In 2007, Laura Coleman, ONCA’s founder visited a small refuge in the Bolivian jungle, run by the NGO Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY), there are pumas, jaguars and ocelots, alongside monkeys, pigs, birds and tapirs. All have been rescued from the black market. Most have been house pets, circus animals or zoo exhibits, and they cannot be released. They live in a jungle oasis, surrounded by cattle farms and under constant threat from forest fires, flooding and deforestation.
There she met a puma there called Wayra. Wayra had been a pet until she came to the refuge when she was ten months old. She was, and still is, terrified of the jungle. Over the years, Laura developed a friendship with Wayra, learning more from this cat about trust, patience and love than she can express. In 2011, Laura came back to the UK, wanting to find a way to tell Wayra’s story, intertwined with the stories of all the other animals (human and non human) that she met in the jungle. She had the idea for ONCA (Panthera onca is the scientific name for jaguar), a storytelling space dedicated to issues that affect animals like Wayra. With the help of many other wonderful creatures, 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 more amazing people and projects 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 the same as, and deeply entangled with, the stories that affect all of us. Stories about health, happiness, joy, grief, loss, rain, sun, soil, waste, food, water, jobs, homes and homelessness…
We have now come to see ONCA 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 our community address the challenges of our times.
ONCA continues to have a strong relationship with CIWY and the work that they do in Bolivia. If you want to find out more about how to help Wayra and other animals like her, either get in touch with us or visit www.intiwarayassi.org. Thank you!