The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Friday, February 16, 2007

WARNING! Puma in Peace Corps

So before you read anymore or look at the pictures below, here is a disclaimer. If you are a PETA-carrying animal lover, you probably don't want to look any farther. I had no part in this puma's last moments on earth and in fact only found about him two hours after he passed away. If you subscribe to the theory that you shouldn't waste something, even if it is a previously wild animal, then we agree. But if you don't believe in "benefiting" from someone else's unfortunate deed, then you probably want to skip this posting. Or if you just don't like the idea of a dead puma.

So.... yesterday I go to work just like normal. I get there and my nurse, Debbie, takes me across the street to see something. And that something is dead puma. As in puma, mountain lion, cougar, or "tiger-cat" if you are Guyanese. It's probably about five feet long, maybe 80 pounds or so. It's a beautiful cat. Sadly, I had gotten shot in the back rice paddies earlier in the morning. A farmer had gone back to tend to his cows and found this puma around them. In the past few weeks, there have been some cows being killed, so he thought this puma had been doing it. He scared it up the only tree around there and then called for help. Eventually, another younger police boy came with a shotgun and shot him out of the tree, hitting him in the chest. They then dragged him out to village, on the main road, where they tied him to the fence. And then people started coming.

So I'm standing there, looking at this big cat. I feel really bad. It's obvious that he wasn't attacking the cows, because his belly is thin. Some people think he may of came out of the jungle to the rice paddies for water. I mean, he wasn't just hanging out there for no reason. Pumas like the thick jungle cover. So he was just unlucky to get caught when he came out. So people are kinda poking at it, checking out his teeth. As word spreads, more people come. The car drivers slow down and stop to take a look. My nurse, after getting confirmation from me that it is in fact a puma, proceeds to correct everyone who says it's a tiger. I ask the father what he is going to do with it.
"Well, we called RCA" - a local television station - "and we're waiting for them."
"And then what are you going to do with it?"
"Well, probably just throw it away. Probably bury it."
"Yeah." (He says this with a look of "well, what else would I do with it?")
So I start thinking. This is a beautiful animal. And how cool would it be to get a little piece of him. I mean, I feel bad that he is dead, especially for no reason. But it seems even worse to just throw him out. So I kinda start saying to Debbie, knowing she'll say something for me, about how I wouldn't mind having a claw or something. And of course - good old Debbie - she starts telling the old man who the Mark the white boy wants a claw. Now that I have an in, I start asking him. He says fine, though with a look of indifference mixed with "what type of crazy white boy is this?"
But as I'm standing there, it's clear no one else wants anything from this puma. So I start thinking bigger. Maybe I want a whole paw? Or two paws? Or maybe.... the head? So I ask the guy. And again, looking at me like I'm the weirdo of everyone here, he says sure. So I say I'll be back in the afternoon to collect it all.
So after a day of being worried that he sold the puma to someone or just forgot about me and threw it away, I get back in the later afternoon.... just in time to see them trying to hacksaw the fangs off. I can't really say much because it's not like I killed him, but I'm watching them spoil my perfect puma head! So I just sit back and hope they don't crack the skull or break the jaw bone too bad. (By the way, it's kinda crazy how quickly I was comfortable with this dead cat. I mean, I easily could have been standing back, hating everyone for being so happy around this dead puma. But instead, I wanted pieces off it, like I'm a big game hunter or something. Crazy.) Eventually, they finish extracting three fangs and breaking a forth. And then it's my turn.
So in front of a group of about fifteen Guyanese men, someone hands me a dull hacksaw. I can't back down now, though I wasn't completely ready to cut off this puma's head. I mean, usually you can find someone else to do your dirty work in Guyana. You want that chicken killed and plucked? The neighbor will do it. But here... I couldn't back away. So, hacksaw in hand, I go for the puma. I'll save you the details, except when my Peace Corps friend Phillip called me as I'm going at it.

"Hey Mark, what's going on?"
"Phillip, guess what I'm doing right now." (Trying to sound nonchalant.)
"Um, how am I supposed to know? I don't know. Eating?"
"Ha. Ah, no...... I'm cutting the head off of a puma."
It was pretty cool. So after a few minutes, I get the head off. The whole time, Guyanese men were watching and giving complimentary "white boy is cutting the puma head" comments. Then I go for the paws. But though I handled the hacksaw well enough, I'm pretty bad at cutlasses, which are pretty much machetes. So I get another guy to chop the paws off with a cutlass. At this point, Phillip shows up, taking pictures and generally freaking out. (Funny side story: I kept telling people how my American friend was coming to see. So when Phillip, who is Asian-American, jumped out of the car, they were all like "He's Chinese! He's not American!" Racial dynamics in Guyana? Hilarious.) Phillip ends up deciding to take the tail and after some more pictures, we take off back to my house.
Luckily, my next door neighbor is a butcher. So we take our stuff over there. He's not home, but his eleven year old son is. So, in the Guyanese tradition of making small children do things you don't want to do, we get him to skin the skull. And wow, he was good. He took off all the skin in one piece. And then he cut off all the meat he could, including the tongue. It's kinda amazing to see how much muscle these cats have around their skull. But it makes sense, considering how strong their jaws are.
Anyways, he skins the skull and pulls out all the claws off the paws. I'm not going to lie - I wasn't too hungry after all this. But we took it all back to my place, to put in a bucket of salt water and bleach. I'm going to let it soak in that for about ten days, then put it on an ants nest for a week or so. After that, there shouldn't be any more flesh of anything on it. It should be a nice, clean skull. And I'm thinking of making a claw necklace a la Crocodile Dundee? We'll see. And Phillip is hopefully going to stuff the tail.
So pretty crazy, huh? I definitely feel bad for this puma. If I had my way, he's still be alive in the backdam. But if he's going to be killed, I might as well get something from him instead of the whole cat being wasted, right?
And now, here are some pictures. I think they are pretty self-explanatory.


At 10:53 PM, Blogger TheAlmightyPeter said...

animals should no better than to venture near humans. you should put one of the paws on a keychain and sell it as a good luck charm. or a fuzzy toy for a newborn. either or.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger stefan moluf said...

God, that's such a weird image. I mean, yeah, it makes total sense that you wouldn't want it to go to waste. But I'm too much of a spoiled city boy not to cringe at the thought of hacksawing something's head off.


At 4:11 PM, Blogger Sadhana said...

Did you actually eat that puma??


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