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There are many wildlife rescue centers in Costa Rica and choosing which to visit isn’t always easy. If you want to pick a place that treats the animals in an ethical, respecting way and doesn’t do it for the profit, the choice becomes even harder.
There are literally hundreds of wildlife rescue centers in Costa Rica. In a land with such a rich biodiversity and a range of animals they actually become essential. Unfortunately, all of them don’t do the work without trying to profit from the animals, and they’re really missing the point. A wildlife rescue is about helping the animals, not trying to make money out of them.
Why Visiting a Smaller Wildlife Rescue Center Is Better Than a Big, Commercial one?
Sometimes the story goes that the more paying visitors are coming in, the more greedy places might become. On many occasions, the rescue centers with relatively small entrance fees come across as better places. Then you may rely more on the fact that your money actually goes straight to the animals’ benefit for 100%. Most of the times the best places are also almost entirely voluntary based.
In small centers, the staff has enough time to take care each of the animals the best way possible. They can consider them as individuals. Most important of all, their primary purpose is always to treat the animal back into such a health that it can be released back into the wild, as soon as possible.
Big places, on the other hand, tend to be more like a circus. The animals have often been put into too small cages, as to have as many animals around as possible. Unfortunately, in many cases this just results that the animals are no longer taking cared of properly, the center’s employees not having enough time anymore. Also in the worst case scenarios, the animals aren’t even released back to the wild because the place may earn too much money from having them around. This is where it really gets twisted. Sometimes you can’t be sure anymore – is it a zoo or a rescue center?
You can also tell a lot of the place about how the animals seem to get on in their surroundings. Do they seem happy or do they seem depressed and anxious? Just observing the animals a bit more carefully will tell you a lot. You can see it from their behavior if they are not treated right.
Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center or The Sloth Sanctuary?
Many of the reasons I told you above, apply here, to the benefit of the Tree of Life. I encourage doing a bit of searching around the web of your own, but some of the things you’ll likely find out about the Sloth Sanctuary may not be pretty. They may have once been a good rehabilitation place for injured sloths, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be anymore. Quite pricey entrance fee (25 USD/person) doesn’t seem justified when many of the animals live in small cages without enough natural stimulus. We drove past the place, saw the small cages and it made us sad. Business should never run over the welfare of the animals.
Instead, in the Tree of Life Wildlife Sanctuary, the entrance fee is smaller (about 10 USD/person) and the place runs mostly by donation money. It’s a relatively small place, but there are a lot of different animals to see. Tree of Life doesn’t have a media circus around them, nor it is so massively visited. You can spend as much time over there as you like, without crowds around you. The animals have quite large cages decorated like their natural habitat and most of the times there will also be sloths. Most important of all – the animals seemed happy and not stressed.
However, there’s a section for animals who have just recently arrived at the rescue center and are still more sick. These animals’ behavior seemed a lot more distressed, despite their quite good captive conditions, but it’s entirely understandable. In general, the animals appeared to be taken care of really well and looked very active and quite happy.
Especially the two sloths that we met were extremely active ones. They were just about to be released back into the wild and were climbing all over their big cage, decorated with many branches for them to hang onto. They were very social and curious fellows as well. Both of them came to see us at close hand and posed willingly for our lenses.
Encounter New Species in Tree of Life Wildlife Sanctuary
We met an animal of which we didn’t have even heard of before. It was a small cat species called Jaguarundi. It looked like a dark brown jaguar, but like a mini version. It was quite flashy, too. Showed us its teeth and ran around its cage like attacking and running away at the same time.
We also saw many other animals for the first time at Tree of Life, like different kind of monkey species and a blind kinkajou, one of the few permanent residents of the rescue center. Their purpose is always to return the animals back into the wild and only in some rare cases that is impossible. Then they’ll stay at the rescue center. Impossible to release was the case of the kinkajou – being blind it wouldn’t have survived in the wild.
We ended up spending quite a long time at the rescue center, photographing and watching the animals. Walking around and enjoying its tranquil atmosphere. There were only a few other visitors besides us, and we got to explore the place almost solemnly.
Tree of Life left a great feeling in general because it seemed to be very well operated and their focus was where it should be – on the animals’ welfare. It’s located a short drive (or walk) away from the center of Cahuita.
Simply put, the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center is the place to go, if you want to see a broad range of animals and at the same time support their rehabilitation and welfare in a responsible and sustainable way.
Little Facts and How to Get to Tree of Life Wildlife Sanctuary
Tree of Life is founded in 2008, and they have a volunteer program as well as a breeding program for turtles and iguanas, where they’ll reintroduce them into the wild and to their natural habitat.
In addition to all the animals, there’s a great botanical garden with many types of plants.
There are many ways to get to Cahuita from San José. Daily buses depart from the Terminal del Caribe and take about 3,5 hours. By car, it takes 3,5-4,5 hours, depending on the traffic. There are also vans and shuttles driving the route.
From Limón, you can take a one-hour bus ride, and they’re departing hourly from 5 AM to 6 PM from Radio Casino.
Don’t miss a visit to this great wildlife rescue center!
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