The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica – Our Jaguar Rescue Center Review

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Monkeys, sloths, snakes, and hope: the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica is an amazing place doing amazing work. Whether you’re in Costa Rica with kids, with friends or on your own, we highly recommend a visit. Located in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of the country, the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica is a must-see for conscientious animal lovers.

The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica

While I was planning our visit to Puerto Viejo, I discovered lots of Jaguar Rescue Center reviews. As I read more about the Jaguar Rescue Center and their mission, I knew that I wanted to work with them and promote their work. Fortunately, they felt the same and invited us on a tour of their facilities. We took the same basic tour available to everyone, and it was amazing. Then we walked away very impressed with what we saw. In fact, it inspired us to return to the area and hopefully volunteer with them in the future!

Before we get into this Jaguar Rescue Center review, let’s clear something up first: this is not a zoo. The Jaguar Rescue Center is a treatment facility. Founded by two biologists, the Jaguar Rescue Center is a privately funded sanctuary for injured wild animals. The veterinarians, volunteers and other staff on site are here to help these creatures recuperate from injuries. Their goal is simple: recuperation and eventual release back into the rainforest.

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Origins of the Jaguar Rescue Center

Jaguar Rescue Center founders

The Jaguar Rescue Center was started by Encar Garcia Vila and Sandro Alviani. Both were biologists who met in Costa Rica, only to discover that they both worked at the same place. Enca was a primatologist (ape & monkey specialist) at the Barcelona Zoo. Sandro also worked at the Barcelona Zoo as a herpetologist (reptile & amphibian specialist). They were in completely different departments and had never met before they began a life together in Puerto Viejo. Word got around that two biologists had moved into town, and so people began to bring them injured animals they found. One of those animals was a jaguar, who died in their care soon after they received her. The Jaguar Rescue Center was named in her honor. Read more of the story here.

Since then, the couple has taken in as many animals as they can. At the time of writing, they admit around 500 animals a year. Read that again. Five hundred animals a year. Think about how much time, money and people it takes to provide food, shelter, medical care, and a little TLC to that many animals a year. Most animals were found and brought in by locals after being injured. A few were exotic pets that were abandoned or confiscated from their owners. All have been hurt in one way or another and are at the Jaguar Rescue Center to heal and then return to the wild. Sandro passed away in 2016, but Enca and the center continue to follow their mission to this day.

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Our Guide: Jaguar Rescue Center

Guide Daan & deer The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

The day we visited, we had Daan as our guide. Daan is a Dutch volunteer that has been at the Jaguar Rescue Center for several years. He studied animal husbandry back in the Netherlands. Yet once he visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, he knew that’s where he wanted to be.

Daan was an exceptional guide. A good guide must be knowledgeable, considerate, engaging, and passionate about the work he’s/she’s doing. Daan was all of these things. He had obviously been a tour guide at the Jaguar Rescue Center for a while. Daan had his info, timing and routine perfect, and had honed jokes for specific audiences (Germans, Americans, British, etc). As we walked around, it was apparent that he knew the animals intimately. Many of them seemed to know him, as well. He was a wealth of knowledge about each species we encountered and taught us a lot about the creatures of Costa Rica.

Animals at the Jaguar Rescue Center

howler monkey The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

We saw loads of animals during our few hours at the Jaguar Rescue Center. Below I describe a few that we saw. Keep in mind, however, that many of the animals we saw at the Jaguar Rescue Center will not be there when you visit. Hopefully, by that time they will have healed and have returned to the wild!

Also worth noting: some of the animal images in this Jaguar Rescue Center review are pictures I took. Others are not. I have used fair-use images when the pics that I took weren’t so great. As I said, this isn’t a zoo, and it certainly isn’t a photo shoot. Sometimes we saw the animals, but only for a moment. In some cases, like with the ocelot, we only saw a tail flitting outside a hole. At other times we saw the animals up close, but through glass, through screens, or in low-light that didn’t make for a good picture.

Either way, we saw lots of animals, and frequently up close. In person was much better than any image I could show you. See below and you’ll begin to understand why this Jaguar Rescue Center review is so glowing and heartfelt.

Anteaters

lesser anteater The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

There are three species of anteater in Costa Rica: lesser anteaters, giant anteaters, and silky anteaters. When we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, there was a baby lesser anteater in their care. Daan told us about their powerful claws and the pads on their feet that can detect the vibrations of ants underneath the ground.

Monkeys

Spider monkey white face capuchin The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

They get a lot of monkeys at the Jaguar Rescue Center, but we weren’t allowed to visit all of them. Why? Some are not in a place psychologically to be around humans they don’t know. For example, some were abused by humans and so we needed to keep a safe distance. This was the case with some spider monkeys on the property. One of them was owned (and abused) by a drug-dealer, and was brought to the Jaguar Rescue Center by the authorities. He now has a mate, and they are hoping to release them together.

We also saw a baby howler monkey (in the cutest diapers) as well as some white-faced capuchin monkeys. These are the species that you see in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. They’re used a lot in movies because of their intelligence level and ability to learn. Daan relayed some of his personal stories with them.

Reptiles

snakes croc The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

Daan showed us a crocodile and many snakes at the Jaguar Rescue Center, as well. There are 145 different species of snake in Costa Rica. Twenty of those species are venomous, and the country sees around 700 snake bites a year. That’s why Costa Rica is one of the biggest producers of antivenom in the world. Every hospital and clinic carries it. But don’t worry: almost all of the bites that occur in Costa Rica happen to farmers far from the tourist trail.

Wild Cats

ocelot margay The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

At the time of writing, the Jaguar Rescue Center had two wild Costa Rican cats: an ocelot and a margay. Both will likely live out the rest of their lives at the Jaguar Rescue Center, but for very different reasons. The ocelot will stay because he is old and no longer capable of hunting properly. More on him later. As for the Margay, she was released…it didn’t go well. Nicknamed “Diablino” (“little devil”), she seems to have lived up to her name. After being released, she returned to the Jaguar Rescue Center on her own and ate some of the other residents. Daan tells other stories of Diablino’s exploits on the tour.

Sloths

sloth 1 The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

We saw and interacted with more sloths at the Jaguar Rescue Center than any other creature. They have loads of sloths here. So many sloths, in fact, that they are divided into various age groups: primary school, middle school, and high school. The goal at the Jaguar Rescue Center is the get them to “graduation,” which is a cute way of saying rerelease into the wild.

We both saw and learned more about sloths than any other Costa Rican animal at the Jaguar Rescue Center. Daan had so much to say about these slow, gentle creatures that he told us we were in store for an overdose of sloth trivia. A “sloverdose,” as it were (his pun, not mine). We learned just how different three-toed and two-toed sloths are. They evolved completely separate from one another. Therefore, they have vast differences in their habits, physiology and breeding habits.

Other Costa Rican Animals at Jaguar Rescue Center

peccary paca The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

There were many other animals at the Jaguar Rescue Center. For example, there was a Costa Rican deer wandering the property — no cage, just walking around. We also saw a paca, which looked to me a lot like a beaver with slender, almost deer-like legs. Our favorite, however, was “CC,” a lovable peccary (wild boar) who wandered up to various staff to either show them love or bully them away from her food.

The Sad Stuff: Jaguar Rescue Center

The overall experience of the Jaguar Rescue Center is positive, uplifting and inspirational. We left happier than when we arrived. That said, the reasons why the Jaguar Rescue Center exists are not so joyful. As mentioned earlier, animals enter the Jaguar Rescue Center because they have been hurt. Here’s more about that.

What Happened to the Animals at the Jaguar Rescue Center?

How are these animals injured? Why are they here? Each creature has its own sad story, but our guide told us that there are four main reasons for injury: humans, humans, humans, and humans. That’s right: it’s us. In worst-case scenarios, it’s direct violence, like the crocodile who was beaten with a pipe by an unstable local. Yet in other cases, it’s our pet dogs that kill and maim various creatures. In most cases, however, the animals have been harmed indirectly by people. For example, one of the main causes of injury to animals in the Jaguar Rescue Center is electrocution. When a monkey, sloth, or bird touches an exposed power line, the results are disastrous. In fact, many of the monkeys and sloths here were brought in as babies. Their mother was carrying them when she died from the shock.

Survival Rates & Quality of Life

Many animals die from their injuries soon after they arrive at the Jaguar Rescue Center. Others are put to sleep because of pain, irreparable damage or other anguish. That said, it’s all about the quality of life here. As long as the staff judge an animal to have a high quality of life, then they can stay at the center and prepare for release if possible. This is a subjective judgment of course, but the staff looks for signs of pain, stress, and self-sustainability.

For example, on the grounds is a parrot who was born without eyes. He could not survive in the wild, of course. Yet he seems to enjoy interacting with staff and shows no indicators of bird stress (aggressive behavior, pulling out feathers, etc). That’s why the staff decided to let him live out his life at the Jaguar Rescue Center.

Another example is Roy, an aging ocelot. Severe arthrosis means that his joints don’t work the way they used to. He can’t catch prey anymore, so he’ll live out his days here. Both he and Diablino (the margay mentioned earlier) show no signs of stress for their species (pacing, self-mutilation, etc) so they’ll stay.

Summary of the Jaguar Rescue Center

sloth square The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica - Jaguar Rescue Center Review

Here’s a quick recap of the most important information in this Jaguar Rescue Center Review. Plus some of the vitals.

  • The Jaguar Rescue Center is not a zoo. It is a place for injured animals to heal and return to the wild. That means the animals may be different when you visit.
  • There are a variety of tours available through the Jaguar Rescue Center, starting at USD $20 per person (kids under 10 free). We took the public tour, but they have private tours, night tours of the release station, and more.
  • Our guide was great: the perfect mix of education and entertainment. Tours are available in English, Spanish, German, French and Dutch.

Further Reading:

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Disclosure: The Jaguar Rescue Center sponsored our tour.  However, my opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you enjoy Costa Rica with kids. We honestly loved our tour and I’d be writing the exact same Jaguar Rescue Center review regardless of whether or not they covered the $20 tickets. We truly hope to visit again in the near future — as guests or (hopefully) as Jaguar Rescue Center volunteers!

Image Credits:  #7,  #8,  #9, #10, #12, #14,  #15

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