The bitter-sweet feeling of visiting wildlife rescue centers

Costa Rica is home to a large number of accredited wildlife rescue centers

The other day, on our way back from the Rio Celeste and the Volcan Tenorio National Park, we visited Las Pumas wildlife rescue center. This is the second wildlife rescue center that we have visited since we arrived in Costa Rica in January. The first one was  ZooAve. But we are no strangers to wildlife rescue centers. We visit them on every possible opportunity. In earlier trips to Costa Rica we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, the Alturas Sanctuary and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

In fact, Costa Rica is home to the highest number of accredited sanctuaries in Latin America with international standardsThe mission of the centers seems to be rather similar, at least on the paper. They rescue injured or sick wild animals, recover them and whenever possible, reintroduce them in the wild. The three Rs. 

No matter how good the sanctuary or rescue center is, I always leave these centers with a bitter-sweet feeling.

The bitter side

Most of the animals that end up in a wildlife rescue center are because of human-nature conflicts. It is because of us, the humans, that they ended up in a cage. They (or their mums) have been electrocuted in the wires that provide us with electricity, ran over by our cars when crossing our roads, being tortured by someone just for fun or simply kept as pets (often in inhumane conditions) because someone rescued a baby animal whose mum had been hunted (by us, once again) and didn’t think anything better to do with the wild animal than keep it at home.

Above: Grecia, the awfully mistreated Toucan that received the first prosthetic 3D printed beak at ZooAve. Her story was showcased in Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

So basically, we, humans, with our expanding cities, roads and infrastructure invade their territory and they are the ones to pay for it. Sorry if I am being too blunt here, but it is exactly how it feels. That is the bitter feeling.

The sweet side

The other side of the coin is that most of the centers that we have visited thus so far have the animals in large spacious enclosures; in some cases, they are even allowed to roam free around the center premises. The enclosures are clean and often one can see that the Center has tried to reproduce as much as possible the natural habitat of the animal and respecting its behavior. This was clearly visible in the Jaguar Rescue Center, ZooAve and Las Pumas. It was no surprise when we later learned that these centers have received international recognition for their animal welfare standards. Having visited the premises, I can only vouch for that. That is the sweet feeling.


Above: Orphan Howler Monkey with caretaker at the Jaguar Rescue Center

The great picture

But, when watching the capuchin monkeys play, the sloths sleeping on a tree trunk or a Red Macaw sleeping beside its partner one should not forget that the animals that one can observe when visiting a rescue center are (in most cases) the ones that could be saved but not reintroduced since they would not be able to survive on their own for different reasons (broken wings, blindness, lost limbs or simply too used to human contact and to be fed rather than hunt their own food). So, they have a good life. In some cases, a great life, thanks to the incredible efforts of the founders, devoted personnel and volunteers working in these centers. But it is not the one that they chose or the one that they should live.

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Above: Capuchin Monkey at ZooAve

Why supporting wildlife rescue centers is important

Most of the Wildlife Rescue Centers that we have visited acknowledge that…

  1. The best success story is one in which no animal ends up in a rescue center.
  2. The second-best is when it can be reintroduced in the wild.
  3. The third best is when the animal survives the injuries or their captivity, cannot be reintroduced but can live the rest of its days in a good rescue center
  4. The worst case is when they die because of the fatal injuries.

Most of the centers have extensive education programs and continuously work with the authorities and other organizations to reduce the number of wildlife animals that end up killed or in a wildlife rescue center.

That is, they work at the source of the problem and not only at the end. But the problem is huge and their work is herculean. And they do not receive any funding from the public authorities.

So they need all the support that they can receive in the form of visitors, donations or volunteering.  Hence, I will continue visiting them, donating, becoming foster parent and volunteering. Despite it breaks my heart seeing them behind bars and reading about their stories. Instead of roaming around in the forest, where they belong.

We have taken that from them. At least, we can try to ensure that they have some quality life. Even if that is behind bars.

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Above: Rescued Ocelot at Las Pumas

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Above: Data about the rescued Yaguarundi at Las Pumas

2 thoughts on “The bitter-sweet feeling of visiting wildlife rescue centers

  1. La Paz is far from a refuge or sanctuary, it is a zoo, plain and simple. The animals there seem in distress actually. Anyone reading this, please do not support this place, they cage animals for people’s enjoyment. It is a large grounds with fancy hotel and restaurants, hiking, etc. Yet the “areas” for animals are tiny. Atleast in real rescue centers they don’t allow every tourist to touch and feed the animals so that maybe just maybe they could be re introduced to the wild.


    1. I completely agree with you. Some “rescue centers” have turned into amusement parks or zoos. I had the same impression with La Paz, where, for example the big cats where in very small cages for their needs and very exposed and the tourists could get selfies with the toucans, for example…something that only incentives people to see wild animals as pets.


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