She is documenting her adventures across the continent and sharing her experiences of food, history, culture and nature with us. Expect to read about ancient temples, local restaurants and the best places in the world to go walking.
12 Nov 2018 Somewhere in Costa Rica: Ethical Wildlife Watching in Manuel Antonio
This week I visited a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation project supported by the Latin America Travel Association’s charity, the LATA Foundation, near Manuel Antonio National Park called Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR). Founded in 1999 by two nine-year-old girls, KSTR now comprises three interns, five volunteers and four full-time employees including an on-site vet. They look after over a hundred injured and orphaned animals each year including two-toed and three-toed sloths, various types of monkeys, parrots and parakeets.
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Wandering along Manuel Antonio beach it’s easy to believe that wildlife here is more accessible to visitors too, as several species of monkey are bold enough to beg for food or make off with one of your shoes. However, touching and feeding wildlife is highly illegal and the Costa Rican government imposes strict fines on tours that offer this. There is a huge knowledge gap around the dangers that tourism poses to local wildlife which KSTR are trying to address and you can see their influence all over Quepos and the local area.
Waiting for the bus I notice ropes strung up over the road between the power lines on each side. These ropes act as a bridge across the highways for spider monkeys, squirrels and iguanas. They are installed by the regional electricity company, who now donate a day of labour free of charge each month, to prevent endangered species from being hit by cars.
But the main way KSTR want to engage with tourists is by teaching them to keep their food under wraps at the beach or park – human food is one of the biggest threats to the local monkey population. More and more pregnant females are giving birth to stillborn babies as they steadily become malnourished. Animals born with birth defects are often picked up by locals and passed on to KSTR’s rescue sanctuary, which is open to the public six mornings a week.
They very kindly took me on one of their tours around their facility where injured or orphaned animals are rehabilitated. I was picked up from my hotel and greeted by Kerri, the volunteer manager who is in charge of the various volunteers and interns who keep the program running. She moved here from the USA with her 10 year old daughter, an aspiring veterinary nurse, who also helps the research interns with their work. I also meet Dr Jennifer Rice, the director whose daughter, Jeanine, was one of the original founders. Both of them are emotional as they explain how a LATA Foundation donation helped fund the facilities to rehabilitate and release back to the wild a pack of squirrel monkeys, all of whom had been individually rescued over a period of several years.
During the tour I am introduced to a variety of animals and taught how to behave in front of their enclosures with teeth covered, no eye contact and neutral body language in front of monkeys, for example, so you don’t appear to be a challenge. We stay a safe distance away from enclosures so as not to spread any human germs and Kerri explains the complexity of the human/primate relationships that can develop if spider monkeys have too much exposure to humans. Several hours later I witnessed a group of tourists, who left their food unattended on a beach within the national park itself, pointing and shrieking as a pack of squirrel monkeys raided their sandwiches.
What is striking about KSTR compared with other rescue centres is the quality of care and compassion given to the animals. One resident is an unfortunate sloth whose lower body was paralysed after being hit by a car several months ago. Instead of being euthanized, he’s being treated with operations, acupuncture and physical therapy (see photo below) and is starting to regain the use of his back legs. Some animals are still too poorly to meet the public, but there are several other miracle stories to meet, including two coatimundis who are completely blind and cannot be released back to the wild. KSTR provides them with sanctuary and they are lucky enough to have each other for company.
KSTR are currently raising funds for an inhalation anaesthesia machine for the hundreds of operations they perform each year. KSTR receive most of their funding from tours of their rehabilitation centre and internships, but you can also pay to volunteer for a day with their team. If a visit doesn’t fit with your schedule, their website has lots of resources for behaving respectfully around the local wildlife. To make the most of a visit to the area, I’d recommend visiting KSTR before going to Manuel Antonio National Park. Or run the risk of losing your lunch.
Tours to the Kids Saving the Rainforest wildlife sanctuary must be pre-booked. KSTR operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 9am-12pm. Costs are US$60 per adult/$45 per child (3-12 years). Children must be accompanied by adults.
Revealed Travel books tours to the KSTR wildlife sanctuary in conjunction with tailor-made holidays to Costa Rica for passengers.
Manuela’s own blog: https://run4thehills.com/