Wildlife Rehab at the Toucan Rescue Ranch
We were on our way to the Toucan Rescue Ranch, a wildlife rescue center in San Josecito de San Isidro, a small town east of Heredia. The road gradually wound into the misty mountains, and as the temperature cooled, my excitement grew.
A cacophony of avian squawks and trilling served as a welcome as we pulled into the gates. After a brief glance around, I introduced myself to Leslie Howle and her husband Jorge, co-founders of the facility. The Toucan Rescue Ranch sits on the couple's two-acre property, and was one of the first toucan rescue centers to be licensed by Costa Rica's Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET). The center was founded in 2004, and opened to the public in 2010 – much to the delight of wildlife lovers everywhere.
My family had accompanied me on today's excursion, and the croaking keel-billed toucans housed on the center's porch immediately enthralled my infant son. These recent arrivals, one with a damaged wing, hopped from perch to perch and observed our group carefully. Even though it's illegal in Costa Rica to keep wild animals as pets, many of these beautiful birds had been doomed to tiny cages and poor treatment before their rescue and arrival at the Toucan Rescue Ranch.
The ranch's facilities encircle a central field, where geese and ducks waddle, honk and, surprisingly, peep. That's right, peep. The ranch's ducks, a breed native to Costa Rica, do not quack; they trill like newborn chicks. As part of their ongoing mission, the ranch strives to educate the public on animal welfare, and to demonstrate which birds are legal and suitable as pets. Toucans and macaws are not, but the ducks and geese, which followed Jorge like loyal dogs, can make wonderful companions. The ranch's lovebirds, parakeets, and pheasants are also excellent choices for bird lovers.
Our tour began at the toucan and parrot enclosures. Here, we met healthy keel-billed toucans, a massive chestnut-mandibled toucan (the largest species in Costa Rica), a Montezuma oropendola, parrots indigenous to Costa Rica's Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and emerald toucanets. I was thrilled to hear that the Toucan Rescue Ranch had pioneered an emerald toucanet-breeding program, which had already witnessed its first success story.
We looped around the facility, observed several owl species and one majestic eagle before transitioning to mammalian rescues. Always a sucker for monkeys, I admit that Izzy was one of the day's favorites. Before she found a better life at the ranch, the juvenile spider monkey had been chained in indentured servitude to irresponsible owners – a horrible fate for such an intelligent and sensitive creature. To our delight, Izzy swung her way down to our group and playfully reached for our hands and hunched over for back scratches. Unfortunately, her sweet behavior was a double-edged sword: since she was raised in captivity and is so familiar with humans, Izzy will never be properly equipped for life in the wild.
For me, the day's biggest surprise was Juju, the center's resident kinkajou. This rainforest mammal is strictly nocturnal, and I had only spotted one in the wild – on a night hike, when the pitch-black evening impeded proper observation. However, with gentle coaxing from Jorge, Juju emerged from her warm nest of towels and I caught my first real look at a kinkajou. Juju soon warmed to our presence, and scampered over to request caresses, scratches, and even a hearty belly rub – her playful pursuit of attention was almost kitten-like. Again, although her antics were adorable – who wouldn't fall for her big, wide eyes? – we also realized that Juju's familiarity with humans would prevent her from ever living in her native habitat.
As we circled back to the center's starting point, we visited with several scarlet macaws, including a recent rescue that had only begun recovering his brilliant plumage. The guided tour ended in the main house, where Leslie and Jorge housed five two-toed sloths – including two tiny babies. The sloths' wide eyes and pig-like snouts were charming, and although it was tempting, we didn't reach out to pet them. Despite their name, two-toed sloths can be downright speedy in their movements – and their teeth are sharp!
Our tour complete, we thanked Leslie and Jorge and hopped back in the car; it was sprinkling and dusk was rapidly approaching. With a backwards glance, I stole one, last look at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. If you were just passing by, you'd never know that this family-run facility existed, but now that I did, I knew we'd be back again – maybe when our son is old enough to toddle with the geese.