I visited Costa Rica in 2014 as part of a 6-week trip across Central America, and there was one thing that I couldn’t wait to see – a sloth! I’m a huge animal lover, so there was no chance I was going to visit Costa Rica without seeing one of these furry tree dwellers. Sloths can be difficult to spot as they not only spend up to 20-hours a day sleeping in the rainforest, but also move at an incredibly slow pace of around 40-yards per day. Sounds a little bit like me with a terrible hungover, ha!
To guarantee our chances of seeing a sloth, among other animals, my friends and I headed over to The Jaguar Rescue Center which is located roughly 5 km from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The Jaguar Rescue Center was opened in 2008 by Encar Garcia Vila and Sandro Alviani. Encar has spent 15 years working with primates and mammals in various habitats, whilst Sandro is a trained biologist and has dedicated his life to caring for animals. They own two sites, The Jaguar Rescue Center which is used as a base to care for the ill or injured animals in their onsite clinic and nursery, and Le Ceiba Primary Forest, a 49-hectare site used as a release point for their rescued animals to be reintroduced to their natural habitat.
The JRC focuses on rescues, medical care, research, education and rehabilitation with an aim to release as many of the animals back into the wild as possible. The center is run by a handful of key staff along with a group of unpaid volunteers from around the world.
We had chosen to visit the JRC mainly to see some sloths, but it’s actually home to a heap of other animals too, including; birds, parrots, snakes, anteaters, jaguars, raccoons and LOADS of little monkeys! Who doesn’t love a little monkey 🙂
Public tours run twice a day at 09:30 and 11:30 in the morning, and private tours are also available in the afternoons at 14:00. We opted to join a public tour which was absolutely brilliant! All visitors were gathered together and then split into smaller groups of approx. 10-15 people per group. A volunteer then lead each group on a tour of the centre to introduce, explain and discuss all the animals they have onsite. Our guide was a lovely Dutch girl who was extremely knowledgeable – it was actually rather impressive that she rocked up one day to help out, and now she knows the centre inside out!
The tour lasted around 90-minutes which was more than enough time to see everything. Considering how many groups there were, we weren’t rushed at all, as each group was taken off in different direction so no group over lapped at any one time. Everyone had time to ask as many questions as they liked, look around, and take those all important holiday snaps. The best thing about the JRC was the number of animals that roamed free or were sat out with their volunteers, rather than being caged up on display.
We weren’t particularly fond of the fat snake that lived in a glass tank by the entrance and swiftly moved on once we realised he was one of the world’s most venomous snakes! Some of my favourite animals that we saw were the adorable baby raccoons that were running around us. These naughty little guys were clambering over the volunteer’s shoulders inquisitively looking at everyone.
There was a gorgeous baby ocelot and loads of teeny tiny baby monkeys who were being hand fed and played with. Visitors were not able to interact with the animals, however that’s to be expected when so many of them are recovering from an illness or in rehabilitation. Doesn’t mean I didn’t want to get in the cage and give them a little squeeze though!
The HIGHLIGHT of our visit was of course the sloth’s garden! A number of small sloths could be found hanging from the trees, or in one particular case, roaming on the garden floor. This notable three-month old two-toed sloth was Sandra, who I would later become an adoptive mother to!
At just two months old, Sandra was rescued when a local restaurant in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca had bought her from an animal trader who most likely hunted and killed her mother (sob) in order to sell her on for profit. Wildlife trafficking in Costa Rica has increased over the years, and rescues such as this are sadly becoming more common – but thanks to the JRC, Sandra is on her way to being released back into the wild.
The centre offers both public and private tours, which run Monday to Saturday (note: the centre is closed on Sundays). Public tours cost USD $20 pp and depart twice a day 9:30 am and 11:30 am. Private tours are also available at a cost of USD $60 pp and depart once a day at 2 pm. As I’ve described above, your tour will allow you to walk through the centre with a guide who will discuss each animal with you and answer any questions you may have.
For those that want to get even more involved with the animals, you can apply to join the volunteer programme! With a minimum stay of four weeks, this includes three weeks working at the Jaguar Rescue Centre and one week working at the La Ceiba reserve.
As a non-profit organization that receives no government funds, they hugely depend on donations and contributions from visitors to keep up their good work! You can support them by making a financial donation, adopting an animal like Sandra or even by bringing / sending in much needed supplies.