that the way I accompanied him was good for him, that he was on the right track. Creating a bond is for him a security, a belonging, and for me an opportunity to correctly read what he needs.”
Today, Estanislao is five years old and still very dependent on physical closeness. His care team has diversified as there are times when Pacha has to travel for work, although she can stay connected to the cougar from afar via cameras and speakers linked to her cell phone which enable her to talk and listen to him.
“[C]urrently there are two people who can take care of him in my place,” Pacha said. “They have a little more distance, but they are incorporated by him. With them, he has a bond and trust.”
While it’s not safe for Estanislao to interact with other adult cougars at the reserve, he has become an incredible foster father to orphaned cubs with whom he will snuggle and take long naps.
Estanislao’s best friend is Pacha’s dog, Majo, and the unlikely pair bonds by sniffing, licking, and cuddling like siblings. Majo doesn’t relax and is always alert, whereas Estanislao is very relaxed and sometimes runs away if Majo’s games become too boisterous.
Pumakawa Reserve, formerly known as El Edén Flora y Fauna, was “transformed” after the Argentinian forest fires of 2009 Pacha said. Today, the reserve is focused on environmental conservation and community outreach, as well as native wildlife and forest restoration, to help solve manmade environmental issues.
Its emblem is the puma.
As president, Pacha leads the team and is involved in everything from animal rescue and rehabilitation to campaigning to working at the nursery, on-site orchard, and seed bank.
Estanislao is a unique case since keeping wild animals as pets is illegal and “not recommended for the wellbeing of the individual, the person, and the ecosystem.”
Pacha has seen two major gratifying outcomes in the cougar’s healing journey. “First, to see him well; that he has overcome everything, and that now he even seems to look at us,” she said. “Second, that he gives an important message in which he enhances the majesty of his species. His existence itself represents that animals are our teachers.”
Watch the video:
(Courtesy of Pumakawa)
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