Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 5: It's All Happening at the Zoo

Destination: Samara

Baby howler monkeyThis morning I awoke with wonderfully sore abs from yesterday's yoga class. Driving to Samara, I realized that it was not a good idea to eat a breakfast burrito before tackling the bumpy (but scenic) long road south. About an hour after departing Nosara, we were in front of the surf school. The owner, Jesse, informed us that the waves were too calm for a surfing lesson. We re-scheduled and went to check into our hotel in Playa Carrillo.

Carrillo is four miles from Samara, and El Sueno Tropical is a few miles farther. Poolside, Vincent and I ate a delicious lunch of yellowtail tuna with salted vegetables and French fries. We took a few moments to regroup, escaping from the hot sun in our modern, air-conditioned rooms. Our next stop would be the La Selva Wildlife Refuge, a zoo that rehabilitates wounded animals for reintroduction into the wild. A woman with an adorable baby monkey clinging to her shoulder greeted us at the gate, and a friendly peccary pleaded with us for some petting. A black puppy and a dog that looked like its mother played quietly, watched by a green parrot up above. All the creatures were roaming free in the reception area: it was an animal lover's dream.

The zookeeper explained that sunset was the perfect time to come and view the animals. Eolo, the 8-month old howler monkey, had been abandoned by his family. This happens often to young males who pose a potential reproductive threat to the adults. I patted his fur, surprised at how much softer it was than I had expected. As he playfully bit my finger, I noted that his hands looked remarkably human -- right down to the fingernails. All of his movements were childlike; take away his tail and fuzzy body and he would have looked remarkably like a human infant.

Making our way into the actual refuge, I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful margay. Roughly three times the size of the average house cat, it had leopard-print skin and a long, elegant tail. The poised feline looked at us calmly with its brown-marble eyes. Its small size corresponds with an undersized pelt, a characteristic that has rescued the animal for years from human predation. Nocturnal and arboreal by nature, a typical margay lives most if not all of its life up in the treetops. Much of their natural habitat has been sequestered for banana plantations, leaving the cats largely confined to Costa Rica's protected areas and national parks, particularly Corcovado.

A jaguarundi hissed menacingly as we walked by, exposing its sharp teeth. It had a dark brown body, somewhat stubby ears, and a pointed head. At 14 pounds the creature was smaller than I had expected --but nevertheless I got the feeling it could have easily ripped me to shreds had it wanted. Luckily, jagaurundis tend to seek out smaller meals. These stealthy felines are extremely elusive and rarely seen in the wild, so it was amazing to see one outside of a photograph.

False vampire bats the size of my forearm had pig-like noses, and began shaking uncontrollably as I approached. We worked our way past multiple cages, admiring a Mexican hairy porcupine, a collared aracari, a rainbow-billed toucan, anteaters, an armadillo, an American alligator, and a kinkajou.

On our way out, the zookeeper also asked if we would like to make a donation. The refuge is not government funded, and all monetary support comes from visitors' contributions. With 36 different species to support, the refuge struggles to provide vaccines and food for inhabitants.

Day 5: It's All Happening at the Zoo in Pictures