A Day in the Life of a Volunteer at Jaguar Rescue Center

I drag my ass out of bed at about 6:30; feed Cat; wash teeth, brush face… or is it the other way around? Hopeful  coffee is ready so armed with my Spanish/English dictionary I approach the kitchen and inquire to the cook’s health this fine/wet morning. If I am lucky I will get a Spanish grunt out of him as I scurry to the coffee pot – some days it will be fresh, others made the day before and aged to, well, crap. Today I get fresh, Yah! I have sworn off off the eggs, the grease level is way too high and fill up on wonderful bread and peanut butter (mine) and fruit.

Pink Panther

Soon I mount my trusty steed – the Pink Panther and I am off.  It is about 20 min. ride to the rescue center and it is always such a delight. At 7:15 it is quiet, mostly locals pedalling off to work and receptive to my greetings. The air is fresh and the Howlers and the dogs have all gone to bed  so it is quiet and I am surrounded by nature, lush and green with vivid splashes of flower power. Not for the last time today, I will think me a lucky girl.

I arrive at Jaguar and park with the many bikes, they being the #1 mode of transportation in this neighbourhood. I go to check the roster to see what I will be doing today; could be cleaning and feeding the birds, cleaning nose and finger prints off the miles of glass, cleaning and feeding the baby sloths in their house, cleaning the monkey dorm or helping Jimmy with the gardening (raking the millions of leaves that fall every hour!). Note that there is always cleaning going on here, it is never done.

I am on Sloth house today – Yipppeee! It means that I will be cleaning as the buggers try to grab hold of me for a morning cuddle, and once they lay a claw on you, you’re doomed to do the work with a sloth attached to you! oh darn. :}.

I grab some rags and disinfectant, a wheel barrow and some leaves to keep them pacified and go in. Surfer will be scooting along the large branches that lace the enclosure, squawking his indignation that it has taken me too long to get there and hug him. At times I will find myself running, crouched over, to avoid those nails, but to no avail. While mostly they are slow, baby sloths will break speed limits to get some cuddle time, especially Surfer since the others refuse to allow him into “their” cubbies. It is not hard to convince me that hugging a baby sloth is not the worse thing in the world and I let him hang on my hands and draw him close. I burrow my face in his coat inhaling the wonderful sloth smell I can’t seem to get enough of.

Finally the enclosure is cleaned and the dishes of vegetables are ready and the lucky sloths get breakfast in bed. Sometimes we need to help them figure it out but soon they are ready to play outside. The bamboo mat is laid as close to the bushes as possible then we carefully we ease them out on top of their blankets and urge them to grab hold of a branch. Some are happy to get into the “hang” of things but Surfer and Frankie often make a play to hook you into a hug. But while we could all spend the day spoiling them it is important for their development that they spend as much time doing sloth-like things in baby sized trees, aka – bushes.

Someone drops the basket of kids from the nursery off and we pile them up on their blankets near a bush so that if they want to they can give it a try. They are so young that they have just started to be interested but what’s funny is that if one starts to climb, one of the others will hug and drag him back to the blanket. There’s 3 of them: one 3-toed and two 2-toed and while in nature the 2 species never hang together, (in fact sloths don’t hang with anyone except their babies) being mom-less causes them to cling to one another and to us. I guess it takes all of us to try and replace their moms and we still don’t cut it but we’re better than nothing, right? The love we lavish on these babies often can mean the difference of life and death for them.

All morning the tours will come by and end at the Sloth Garden and often people can’t resist lingering and taking endless pictures and asking more questions or just standing and watching them. Sloths cause smiles. I was on Trip Advisor the other day checking out what the visitors had to say and looking at their pics and OMG there I am!  I wonder how many pics of me are out there in netspace… Occasionally someone will drop off some Hibiscus blooms; the babies LOVE them!

Baby sloth and Hibiscus bloom

The afternoon comes and with the last visitor a quiet descends  on the center and we take turns having lunch, never leaving the sloths alone. The people with forest duty have literally followed the last visitor out of the monkey mansion draped with the rest of the monkeys, usually about 4 each, and they march off to an afternoon of play in the trees where they get to just be monkeys. If the morning was particularly busy with visitors the monkeys will really be keyed up and looking forward to burning off energy in the forest. This, I think, is the key to Encar and Sandro’s release agenda. People’s #1 concern is that with all the human contact that the monkeys have how will they be able to be released successfully? It is because of all the access they have to the forest and to the wild monkeys every day. This is where they are reminded that they are indeed monkeys and they are ultimately in control of when they are ready not to come back to the center. Out there they are not in a cage or in any way constrained. It is amazing!

Baby howlers in the forest… and on the blanket

The really young ones rarely venture far from the blanket and their humans, they roll around playing with each other  and using us for comfort and as play mats. But they do start to go a little further each day as they get more confidant and watch their older sibs having so much fun high up in the tree canopy.

While the monkeys are all in the forest the rest of us not watching the Sloths, are cleaning the monkey mansion, and I mean clean! Every surface is disinfected within an inch of its life. All morning the people working in the MM are constantly cleaning up the feces and the urine and any food that hits the dirt so there isn’t a lot of that stuff to deal with now, unless they got really excited which always translates into exploding diarrhea. EEEEUUUUU. Not pretty and it smells even worse.

After all is clean we feed Orlando ( squirrel), who has us roaring with laughter at his energetic eating dance. Boris (the wooly opossum) gets some live monster grasshoppers – fascinating and gross all at the same time as this cute little critter tears them apart.

Boris the woolly opossum

Xai (deer) gets some food as does the birds. One of the staff feeds the hawks (don’t ask) and the horses.

Sloth cubby

The sloths get tucked into their cubbies with clean blankets and fed. Then the monkeys arrive back from the forest full of their day and themselves, often to the soundtrack of “We are the Champions”! Lua ( the coati), who spends the day out with the monkeys, comes tearing in as well. Bottles are handed out to any spare hands and monkey madness ensues. Pushing and shoving and demanding and pouting. Some have their favourite nipples, some just want THAT bottle because someone else is drinking from it. There is also plates of fruit and vegetables and some actually get eaten and not thrown around. These are healthy happy animals secure that they are safe and loved no matter how foolish they are.

Suddenly it is all done… at least for today and we slowly trundle off to have coffee or what have you. It is a very full 8 hours, 5 days a week but it is good work that leaves me feeling satisfied that in some small way I made a positive difference today.

I feel very honoured and fortunate beyond words to have had this experience. It has changed me profoundly to experience what good people can do to make a difference. Thank you Jaguar Rescue Center for all you do every day without fail.

20 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Volunteer at Jaguar Rescue Center

  1. So interesting–I can only imagine the amount of work involved with keeping all of these animals happy, healthy and fed! I loved hearing about the sloths as I know so little about these creatures-they sound adorable! Very cool. Donnae–experience of a lifetime.


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  3. Hi!
    Found your post when I was looking for volunteer stories from Jaguar Rescue Center as I will be going there myself in January, and I must say your post made me wanna go there right away! I almost cried (out of joy, of course) reading it 🙂
    About your time at the rescue center, when off duty are you able to go exploring Costa Rica any? As in doing a day trip up north and such?


    • Oooooh you lucky girl! Your off days are your own to explore, the problem is that you don’t get 2 days off in a row (at least when I was there) which makes it tricky to do any distance exploring. But there are plenty of things around to see within a day so it’s all good. The one thing I highly recommend is that you either rent or buy a bike while you’re there, it is so worth it. Sometimes you can buy one from volunteers who are about to leave. If you decide to rent go outside of Puerto Viejo, like past Jaguar and haggle for a deal for your entire visit.
      Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear from you.


      • Thanks for your quick response and for the tip! Will definitely try to buy a bike (loved your bike btw) and at least discover the surroundings, good to know though that I shouldn’t expect any long distance day trips 🙂
        Absolutely! Take care!


  4. Hi, I loved reading this. I am going to South/Central America next year & I’m hoping to volunteer at the JRC. What time of year did you volunteer and how long were you doing it for? Can you speak/read Spanish? Thanks Julia


    • Glad you enjoyed the post! I went Jan/Feb and I think the minimum volunteer commitment is 3 weeks, which is what I did. I’m glad it was that long and would even do it longer since the longer you are there the more you learn and the more you are able to give. And it was great because I started feeling like I was part of the community a little. I had spent 2 weeks volunteering at a rescue in the north/west of Costa Rica, doing Spanish class in the morning and animal work in the afternoon. And still I just couldn’t get very far in terms fluency 😦 I think I’m missing that gene)
      Thanks for coming by 🙂 I’d love it if you’d let me know how it goes.


  5. Hi, so happy I found this blog! I am very close to booking a volunteer holiday at the Jaguar Rescue. I am a mid-forties professional (from Canada) who has travelled alone for business, but never a trip like this. I’m a little nervous, but very determined! I prefer accomodations with my own personal space, and am wondering what you would suggest. Just not sure I am up for sleeping with strangers. I guess I will be using a bike to get to the rescue? lol been a while since I’ve ridden a bike! Looking forward to your reply, keep up the writing and best of luck in your search!! Sherri, Manitoba

    ps ANY tips you can provide would be soooo appreciated!


    • I’m glad you found me too!
      You are going to have a blast at Jaguar! You will fall in love a hundred times and have your heart broken and healed a hundred more.
      I too am not much of a communal person so I relate. There are quite a few places you can rent long term, ask Jaguar if they have a list of suggestions. I’ll email a friend who is often the volunteer co-ordinator if she can suggest some contacts.
      Definitely rent or buy a bike. Sometimes you can buy one cheap from a departing volunteer. If you decide to rent do not do it in town, way more expensive. Further down the coast will be where you’ll likely find a place to stay anyway. Have you read the other posts about my time there? Just do a search on my home page ‘costa rica’. Oh don’t bother trying to rough it by taking a bus from San Jose, there are tourist mini-buses that are reasonable and much more likely to get you there in one piece. LOL
      I’m awfully proud of you for taking the solo leap, you will be challenged to be sure but the rewards are great. Keep in touch and if you think of any other questions don’t hesitate to contact me.


  6. Hi, thank you for this great post. I was searching for a animal center to volunteer and after reading your post I think the Jaguar rescue center would be great. What I am surprised of is that there is a lot of cuddling with the animals. The other rescue center I have identified insist on that, being volunteer is not cuddling animal but limiting the contact with them to facilitate their release.
    Regarding the interaction with the locals and the other volunteers, was it enriching ? Was there a good atmosphere ? Did you live all at the same place ? Maybe you have already writen something about it…
    (sorry for my English, I’m French)


    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the post.
      I highly recommend Jaguar, their commitment to the animals are unequaled. The cuddling occurs only in the very young ophans, they like us, need that to survive. But as soon as possible they are weaned of us and onto a teddy bear and each other.
      Great atmosphere, it’s always enriching to be surrounded by other people so committed to animals. The area is very social with a lot of travellers, ex-pats and locals. In terms of accommodations, there are a lot of different options to choose from, I also heard that they have opened a communal residence on the property for volunteers which would be great. Contact them for advise. The #1 thing I can recommend is that you buy or rent a bicycle – you truly can’t live without one. 🙂
      These are the other posts I’ve written about my experience there:
      Let me know if you go and tell me all about it!


  7. Hi there!

    Hope you’re all good! I remember I promised to let you know when I’ve been to the center and thought you might fancy this post:

    I absolutely loved it and I will most likely go back, maybe even in September again 🙂

    So to everyone else with questions, I also highly recommend it. I love how they are very clear about not being a zoo and to always think of ways to train them back into the wild.

    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello!
    I stumbled across this post whilst researching into volunteering at Jaguar and there is some great advice on here! I am due to start volunteering in August and was wondering if you could give me some advice.

    Firstly, my flight does not arrive into San José until midnight, do you know if it is possible to get a tourist minibus at this time? Or would I be best to stay in a hotel in San José and travel in the morning?

    Also, I have received some helpful information about places to stay from the centre but I was wondering if you guys could suggest any? This is the first time I have travelled by myself to Costa Rica and I would like to stay in a safe area that I would still be able to meet people and some fellow travellers.

    Many thanks for your posts, they are really helpful!


    • Thank you for your kind words!
      Even if there is a mini-bus after midnight – don’t take it! Just don’t. Those roads at night are dangerous. Find a good hostel that has pickup service from the airport, it will be worth the extra money.
      I wasn’t enamoured with the place I stayed so I shan’t suggest that. The centre opened up a residence on site after my visit that I would love to experience, it just sounded great to be able to hang out together with the other volunteers. I would trust anything they would suggest.
      The one thing I strongly recommend any who ask (and even to those that don’t 🙂 ) is to rent a bike for your stay, it just makes the experience even better. It gives you easy mobility so you can experience even more of the area. You can even buy one from an exiting volunteer and sell it when you leave to another volunteer.
      I just know you will have a blast, just keep an open heart!


    • I just also want to recommend you to stay at a hostel the first night, it’s a 3-4 hour drive there so you don’t wanna do that after a long flight (or not even if you were actually living in San Jose).

      About the accommodation I really recommend to stay at Eric Palmers, which is probably what they will recommend (that’s were the most volunteers stay). I stayed there and it was great, you get to hang with the other volunteers and it’s pretty close by (still 15min by bike).

      Also I just want to let you know that as I’ve mentioned above I might go back myself around that time, so we might bump into each other there 🙂

      And I’m glad to help if you have any further questions.


  9. Hi there! I know it has been many years since you wrote this post, but I figured it was worth a shot! I will be volunteering at Jaguar Rescue Center for 6 weeks this summer and am currently trying to get everything in order. What suggestions do you have for packing? I want to pack as lightly as possible, but am worried about bringing too little. Thank you!


    • You need grubby cloths to work in that you aren’t going to worry about… and likely burn at the end of your stay LOL. You really don’t need much and you can get most basics there at the little grocery stores. A sense of humor is good to pack. I wouldn’t worry too much, I think they likely have a list on their web site of stuff they suggest you bring. Contact them and see if you can bring stuff for the animals, like medicines they can’t get there… baby bottles and nipples… They always appreciate anything you can bring them. Have fun!


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