Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center

Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center

I am not one who enjoys days and days of sitting by the pool or on a beach but need to be kept constantly busy experiencing new things. In previous trips I have spent weeks volunteering for Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia and was keen to do something similar again. Despite Costa Ricans (Ticos) taking great pride in their rich wildlife there are still problems here, for example deforestation and turtle egg poachers. So, after hours of searching for a worthy cause I came across the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center who rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured wildlife.

We chose to start our trip at the center by spending a week living and volunteering here with their rescued animals, some of which will be released back into the wild. My first impressions of the place were similar to other sanctuaries I have visited, very simple living conditions, no hot water and some noisy wildlife! I had read some information on the back story of the rescue center and once I was there I realised that the history behind the place is incredibly sad but also incredibly inspiring.

The center is run by Marielo and Bernal Lizano who actually had to move the center from Moi to San Miguel in January 2015 due to the Government’s Moi Container Terminal Project (building a commercial port). The couple were only give one month to move all the animals to a new site which had no cages or resources. The animals were put under a great deal of stress and many tragically died in the process. But it does not end there. Previous to this, their close friend (and NGO worker) Jairo Mora Sandoval, who worked with them protecting the turtles from poachers, was brutally murdered in the most shocking way. It is believed that he was murdered deliberately to stop the center challenging the Government over the building project. There were also volunteers who were raped at this time. Whilst I was at the center Marielos received a distressing video from the accused murderers showing them committing the same awful acts on a turtle as had happened to Jairo. This horrific story just demonstrated the sheer determination of Marielos and Bernal to continue protecting these animals and the passion and love they showed them was immeasurable.

Despite this sad tale, the center is looking to purchase a new 4.5 acre property just up the road from the current 1.5 acre site. We were lucky enough to go and visit the site and it looks truly amazing with so much more space for both animals and volunteers. If you would like to help fundraise for the new site the link us:

But back to my experiences at the centre. Every morning and afternoon we would meet to allocate jobs for the day. The majority of our time was spent cleaning or preparing food for the animals but the biggest highlight for me was seeing animals that I have never encountered elsewhere. Some animals I had very little or no knowledge of prior to my arrival, for example, kinkajous and olingos. These went on to be my ‘favourites’ of the center. Of course one of the things Costa Rica is well known for is it’s sloths! So, when I got to ‘babysit’ a sloth for the first time I was just a little excited to say the least! Ena was her name and interacting with her was amazing, although little did I know that she wasn’t particularly fond of being moved from her branch. I found this out when it was time to return her to her enclosure and she bit my finger! It is important to note that not all the animals here have human contact as the aim is to release as many as possible. However, some animals are just too tame to ever be released, the kinkajous and olingo are examples of these. Both these animals enjoy human contact and would happily sit on your shoulder and ask for the bellies to be rubbed. Some of the howler monkeys also enjoyed sitting on your head whilst trying to clean their enclosure, which was tricky at times! My greatest joy, however, came from helping to prepare a bigger enclosure for Itchy the olingo. Itchy was a nervous little character whose current cage was not really big enough. So, we prepared a new cage for her with much higher branches for her to climb. She was still settling in to her new cage when we left but I hope she finds it much more enjoyable than her previous enclosure.

There are so many inspiring stories I could tell you about the center and the animals themselves but it would take forever! But one of the most important things I take away from places like this is that you should never give up on something you are truly passionate about, no matter what the cost. A week of no hair straighteners, no makeup and limited entertainment means you REALLY get to know people without all those distractions. It reminds you of all the wonderful people out there who give up their time for causes like this because they really do care. It reminds you of all the important things in life and what really isn’t important. At home, I worry too much about things, things I can’t change. When, actually, we should all be focusing on the things we can change, the things we can do. With that in mind, Marielos said to me that something her and Jairo used to say to each other was ‘I’d rather die on the beach, than die in my bed’. And I think that sums it up quite nicely.

If you want more information on the center, visit them here:


UPDATE: CRARC purchased their new site, shortly after our visit. It is much bigger than the previous site with meadows, streams and new enclosures being built every day. If you plan to volunteer at the center I don’t think you will be disappointed!

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