The Puma Years: A Memoir

“There are more than a million heartbeats … nothing is like mine.”

In her discovery of a remarkable rainforest community of people and animals, Laura Coleman explores the meaning of love and rescue against backdrops of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking and forest fires, and the work of a pioneering charity created by young Bolivian volunteers.


Whiffs of scent slam into me, choking me, before they fade, replaced by others, sweeter, thicker, heavier. It hurts to breathe. To think. The greens grow darker, the smells more sickly, rotten, the trail more overgrown, the sky nothing more than a memory. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that has its own heartbeat. Millions of heartbeats. I picture people jostling for space on the London Underground that smells of sweat and humans. There are more than a million heartbeats there but they’re all like mine. Here, nothing is like mine.

Laura Coleman is a writer, activist and artist whose memoir shares her life-changing relationships with rescued wild animals. She is the founder and chair of trustees of ONCA, a Brighton-based arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity.

In my early twenties, I found myself living in London, my life a loop of commuting and corporate meetings. Tired of tight, tailored suits and lacking direction, I quit my job and set out for South America. Two months into my three-month trip to Bolivia, I was bloated, sunburnt, lonely, and ready to go home. But a flyer about an animal welfare charity – Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) – encouraged me to stick it out, and soon I was en route to “el parque” in the Amazon basin.

I found an underfunded, understaffed, dilapidated camp, along with suicidal howler monkeys, megalomaniac semi-wild pigs, toothless jaguars, and many more animals who had been sold on the pet trade, abused and abandoned. I also met a timid and terrified puma named Wayra who I was tasked to learn how to “walk” outside of her enclosure. Within days, all I could think about was going home. But after several weeks of barely showering, being eaten alive by bugs, and doing work that pushed me to physical and emotional exhaustion I’d never known, I deliberately missed my flight back to England and spent the next two years learning how to trust Wayra, and the jungle – and myself.

The book is set against a backdrop of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking, and forest fires, and I really wanted to find a balance between exploring what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another, alongside the universal context of working on the frontlines of environmental destruction. At its heart, the book is a love story, about kinship and community. In Bolivia, I discovered how the love that exists between humans and animals, and place, and home, can be just as important and powerful as any romantic love. This is what I wanted to share when I wrote the book.

I also, of course, wanted to support the work of CIWY. Over twenty-five years ago, a group of young Bolivian volunteers set up the NGO and created the first ever sanctuary for rescued wild animals in the country. Over the years Parque Machía has provided safe homes in the cloud forest to thousands of rescued animals, and to countless people. However, this year CIWY’s land lease contract with the local municipality is not being renewed and plans for the site are uncertain. The dedicated staff who live there have the painful job of relocating hundreds of animals to another of CIWY’s sanctuaries on the far side of the country, with no financial support from the government, costing over $400,000. Money from The Puma Years has gone towards starting construction in Jacj Cuisi, but it is going to be a long journey, needing global support in order to transfer all the animals at risk by the end of the year.

And this last year has seen devastation on so many fronts. Covid-19 has meant that, due to the cancellation of CIWY’s volunteer programme, a handful of exhausted staff have been doing the work of caring for over five hundred animals – something that would normally be done by hundreds of volunteers. And the fires in 2020 were the worst they’ve ever seen, so I don’t know what the future holds. There are countless small NGOs in the Global South struggling to hold on through devastating times. So any donation to CIWY or another Black, Indigenous, or POC-led project will support people working on the frontlines of environmental disaster and justice. What has been so overwhelming, since my book has been published, is the incredible amount of financial and emotional support that has come in from around the world and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch with either me or CIWY. Your support makes all the difference!


The Puma Years: A Memoir is published by Little A and you can buy it from Bookshop or Amazon or as an audiobook on Audible. And you can watch the online book launch on 3rd June 2021, hosted by Persephone Pearl at ONCA, with Laura reading from her book and discussing the work of CIWY in conversation with Tania ‘Nena’ Baltazar, founder and president of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY).

You can find out more about the work of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and opportunities to donate or to sponsor an animal, and explore Laura’s website and the work of ONCA.

Living with Trees

“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land.”

Robin Walter’s new book, Living with Trees, traces our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we’ve lost, celebrating our remaining ancient woodland and trees, and calling for a wooded future.


“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land. Some of these forests are hard-working and productive, other forests might emerge from the return of wild nature and native trees; others might be small community woods gently managed for wildlife and people; each wood will make our land that bit more resilient to a turbulent world. Are we just dreaming? Is this sort of joined-up thinking possible?”

Robin Walter is a  forester and writer of nonfiction and poetic work on trees and the changes needed in the British landscape to deal with climate and ecological emergencies.

The impulse to write Living with Trees came in 2010 when the government tried to sell off the Forestry Commission forests, only to be met with determined resistance from people keen to hang on to ‘their’ woods. This passionate display of interest in our woods prompted the environmental charity Common Ground to explore this new upsurge of concern. So they invited me to revise their 1989 book In A Nutshell and we set to work visiting woodland initiatives around the country. In particular we sought out community projects with social and environmental agendas, such as mental health, education and conservation. This seemed an important aspect of woodland ‘ownership’ which the government had neglected, at their peril. The charity changed hands and work resumed in 2017 amidst a rising interest in trees and our natural world, aided by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series.

The book is ambitious in scope — tracing our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we have lost, celebrating what jewels remain (in the form of ancient woodland and ancient trees), and imagining a future with more trees in our lives. We also consider a wide range of tree presence, from the trees in gardens and parks, to the trees in streets and towns, to the woodlands and plantations in the countryside. Throughout this exploration we find a strong bond between people and trees, passionate, caring and heart-felt. The book considers how we can use this affinity with trees as a portal to a closer relationship with the natural world, reclaiming our rightful place within it.


Living With Trees by Robin Walter is published by Little Toller Books and is also available from his website. Robin is giving illustrated talks on the book, online for now but in person later in the year.