Jacki decided to turn her family’s routine visa renewal into a full-blown, two-week road trip across Panama and into Costa Rica to the town of Puerto Viejo, where she checked out the Jaguar Rescue Center on a tip from a friend back home in Panama. Her review of the rescue center follows.
We were driving through Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, when I spotted the sign. “Jaguar Rescue Center” it read, with an arrow pointing to the right. I’d heard of this rescue center from a friend who touted it as a must-see for travelers visiting this part of Costa Rica, despite the fact that the Jaguar Rescue Center has no actual jaguars (more on that later), and so I was thrilled to discover it only a little ways down the road from where we’d be staying for the next three nights.
Frankly, the Costa Rican leg of our journey was a bit of bust – my hubby and son caught a flu bug while we were there, and they were down for the count the entire time. Which meant I was pretty much on my own for three days. I couldn’t think of a more perfect solo excursion than the Jaguar Rescue Center – jaguars or no jaguars.
The center was founded in 2008 by the husband-wife team of Sandro Alviani, an Italian herpetologist, and Encar García, a Spanish primatologist. Frequent travelers to Costa Rica, the couple were witness to instances of mistreatment and killing of the country’s wildlife. In 2004, they left Europe permanently for a new life in Puerto Viejo, and quickly became known to the locals as the go-to people for animals that needed help.
They started with reptiles. But one of the first mammals to be brought to them was – you guessed it – a baby jaguar. They nursed it long enough to reintroduce it into the wild. It was at that point they decided to open the center and dedicate their lives to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
Our volunteer guide was quick to assure us: the center is NOT a zoo. It is a rescue and rehabilitation haven whose goal is to, where possible, release the animals back into their natural habitat. Sometimes that’s possible; sometimes it’s not – some animals will spend their dying days there.
A $15 donation will get you a two-hour tour led by volunteers who will introduce you to the many mistreated, injured and/or confiscated animals housed at the center.
The most interesting part of the tour – aside from getting to see exotic wildlife up close – is to hear the stories of how each critter arrived here.
For example, volunteers one day received a phone call from a frantic woman whose dog was being consumed in her living room by a giant boa constrictor. A similar call was made about another snake, but this time involved a pet cat. In each case, center volunteers went to the homes to retrieve the scaly reptiles. They now live side-by-side in glass aquariums.
I hope you enjoy some of the pics I took and a few facts I recollected about each of them!
Meet the Kinkajou
This little nocturnal cutie was trying to sleep throughout our midday visit. Volunteers at the center cover him with this blanket to block out the light. They will uncover him for mere seconds so visitors can see him. Then he rolls up and goes back to sleep in his warm fleece nest!
The Adorable Green Parrot
Most of the birds at the center are here for one of two reasons: clipped or broken wings, or damaged beaks. Many times, a local will clip their wings – as with this guy – in order to keep them as pets. Unfortunately, this loveable talker won’t be going too far, as his flying is extremely limited. He is a permanent resident of the center.
The Majestic Hawk
For this bird of prey, capture by humans is not easy. Volunteers were brought this adult raptor after he was hit by a car whilst in the process of swooping down on the road to snatch up some road kill. His wing is severely damaged. He does a bit of flying every day to build up his strength, but volunteers don’t know if he’ll ever be able to return to the wild.
The Resplendent Toucan
Inarguable one of the most beautiful and unique birds on the planet, this guy was brought to the center with a severely damaged beak. Volunteers don’t know what happened, but it is not likely this guy will ever leave the center, since he is incapable of trapping prey with his hampered beak. Our guide was watching him one day as he attempted to catch a fly in mid-air. He caught it all right, but the fly was able to fly out of the hole in his beak – again and again. The poor confused bird kept catching it, and the pesky pest kept flying out.
Okay, so there are no jaguars – but there were two ocelots! Unfortunately, they’re very hard to photograph in the middle of the afternoon because that’s when they most like to nap. They were dead to the world when we were there, so this was the best I could do. Also known as the dwarf leopard, these twin ocelots were brought to the center as babies – their mother was likely killed by poachers. Although once considered endangered, rehabilitation efforts like those at the center have renewed the ocelot population to acceptable levels. These beautiful spotted animals will eventually go back to their natural habitat.
I saved the best for last!
One of the best things about the Jaguar Rescue Center is being able to hang out in the monkey cage. The center houses two spider monkeys, Nerea & Shaki. I don’t know if you’ve ever hung out with spider monkeys before, but man-oh-man they are full of beans! Very, very precocious.
Howler monkeys, on the other hand, are so sweet and gentle and calm – like this absolutely precious little guy, named Maki, who fell asleep in my arms. Baby monkeys are usually brought to the center as the result of poachers killing their parents. Every afternoon, all the monkeys attend “Monkey School,” which simply means a few hours of roaming in the rainforest with the volunteers close by. It’s part of the center’s program to gradually reintroduce the energetic animals into their natural habitat.
Explore The Ambler
If this post was right up your alley, you’ll enjoy Emily’s story of a wildlife rescue that took place on Isla Palenque last year — and for more wildlife photos and fascinating facts, meet the stars of Panama’s native fauna in Jacki’s “Creature Feature”, inspired by Hollywood’s awards season.