There is no ASPCA in the nature-rich rainforests of Costa Rica (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). That role is handled by Marielos Morice.
Together with partner Bernal Lizano, and a dedicated core of young volunteers, injured and abused animal residents of the tropics have safe haven where they are nurtured back to health. Located along one of the canals of Tortuguero, about 30 minutes from the cargo and cruise port of Limón, Paradero Animal Rescue Center is a remote stop featured on select rainforest tours to cruise passengers offered by Asuaire Travel, noted Costa Rica tour operator.
Visitors walk along an elevated metal walkway and learn about the tropical forest. The walkway leads to an open-air netted enclosure where a variety of recovering creatures live in harmony, watched closely by the couple.
Morice and Lizano care for more than 70 animals, all with disturbing tales of abandonment, injury or both. The couple has a reputation among the local population in Limón province. When the phone rings, there is probably an animal in need of their attention.
Pointing at an inquisitive toucan, Morice says, “He was brought here after falling from a nest near the hydro-electric plant being built. He’s recovered now and is like a pet.” She leans forward toward its colorful beak. The bird plucks a piece of fruit she holds between her lips.
Then there are sloths – 20 two-toed and 10 three-toed. One baby was born prematurely, now being hand fed and cared for. You also can meet Sarita, another hard luck sloth found on the ground near the site of a canopy tour. “She was dehydrated, missing an ear and had a cataract, almost blind, when we got her,” says Morice. “She’s four months old now, doing fine, but we still give her medication for diarrhea.”
If sloths could talk, one survivor would tell how her mother was killed by a train. The young critter survived, but is missing a toe. An abused spider monkey was brought in for a different reason. She was tied up for 14 years then abandoned. Visitors can meet Dandy, another monkey that was tied up – this time at a bar and given beer to amuse customers. Horrid stories with happy endings.
International volunteers assist the owners in tending to the animals. “I wanted my trip to Costa Rica to mean something,” says Swedish student Emma Nystrom, who came from a local academy to help out. “I Googled ‘volunteer Costa Rica’ and found this place.”
“I’m not Dr. Dolittle, but all the animals want to be with me,” says Morice. “Sometimes the animals that we release return to visit.”
Partner Bernal Lizano adds, “I find it gratifying when we release them, but I am sad to let them go. They are like kids and when you have kids, we all to let them go.”
When you visit
Paradero Animal Rescue Center was started six years ago and covers nine acres. It receives no government funding, relying on contributions and admission fees: 5,000 colones for nationals (about $10) and $30 for international visitors. Students from Penn State University donated to build a small hospital on site.
When cruise passengers buy a tour ticket which includes Paradero, a portion of the price benefits the rescue center. Voluntary contributions are welcome. The finale of the tour is meeting Elvis the sloth. This congenial member of the family has adapted so well to humans that visitors are able to take turns holding him and take pictures. It’s a golden photo moment for a creature comfort you may never experience again.