The first thing I noticed about the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Porto Viejo, Costa Rica, was that there were no jaguars around. Despite an initial moment of disappointment, I quickly realised that this was a good thing. It meant that there were no jaguars in desperate need of assistance, all happily prowling the nearby jungles instead.
Since its opening in 2008, the sanctuary takes in around 500-700 animals in need each year. Even though there were no jaguars there during my visit, there were, unfortunately, a lot of injured sloths and orphaned baby monkeys that needed nursing back to health with a view to returning them to their natural habitat.
Although visitors are allowed to view the animals, the sanctuary is clearly not intended to be a tourist attraction. For a start, there are non-contact rules in place for most species. From sloths moving at a snail’s pace to a lively ocelot skipping about, the animals are wild by nature and full of natural curiosity when it comes to the small groups of visiting humans.
A veterinary doctor gave us information about the native animals, offering a unique insight into the struggles they face, mostly caused by the human world closing in around them.
Local sloths often get injured by the electrical wires along the roadsides at the jungle’s edge, mistaking them for branches when they swing through the treetops. That’s why the centre has helped to set up a protection scheme, Shock Free Zone, to insulate exposed electrical lines and street lights, to avoid injuring animals.
The highlight of our sanctuary visit was helping to feed some baby monkeys. Entering the enclosure and getting up close with them, we really got to see their individual personalities shine through as some excitedly jumped from shoulder to shoulder, cheekily chewed on hair or calmly came over and snuggled up in our arms. It was a magical experience to interact with these adorable creatures on their own terms and highlighted just how important nature conservation and responsible tourism really is.