I’m currently living in Costa Rica with my family, near Puerto Viejo, in the midst of a working abroad experiment (we’re calling it a “workation”). Recently, on the recommendation of several friends and acquaintances, we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center. This unique organization, started by a herpetologist and a gorilla expert, functions to rescue and rehabilitate injured, mistreated, and/or confiscated animals from the local area. During our tour we met baby howler monkeys and baby sloths who had fallen from the trees (otherwise a death sentence for both types of animal), snakes discovered by residents who would have otherwise met the sharp side of a machete, big cats rescued by customs agents otherwise destined for lives as leashed pets in Kuwait, a baby cayman discovered in a local creek, and numerous frogs, who, as far as I could tell, were just enjoying the giant, lily-pad covered pond.
The Jaguar Rescue Center is not-for-profit, and receives no government support. They’re not really part of the eco-tourism industry (though they of course attract eco-tourists); their mission is solely to protect and heal at-risk animals and help them return to their natural lives in the jungle. The cages open at least once a day (or night, for the big cats) to allow the animals to leave if they wish. Some leave and then come back for a time, like the young orphaned jaguar who had never had a mother to teach him not to hunt porcupines. He slunk back to the rescue center to recover from a faceful of quills, then left again, a fully healed and much wiser beast.
The baby howler monkeys regularly interact with a couple of local troops who live in the nearby trees, and eventually leave the rescue center to join one of them (usually monkey romance is the deciding factor). One feature of the tour is the option to enter the cage where the baby howler monkeys hang out, and let them climb on you. They’re quite friendly and fearless, and immediately clamber onto the visitors. One of the monkeys started chewing on one young woman’s hair. I was used more like a tree branch, as you can see in the picture. It’s a strange feeling to have a monkey hanging off of you, supported only by its tail wrapped around your neck. Not uncomfortable, but weird. Those tails are incredibly strong.
The baby sloths were the highlight of the tour, especially for our two-year-old daughter. As you can see, they’re cute. Really cute — cuddly and adorable. The two-toed sloth (the orange one), has a peak of fur on its back that helps the rainwater drain off. It looks just like a faux-hawk.
Both sloths and monkeys often get injured in power lines. There have been efforts to get the government to install “collars” at the base of the power line poles to prevent animals from climbing them, a relatively cheap fix that could save hundreds of animals from life-threatening burns. You would think the Costa Rican government, with its generally strong commitment to protecting the environment and supporting eco-tourism, would be all over this. Evidently there is still progress to be made. I can hardly be critical, coming from nation that has just hosted what might be the worst environmental disaster of all time, but I’m glad the Jaguar Rescue Center is working hard to protect the stunningly beautiful wildlife of Costa Rica.
Unfortunately their website doesn’t have an easy way to donate, like a Paypal button or credit card form, but if you feel moved to support their efforts I hope that doesn’t discourage you. Give them a call and arrange a donation. And if you’re ever in the Puerto Viejo area, by all means do the tour. It’s informative, fun, and monkeys might chew on your hair.