You may or may not know that I am not really a fan of zoos. I know that some zoos conduct research and raise money for conservation and instill a sense of responsibility in people to protect animals. I do not think zoos are completely evil, but I do think there are better ways. Like, studying animals in the wild, creating harsher penalties for those hurting animals, especially protected species and educating students in schools and in their TV programs.
While I do not like zoos, I LOVE rehabilitation centers. Actual rehab centers too, not those that keep the animals for years and say “we fell in love with ‘Tammy the Turtle’ and couldn’t let her go.” Not cool. I see through that. We have an incredible marine center near us that is constantly and publicly bringing in sick or hurt sea turtles, naming them, loving them and the publicly celebrating their release back in to the wild. It is a beautiful mix of science and ethics. Those are the types of rehab centers I like.
We found a place like this just south of Cahuita, Costa Rica. Jaguar Rescue Center is “not a zoo, but rather a rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of wild species center with the end goal of releasing the animals back into the wild. Alongside [the animal rehab], the Jaguar Rescue Center develops an educational program for the community that’s fundamental for everyone’s future.”
We spent a rainy July day checking our colorful vipers, broken-beaked toucans, caiman, baby sloths (my fav!), poison dart frogs and various indigenous animals; animals that we would likely not see on a hike through the forest. It is a happy medium between wanting to see the animals, but understanding that they are wild for a reason. In fact, I would have absolutely squealed with excitement if we could have seen a jaguar close up. However, there were no jaguars at the center when we visited. In reality, this is actually a very, very good thing.
Volunteers work alongside the staff to provide a worthwhile, informative and fun experience that beats any zoo. Our tour guide was an American student volunteering all summer for experience prior to entering veterinary school in the fall. Talk about passion and purpose!
Cahuita is off the beaten path for most people traveling in Costa Rica. It is on the Caribbean coast, far removed from the all-inclusive resorts, fancy restaurants and spas. It you want to see a quieter, wilder and (in my opinion) prettier side of Costa Rica, head east and then south. Explore Cahuita’s national park, the beaches and do not miss Jaguar Rescue Center near Puerta Viejo de Talamanca.