Big Cats Aren’t the Prime Attraction at Puerto Viejo’s Jaguar Rescue

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    The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – Baby monkeys.  They were the main draw. The rest of the trip to Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, was planned around my visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center.

    The same person who told me about the monkeys also informed me that there were no jaguars at the Jaguar Rescue Center.  So, I didn’t enter into my experience with any preconceived notions.  My boyfriend, Silvio, speaks very little English, I was feeling confident with my Spanish and we really wanted to see everything together. The Spanish speaking tour sounded just right.

    Beginning with birds and reptiles, our guide lectured about each animal explaining the cause and duration of its stay at the sanctuary.  Illness and being orphaned were the main reasons for rescue and rehabilitation.  Many would ultimately return to their homes in the wild.

    I was doing a decent job of understanding our guide, faltering only when he came to words such as anteater, ocelot, and sloth.  I pieced together conversation with Silvio in an attempt to understand the more exotic creatures, and their ailments.  As I pointed to the anteater and said, “It eats bugs, yes?’, an earth- shattering shriek came from the tree to my immediate right.  I turned to see a toucan sounding his barbaric YAWP!  A fluffy coat of primary colors. Yellow. Red. Green.  A beak larger than I had imagined, even with National Geographic pictures floating in my head.  He didn’t look real, but like he had been painted in the tree, smiling.  He shared a bit about himself.  He had no tail, but could fly just fine, thank you, just not very far.  He chose to stay at the center where there was always food.  This startlingly wonderful bird was not only loud, but quite chatty, and enjoyed conversing with the whole group.

    As the tour neared its end, we arrived at the monkey enclosure.  My stomach flipped with excitement as I rubbed my hands with antibacterial cleanser.  We walked in and sat on blankets that surrounded a hammock, the main plaything for the orphaned monkeys.  We were told to let them approach us, and they did.  They jumped on our heads, climbed our bodies, and one fell from a toy hung close to the ceiling only to save itself by coiling its tail around Silvio’s arm and then swinging upside down, back and forth.  Silvio’s expression was a combination of amusement and awe at the rapid reflex that came from this tiny baby.

    One little guy, a baby howler, sat down in front of me and munched on a piece of banana.  He proceeded to run back and forth on the hammock, yanking on my hair each time he passed me.  Run. Yank.  Run. Yank.  He ended his performance by standing in my lap and bowing to the fenced enclosure, pink bottom a quarter of an inch from my face.   As we left the baby monkeys, we all washed our hands with the cleanser, I, making a promise to myself to come back soon for a visit.

    The baby monkeys will split their time between teasing tourists in the mornings, and learning the ways of the rainforest from grown monkeys in the afternoons.  Evenings, they will return to the center, knowing they will always be fed.  One day, when they are sufficiently schooled, they will not return.  There was another resident, the sloth, who, frankly, didn’t seem to care where he was, as long as there was a comfortable tree to nap in.  The ocelot, whose face got in the way of a hunter’s knife several times, will not be able to go back to her natural home.  The sanctuary fears that she will seek the same spot the hunter attacked her, a place that consistently promised food.

    I went into my experience at the Jaguar Rescue Center expecting to have a magnificent connection with a baby monkey.  But, being a bit loud and chatty myself, it was a tail-less toucan, making the best of his fate, with whom I had more of an “animal spirit” connection.  This is largely due to the fact, I imagine, that I had recently given up my predilection for mooning people.

    By Elizabeth Dickinson

    Photo by Silvio Jose Aragon

    The Costa Rica News (TCRN)

    San Jose, Costa Rica

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