photo of Wayra

Our Story

In 2007, Laura Coleman, ONCA’s founder, visited a small refuge in the Amazon jungle, run by the Bolivian NGO Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY).

There were pumas, jaguars and ocelots, monkeys, pigs, birds and tapirs rescued from the black market. Most had been house pets, circus animals or zoo exhibits, and they could not be released. They lived in a jungle oasis, looked after by wildly dedicated staff and volunteers, surrounded by cattle farms and under constant threat from forest fires, flooding and deforestation.

Laura met people there who had spent their lives working to keep these animals safe. She met a woman called Nena (CIWY’s founder), who’d fallen in love with a rescued spider monkey over twenty-five years ago and promised to never leave her. And she met a puma, whose name was Wayra. Wayra had been a pet until she came to the sanctuary when she was ten months old. She was terrified of the jungle, angry, lost and confused. Over many years, Laura developed a strange and tentative friendship with Wayra, and with the people who had made this sanctuary their home, learning more from this cat and this community about trust, patience and love than she could express.

When Laura returned to the UK, she wanted to find a way to tell Wayra’s story, intertwined around the multitude of people and creatures she’d fallen in love with, who’d welcomed her and allowed her to call the jungle home. She had the idea for ONCA (Panthera onca is the scientific name for jaguar), a storytelling and story sharing space. ONCA moved from an idea to reality and our gallery and performance space opened in Brighton in November 2012.

Since then, ONCA has worked with many amazing people and projects, more than Laura could ever have imagined whilst lying under the trees with Wayra. And it is these people and projects that have taught Laura that the stories that affect Wayra are deeply entangled with the stories that affect so many. Stories about health, happiness, joy, grief, loss, rain, sun, soil, waste, food, water, jobs, homes and homelessness…

Those who work at ONCA have now come to see it as a framing device, as the four corners of a space that is open to anyone who wants to tell, listen to or be part of a story about positive change. It is a space for collaboration, learning and play, helping us and the communities that touch us to address the challenges of these times.

ONCA continues to have a strong relationship with CIWY, Nena and the work that is done in Bolivia.  If you want to find out more about how to help, either get in touch with us or visit Thank you!


You can support ONCA’s activities and development by making a donation, becoming a member or getting involved in our volunteering scheme.

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