Volunteering at Wild Sun Rescue Center in Costa Rica

There will be more travelogue type posts coming about how I’m spending my free time, but today I’d like to talk more about Wild Sun now that I’ve been here a while.

For anyone needing a reminder from the initial announcement post I made about visiting Costa Rica, Wild Sun Rescue Center is a non-profit located in the small town of Cabuya near the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Their mission is two-fold: the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of local wildlife; and finding solutions to the problems they are facing.

Anyone signing up for a volunteer or temporary position far from home probably worries a little about whether the experience will match their expectations. Wild Sun has a great website, but that’s no guarantee that a place is going to be what it presents itself as. I didn’t have to worry about that with Wild Sun though, as I learned about this place from a friend who comes here often. In the days following my arrival, two things quickly became obvious: First, that Wild Sun does not have the level of equipment that I was use to seeing from animal facilities in the US. But secondly, that they care about the animals very, very much.

The Rescue Center

We’ve been averaging between 30 and 35 animals at the rescue center at any given time, not including the macaws. Right now we have 19 howler monkeys, three capuchin monkeys, six squirrels, four parrots, a raccoon, a woodpecker, a paca (a large, nocturnal rodent)… recently we released another squirrel, a turtle, and an anteater.

Some of these animals are adults, here for only as long as it takes to get them healthy again. But a larger number are orphaned youngsters, here because something happened to their mom, or because they had an injury or illness and weren’t able to keep up. These animals stay at Wild Sun until they reach sexual maturity, and are cared for in such as way as to minimize human contact, so that they stay wild and are capable of fending for themselves once released.

A large number of the animals that come through Wild Sun are here because of human influence.

Dog attacks are a big problem for wildlife in Costa Rica, dogs are allowed to roam freely here and spaying or neutering is not common. I never take a trip into Cabuya without seeing dogs wandering the streets. Many of our howler monkeys are here due to power line electrocution. By law all power lines and transformers should be insulated to protect the monkeys, but few actually are. Howlers have a fully prehensile tail and use it like a fifth arm, so they’re more likely to complete a circuit on power lines. One of the intern volunteers here is spearheading a project to get sky bridges built to cross roads where the lines aren’t insulated and monkeys regularly use them to cross and get in trouble.

These four young howlers are similar in age and housed together, they’re already forming strong bonds with each other. When they’re old enough, they’ll be released together as a new troop which greatly increases their chances of survival.

The Scarlet Macaws

Wild Sun has a partnership with AsoProLapa, a Scarlet Macaw breeding program located near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula. AsaProLapa has been breeding and releasing macaws near Tambor for a few years, and now the program is being expanded to Wild Sun due to the center’s favorable location right next to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Just days before I arrived the macaws did: six breeding pairs, plus 16 juveniles that have a tentative release date of July. The center’s consulting biologist made the decision that the macaws should have just a couple regular caretakers and I’m not one of them, so I rarely get to see them. But they’re beautiful!

Animal Care

As a volunteer, my job is primarily focused on animal care.

A lot of time goes into food prep and feeding. When I worked with primates in the US we got bags of processed food in to feed the monkeys (like dog or cat food…. but for monkeys), and it was quite simple. Processed diets exist for a lot of other wildlife species as well. But since we’re going to be releasing all these animals back into the wild, we need to try to simulate their natural diet as much as possible. That means chopping and preparing a lot of fruits and veggies every day for older animals.

Cleaning is also a big part of the daily routine. Enclosures need to be kept clean, and there are always lots of dishes and laundry… then there’s also enrichment. Put a wild animal in a cage with nothing to do and it quickly becomes unwell, especially parrots and monkeys. To keep the animals mentally and physically stimulated we take machetes into the woods daily and collect branches and greenery to put inside their enclosures to keep them busy. Constructing platforms, ladders, and little puzzles that food can be placed inside are all part of this category. Enrichment is rotated frequently to keep things fresh.

Animal Nursing

There are two major areas to the rescue center, pre-release, and ICU (the clinic). Animals that are in stable condition and older stay in pre-release, infants and those needing frequent medical care stay in the ICU. When a new animal comes in, it first falls under the care of the three managers, who are here full-time. They work with the vet to figure out what kind of treatment it needs, and then train us volunteers on how to do what needs to be done, there are 15 of us volunteers right now.

Animals that come in are assigned a β€œlevel” to be able to handle them, and new volunteers come in at level 1, cleared only for the basic tasks (feeding and cleaning). For a volunteer to reach the next level requires being comfortable with the current level’s tasks, a certain amount of time, a verbal test of knowledge.

More on Wild Sun

Jeremy Levine is the director of Wild Sun, he moved to Costa Rica from the US in 2007 to start a Spanish, yoga, surf, and fire dancing school, and got into wildlife rescue because of his love for animals and the area’s need for a center. The focus of Wild Sun these days is on the rescue center, but the resort end of things still exists, and is the reason why I have such an awesome pool to relax in after a long shift.

You can visit the resort website for info on staying at Wild Sun as a guest and taking classes. For more on the center, or if you’re interested in volunteering, visit the rescue center website. And if you ever find yourself in this corner of Costa Rica, public tours are available by appointment on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with my experience here. It’s a beautiful place and I have a lot in common with my fellow volunteers. The work is different enough from the veterinary technician work I use to do to challenge me to grow, and I end each shift feeling accomplished and happy that I get to be a part of such a great cause.

Wild Sun gets no money from the government, this place is entirely privately funded. So instead of sharing the IO Patreon page like I usually do at the end of my posts, today I’m sharing Wild Sun’s Patreon page! Pledges go towards feeding and caring for the animals at the center, and conservation efforts like the Scarlet Macaw program. Every little bit helps. And if you’re not in a position to contribute financially, you can still help by liking and interacting with Wild Sun’s Facebook page, and sharing Wild Sun with friends and family who may be interested in what we’re doing here.

Thank you all for following along on this latest adventure!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

12 Comments

  1. Paul Dahl on April 6, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Volunteering has been one of the great rewards we have experienced in our travels. So nice that you have found a special place to volunteer and use your vet tech training. You rock!



    • Becky on April 12, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Yes Paul, volunteering feels so good, I’m always glad when I’m able to work it into my travels. πŸ™‚



  2. Bet on April 2, 2019 at 6:20 am

    People who volunteer for these kinds of events always inspire me to be like them. You guys are prime examples of how unselfish people should behave. The Wild Sun rescue center is probably so thankful for your help, you did amazing!



    • Becky on April 12, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      I’m glad this post inspired you Bet!



  3. Melissa Zieleniewski on March 28, 2019 at 10:54 am

    I love reading about your experiences. I’ve been following your posts for a while. This one looks like, extra fun built into your latest adventure!

    I have a daughter who is majoring in Wildlife Biology. Wild Sun looks like an awesome place to volunteer or intern. Its helpful reading about someone’s first hand experience there.

    Thank you for sharing your time there. I hope the rest of your time there is full of adventure and safe travels. πŸ™‚



    • Becky on April 12, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      We actually have two Wildlife Biology interns here Melissa, hah. Glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for following along!



  4. Carl on March 23, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience in Costa Rica! Sounding like you are having lots of fun and learning new ways to care for animals and birds! We really enjoy reading your blog.
    Please keep writing! Stay safe!



    • Becky on March 24, 2019 at 11:10 am

      Thanks for reading Carl, glad to have you along on the adventure!



  5. Norm H. on March 23, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Looks like you are enjoying a very fulfilling adventure abroad. Looking forward to additional reports.



    • Becky on March 24, 2019 at 11:01 am

      I sure am Norm, thanks!



  6. ann cabezas creed on March 23, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Thank you for the most interesting article! I live in CR in central valley part of the year. I was married to a C Rican for many years and grew to love this little country. Im sure it will grow on you also. please take a look at my website.

    I write blog post on this web site. May I write a short story about Sun Rescue and your work?
    Regards, ann cabezas creed



    • Becky on March 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

      You’re welcome Ann, glad you enjoyed this! I’ve actually visited your website before and have it saved on my computer, maybe from when I first mentioned my Costa Rica plans last year. πŸ™‚ Yes, you have my permission to write about Wild Sun!



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