The Toucan Rescue Ranch is quite an amazing place to experience, if you are a nature and wildlife lover it is a must in your Costa Rica Holiday. If you are enjoying a family trip to Costa Rica, this rescue center is something your children enjoy tremendously.
I once read somewhere, that when you give love, your level of endorphins goes up. But, amazingly it also happens when you witness an act of love giving. This happened to me when I first went to the Toucan Rescue Ranch.
As you get in through quite a narrow road on the way to the mountains of the Central Volcanic Range, the gate doesn’t give you a hint of what is to see in the inside.
As we called saying that we were going for the tour, a slender man (We would know later that he is Jorge, one of the founders) opened the gate with a smile, and we entered into a normal Costa Rican “Quinta” (A small summer house sort of property, not a farm but a house with a lot of terrain around). However you know that there was something different in this “quinta” mainly because of the noises, macaws and toucans could be heard in stereo, from all over the place. And then, of course, as we went all the way in, we could see the cages around this well maintained garden.
We were welcomed by Jorge who immediately took us to Leslie, his wife and partner and co-founder of the rescue center. She was sitting on a rocking chair feeding a baby sloth with a syringe. There were some people around watching how it was done, and asking questions. Later on I realized that they were staying at their guesthouses (They have two guesthouses for five people each) and doing the tour as a part of their stay.
As we arrived to this terrace, a movement on a wooden rocking chair got my attention… There were a bunch of blankets and some stuffed toys that I thought were for the animals to play… That I thought! Well! One of them was that… the other ones were perfectly alive! Three or four baby sloths moving around on each chair, slowly and cuddled in the blankets… Literally speaking I almost burst in tears! They were so extremely vulnerable, but somehow, there is such an extremely powerful innocence in them. Something that gets into your heart and mind and warms them up, like an aromatic torch of gentleness.
They are instinctively learning to climb on the chair, and reaching out to get some attention from the people around. Silent and yet so present! These were all two toed sloths, and then I saw in the back and on an almond tree, a juvenile three toed sloth. So close, so easy… Jorge went to it and grabbed it like a small baby. I was very tempted to touch it but Jorge explained that no visitors are allowed to touch any of the animals as they are in vulnerable health conditions and some of them badly traumatized. “If all visitors touch them… Imagine!” he said.
We were summoned to go to an area in the house and Anton introduced himself as our guide. Anton is one of six German volunteers staying at Toucan Rescue Ranch and helping Leslie and Jorge with the animals. (The volunteer fee is really low and it can be a life changing experience).
He told us about how Leslie had started the rescue center in 2004 mainly for toucans. In Costa Rica we have six different species of toucans, and she started receiving the birds from Minae (Environment Department of CR government), but then, one day, they brought a small sloth whose mother had been killed… She received the name of “Milagro” (Miracle) a usual Costa Rican female name, and ended up being called Millie. Still there… so beautiful and so peaceful!
Then he went on talking about all the different species they have received, the releasing of some and the reasons why some of them will never be released. And after that, we started the tour, that lasted almost two hours. Very detailed, really interesting.
About the Rescue Center
You see… Rescue Centers in Costa Rica are not zoos… And we must understand that!
They are not places made for the public, although they do survive from the public visits and donations. Their cages are the size they must be (And sometimes this means big, really big!) the food has to be very specific at times, and the amount of work is truly endless. And no, they do not receive a penny from any institution. Although the Minae (Environment Department) can be very strict in their inspections, food cage sized, medicines, etc… they inspect everything!) Rescue Centers are places created and maintained by people with a vision and a lot of love for animals and life itself. In this case, Leslie and Jorge. While I was there, in the house, I saw Leslie -at least three times- feeding babies with a syringe. Jorge says that she has short nights, as they have now eight baby sloths and the baby monkey, and they are in need of food continuously.
They buy 500 kilos of papaya a week! Can you imagine how much 500 Kg of papayas cost? And that is only in papaya, they also buy watermelons, cantaloupe and carrots, dog and cat food and a lot of vitamins and medicines. And it all comes from donations, guesthouses and visitors… And yet, visitors cannot be their priority. Their priority are the animals. Their health, their welfare.
They receive several different animals all the time. Nowadays they have a mot-mot with a broken wing, an ollinga, a couple of Montezuma Oropendolas, some Great Curassows, a kinkajou, a river otter, a Great Potoo (Amazing bird!), three porcupines, several owls, a big gray hawk, two spider monkeys and now she has a baby, a truly small and super cute spider monkey whose mother was killed in mysterious conditions and that needs more attention than a human baby would.
And then, they also raise rabbits, mice and chickens in order to produce some of the food right there. (For the carnivores of the family! The margay, the hawk and the owls of course).
About the tour
The tour lasted for a couple of hours, Anton was extremely knowledgeable regarding the animals. And the two girls who came with us (Starting to volunteer) were very cooperative also. They opened the cages and let us stand at the door to take some of the pictures. Not more than that… again, the priority is the animal’s welfare. Not pleasing tourists.
We went cage by cage, seeing all the different species that are in the cages, some to be set free, and some to live there for the rest of their lives. Anton told us the natural history on each specie and taught us some great details on each animal’s story.
I would like to write a special mention about the river otter: in Costa Rica we call them “water dogs” and up until I saw this one’s behavior I didn’t understand why. But his amazing animal is like a small and super cute Golden Retriever… As joyful and playful! I could sit all day long just looking at it and playing with it. They are water animals, and this one has a really small water pond, but Leslie told me that they are into finding funds for a real pool for it to swim and play as it would in nature.
About releasing… or not, the animals.
Now… why are they in cages? Why not releasing these animals back to the forest?
Well! In fact, a lot of them are released! Toucan Rescue Ranch has a farm in the Northern area where they take the animals to be released. If they arrive to the rescue center with minor injuries and untouched instincts to survive in the wild.
And actually some of them will never be back in nature. Unfortunately, some of them who were caught from the wilderness when they were babies will never adapt to live independently again, they do not know how to gather food or to fight for their territory if they need that. Also animals that are brought to the Ranch with severe wounds that will prevent them from eating, hunting or supporting itself in the wild.
In the case of the three toed sloths, they do develop certain bacteria that live in their stomachs in order to eat this or that leaf. If they do not have the bacteria (That is developed from their mothers, mouth to mouth, when they are really small) they will not develop it later on. Nothing a human can do about that.
Macaws wings –as to give another example- are formed and strengthened when they are babies and in their nests, when poachers bring them out of their original places, their wings will never be able to fly long distances.
As we finished the tour, Leslie herself took me to see the clinic (Amazing!) and the kitchen where they prepare all the food for the animals. Both donated by visitors. J
She said that their wish list has two main objectives now (The list is huge in needs but their focus are these two big projects), one is an x-ray machine for the clinic (So that they do not have to go miles with a hurt and traumatized animal to the vet school of the National University) and the second is a pool for aquatic animals to be able to live the way they do in nature (Especially thinking about the gorgeous and extremely cute –and smart- river otter).
If you want to donate for this amazing cause you can go to http://toucanrescueranch.org/donate/ and if you want to volunteer they do have special programs that cost only $50 a week. Find them here: http://toucanrescueranch.org/get-involved/volunteer/
About the sloths
Sloths as cute and small as they look, used to be one of those prehistorian giants (As you can actually see it in the unforgettable Sid in Ice Age movies) that, because of food scarcity and safety they became smaller and developed a bacteria digestive system that can only be passed from mother to baby. When in the wild they live up on the trees and because of this digestion system their metabolism is extremely slow… as long as they are not running away from something or in the water, as they are great swimmers. Their hair has a different design from mostly all mammals as it is made for an algae to cover it. And, well! Moths live on the algae… So, yes! The sloth is actually a moving habitat itself. Another interesting detail about them is that they come down from their tree once a week to defecate and in their feces is actually where moths deposit their eggs. They will hatch and the next time the sloth comes down the new moths will hop on the sloth’s hair.
Every now and then, when you are driving in the humid lowlands of Costa Rica, you see them, on the ground, the best way to help is getting a long stick between two people and help it get on a tree. Do not touch them please, as cute as they are their claws are long and if it feels cornered it will use them… as Wolverine do!
At the end of this journey my Spirit was touched and I felt tremendously grateful and honored for knowing people like Anton and all the volunteers and of course Leslie and Jorge. Human beings that give their time and their lives for the good of defenseless creatures that die terrible deaths if these people wouldn’t exist. Their dedication is infinite, their love overwhelming, their lives a tribute to life itself.
On the side of traveling… Yes! Anyone coming to San Jose should visit Toucan Rescue Ranch! Especially families or true animals lovers! It is a truly amazing life experience that will give you faith and joy, touch your hearts and souls, forever.
At the very end of my interview with Leslie, I told her that more people like her were needed in this World… and she smiled back and said “What… crazy?” … And I said with a smile… “Yes, crazy good”. Now that I look back to that moment, I have to re-phrase this, Leslie is not crazy, she is a formidable human being that decided to give love as a life style and a state of mind. We might all be crazy for not letting ourselves live and give like that.