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!
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.
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 “level” 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!