Voluneering for an Animal Rescue Centre in Costa Rica
I volunteered for the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Costa Rica. It’s located in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast which is a beautiful setting. Placements are for a minimum of a month. This includes 3 weeks at the rescue Centre and a week at La Ceiba, the release site up in the rainforest.
At the centre there is a clinic with 2 vets and a nursery for the baby animals. Accommodation is not provided. The centre run a nohostel right next door called the Jaguar Inn Hotel. Hostel Kinkajou in Puerto Viejo offer a discounted rate for volunteers of $30 per week.
The volunteer work
The work could be physical and demanding. A lot of times it is outdoors, sometimes in monsoon rains, other times in beautiful sunshine with lots of humidity. It can also be very dirty. There was lots of cleaning of enclosures to be done.
The worst was the big cats. You know how bad a domestic cat litter can smell, imagine one for 2 very big cats. There was also lots of laundry to be done. Lots of blankets for the baby animals which could be covered in all manner of things! Also all the cleaning cloths. These needed soaking before they could be washed. Duvet covers and, large blankets also got a rinse off with a hose.
There were also other jobs – lots of washing up, food plates to prepare and deliver to all the animals, enrichment to collect and put in all the enclosures and, one of my favourite jobs, gardening.
Other jobs included collecting hibiscus flowers that the baby monkeys love so much and almond leaves which baby sloths were so fond of. There was lots of pushing of wheelbarrows.
Hours of work are 7.30am – 3.30pm with 2 days off per week. I loved the physical work and being outdoors.
Looking after the animals
There were also jobs looking after the animals. It is incredible to be able to get so close to wild animals. This could be looking after the baby sloths or baby monkeys. There was also a sloth garden where the older sloths go in the day to get ready for release.
One of the challenges was trying to stop these sloths from escaping. They are more active in the morning, can move faster than you think and can at times, be quite feisty. They have large claws and an extremely strong grip. You’d prise one foot free and another would re-attach.
Biscotina the anteater
One of my favourite animals was an Anteater by the name of Biscotina. She shared an enclosure with a couple of sloths. Her favourite trick was when you went in to clean the enclosure to jump onto your shoulders. For this reason we always cleaned this enclosure with a blanket wrapped around our shoulders.
Every day she was taken into the forest to climb trees and get ready for her release. She took a great liking to me. Unfortunately, this manifested itself by her sticking her tongue in my ear. Anteaters have such long tongues and it went all the way into my ear canal, it was a very strange sensation!
Next it went up my nose! When she me outside the enclosure she came running towards me like a dog and then tried to climb up my leg. She has now been released and is back in the wild where she belongs.
The dangers of power lines
Most of the animals are released back into the wild although for a few this is not possible. Electrocution from power lines is the biggest danger to wildlife.
One of the sloths had to have an amputation due to this and some sadly don’t make it. There is also a parrot that due to a genetic disease was born blind. His name is Blackbeard, so called because he loves to spend hours sitting on a volunteer’s shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot. They will remain at the centre and have a good quality of life.
Digger the armadillo
Another favourite of mine was a baby Armadillo named Digger. Plastic gloves had to be worn when handling him as Armadillos can transmit diseases to humans. They are the only animal who can pass on leprosy to humans. He was a real character, full of fun and so inquisitive. He also lived up to his name. We were getting him ready for release when he pre-empted this by digging his way out and escaping.
Taking monkeys to the forest
My favourite job was taking the monkeys into the forest. There were lots of them and to get them ready for release they were taken into the forest early in the morning and brought back late afternoon. You would have a couple on you head and round your shoulders, holding onto their tails which are incredibly strong.
Once in the forest they could climb trees and interact with wild monkeys. It was so good to see them in their natural environment and so entertaining to watch them.
So many laughs
We did have a lot of laughs at the centre. One morning we went to get a cleaning bucket and there was a wild sloth asleep in it. I am an exercise instructor and one morning I was doing a stretching class for the other volunteers before we started work.
Unfortunately, this was right by the parrot enclosure and they are great mimics. The moment we began all the parrots broke out into fits of raucous laughter. We were all doubled up ourselves with laughing so much.
Injuries from working with animals
It wasn’t all a bed of roses. If you are going to work with wild animals then you will be bitten. This is my bite from a monkey who was having a bad day.
Whilst out in the forest collecting enrichment for the enclosures I was stung by a nettle-like plant. These injuries have now faded but my happy memories haven’t, they’ll be with me forever.
After 3 weeks working at the centre, it was time to head to La Ceiba the release site in the rainforest. It was a beautiful spot. I’ve stayed in lots of rainforests and this one to me was like jungle chic. The accommodation was far better than I expected and a restaurant with a view.
Working at the release site
Again the work was demanding but very necessary. Enclosures to clean, food and enrichment to be brought from the forest, paths to be cleared and animals to be fed.
Then other jobs included taking the raccoons for a several hour walk in the river to get them ready for release. Then there was the Grison, a strange looking creature that looking like a cross between a weasel and a badger, was very excitable, swimming underwater and running everywhere and trying to sneak up on an unsuspecting volunteer and try to playfully bite them.
Fortunately we wore wellies.
Bella the howler monkey
Also my favourite job was to take Bella the howler monkey into the forest and encourage her to climb trees and meet other monkeys. She was a beautiful, sweet natured monkey and I have thought about her a lot. The good news is she is doing well and now spends most of her time sleeping out in the wild.
We also got to go on night walks in the rainforest. This was a fantastic experience as the forest comes alive at night. We saw snakes, some poisonous, tarantulas and lots of brightly coloured frogs.
The viewing platform
There was a viewing platform over the rainforest. Every morning at dawn I climbed this and watched the rainforest wake up, it was my favourite part of the day. I appreciated the peace and solitude. I’d often be joined on the platform.
Most mornings one of the released toucans would join me and bring me a stick, not sure what I was supposed to do with the stick. He was shortly followed by 4 green parrots who had also been released and who would line up on the railing.
A red woodpecker would be hammering away on the tree in front of me, he looked just like the cartoon character.
One night we went up to the viewing platform and lay there looking at the millions of stars.
We also saw some animals called Kinkajous, very strange looking animals. They were nocturnal and ran round there enclosures at 90 miles an hour. One day a released one came to say hello during the day.
It was an experience I’ll never forgot. If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer, the donation cost for a 4 week placement is $350.
Volunteers require an up to date TB certificate and health insurance. For further information go to jaguarrescue.foundation or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org