In this rapturous memoir, writer and activist Laura Coleman shares the story of her liberating journey in the Amazon jungle, where she fell in love with a magnificent cat who changed her life.
Laura was in her early twenties and directionless when she quit her job to backpack in Bolivia. Fate landed her at a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of the Amazon jungle where she was assigned to a beautiful and complex puma named Wayra. Wide-eyed, inexperienced, and comically terrified, Laura made the scrappy, make-do camp her home. And in Wayra, she made a friend for life.
They weren't alone, not with over a hundred quirky animals to care for, each lost and hurt in their own way: a pair of suicidal, bra-stealing monkeys, a frustrated parrot desperate to fly, and a pig with a wicked sense of humour. The humans, too, were cause for laughter and tears. There were animal whisperers, committed staff, wildly devoted volunteers, handsome heartbreakers, and a machete-wielding prom queen who carried Laura through. Most of all, there was the jungle-lyrical and alive-and there was Wayra, who would ultimately teach Laura so much about love, healing, and the person she was capable of becoming.
Set against a turbulent and poignant backdrop of deforestation, the illegal pet trade, and forest fires, The Puma Years explores what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another.
Laura Coleman was born in Sussex, in the south of England. She studied English literature and art history at university and received a master’s in art history. In 2007 she went to Bolivia and joined the NGO Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY), which manages three wildlife sanctuaries and gives homes to animals rescued from illegal wildlife trafficking. It was this work, and the communities and the stories that she found there, that inspired her to start the Brighton-based organisation ONCA. (Panthera onca is the scientific name for jaguar.) Bridging social and environmental justice issues with creativity, ONCA promotes positive change by facilitating inclusive spaces for creative learning, artist support, story sharing and community solidarity. In 2018, Laura moved to the Small Isles in Scotland with her friend, a dog called Nelo. She lives and writes by the sea, whilst still being on the board of ONCA and Friends of Inti Wara Yassi, the UK-based charity that supports CIWY’s work.
"The Puma Years is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the animals rescued by a sanctuary, Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi, in Bolivia. And it is the heartwarming story of the relationship that grew up between Laura Coleman and a puma, a relationship that only deepened over the years. I visited the sanctuary years ago – what a wonderful place, dedicated staff and passionate volunteers. Engaging and inspiring – you will love this book."
– Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace
"Coleman's adrenaline rush–inducing debut transports readers along on her 2007 adventure to the Amazon jungle of Bolivia [...] Coleman's purpose-finding journey also offers a call to action for addressing the heartbreaking circumstances of wild animals in peril."
– Publishers Weekly
"Readers will be hooked by Coleman's compelling storytelling right from the opening pages [...] There are poignant breakthroughs, unsettling setbacks, terrifying dangers, narrow escapes, heartbreaking separations and reunions, and hookups and relationships, all channeled through Coleman's honest, wry, self-effacing, and always entertaining narrative [...] This is an amazing tale, one that readers will remember."
– Booklist (starred review)
"A funny and compelling true story of courage, endurance, and self-discovery. The Puma Years is a hymn to the sorrows and joys of finding kinship with the animal world."
– Gregory Norminton, author and environmentalist
"Impassioned, honest, unexpected and often very funny. A book about being consumed by the wild, in all its difficulty and damage, with a vivid cast of humans and animals."
– Nick Hunt, author of Where the Wild Winds Are
"The Puma Years is an utterly wonderful book. It is a memoir, a love letter to a puma, and through that love comes the utter heartbreak of the forests. It is not just astonishingly good as a book, but it brings to life the full earthy reality of the forests, its swamps and iridescence, its wild beauty and rottingness, while so poignantly articulating its destruction. It is quite brilliant."
– Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey and Why Rebel
"Wow. The Puma Years is one of my favourite books of recent years. It is a stunning, moving love story told in such vivid, alive, and poetic prose you can smell the mud of the jungle and hear the symphony of animals coming off the page. I couldn't put it down but didn't want it to end. Coleman is a brilliant story-teller who generously invites us into her relationship with Wayra and in so doing tells us something profound about respectful kinship between species. This book will stay with me."
– Lucy Jones, author of Losing Eden
"Laura Coleman has given us a wise and wonderful and deeply moving book. After reading it, I now find myself even more in love and awe at the furred and flippered and feathered things with which we share this glorious and fragile planet."
– Niall Griffths, author of Sheep Shagger
"Brave, tender, thrilling, and inspiring. Coleman is a fresh, vital, and powerful voice."
– Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast