We just returned from Costa Rica, where we visited with three of our partner organizations. We had a great time with lots of rain, potholes, mud, good food, and friendly people. We learned a lot, and I am excited to share some highlights and give our volunteers an idea of what to expect if they visit these wonderful groups.
Costa Rica is a country in Central America with a tropical climate year round. It has been declared the greenest country in the world because of its progressive environmental policies, and conservation is an important part of the overall attitude of the people and legislation. Much of its income is based on ecotourism because of its natural beauty, wide variety of animal species, and friendly residents. The predominant language is Spanish.
At all three places we visited, we were consistently impressed at their dedication, efficiency and cleanliness, as well as the positive and attitude of the staff and volunteers. It is clear that the focus of these groups is the welfare of the animals. The main goal of the wildlife refuges was to release wildlife back into the jungle whenever possible. The animals who could not be released were either from the pet trade (too accustomed to humans to live wild), or had suffered injuries too severe to allow them to function in the wild. In these cases, every effort was made to make their lives comfortable and enriched. Please contact us with any other specific questions about these organizations.
It is important to keep in mind that these facilities are dedicated to the rehab and release of wild animals, so human contact is kept to a minimum. Even the animals in sanctuary are not pets, and they could do serious damage. This is not a vacation where you get to cuddle baby sloths all day—you will work hard and get dirty and feel great about the difference you are making!
The first group we visited was a wildlife refuge in the Manuel Antonio area. This group has a dedicated full-time veterinarian and vet tech. They have a variety of enclosures and a small vet clinic on-site where they are able to perform basic medical procedures. They require a minimum one month commitment for volunteers. Duties include helping the veterinarian, but also preparation of animal food and general cleaning and maintenance of animal enclosures. Everyone pitches in with different jobs.
The second group was further up the coast in the Samara area, and focused mainly on Howler Monkeys (Mono Congos). As well as acting as a sanctuary and rehabilitation facility, this group focuses on education and conservation. Since electrocution is the #1 killer of Howler monkeys in CR (they use power lines as “highways” to cross roads where tree branches are not available), this group is working with the local electric companies to insulate the transformers on these lines, as well as hanging rope cables to provide safe passage for the animals. Their facility has a full-time vet and they are able to perform some surgeries as well as basic medical care. They also require a one-month minimum commitment with a range of duties—including medical care—depending on what needs to be done.
Our third visit was to a domestic animal shelter that serves the community in the suburb of Heredia and the surrounding areas. Their focus is on spay/neuter and adoption of dogs and cats, as well as offering general medical services to the surrounding community. They also have a mobile S/N facility to provide outreach to outlying locations where medical care is not available. We were impressed by their facilities, including a large and high-quality veterinary clinic. They have four veterinarians who are skilled at high-volume S/N. The enclosures were large and clean, and the animals were well cared for. They have no minimum time commitment for volunteers, but the level of involvement depends on an individual volunteer's experience with shelter medicine and high-volume S/N.