We’re All in This Together Including Animals
By Mckenzie Wing, Volunteer Coordinator & Biologist
Judging by social media, most of the rest of the world spent the last month creating music videos in their living rooms, holding Zoom meetings while pantless, and making sourdough bread. Like, a lot of sourdough bread. Meanwhile, here at KSTR, our experience could not have been more different. We had to clean cages with skeleton crew staff, feed over 50 animals on a fraction of our usual budget, and keep our entire team safe and healthy. And we generally had to keep our pants on.
My point is, life here continued more or less as normal. Just…smaller. Quieter. It’s been eerie to see only 2 or 3 people working in the Sanctuary, eat meals with only a handful of other staff, and fall asleep to a nearly silent dormitory. Actually, that last one is kind of nice, I have to admit selfishly.
But it hasn’t been easy. With no regular funds coming in, we’re living off donations and everyone here has been furloughed. We’ve kept everyone fed, but some major projects have gone on hold. And meanwhile, in the clinic, our poor vet staff has had to deal with an assistant (yours truly) who is so out of his depth it’s almost not even funny.
Seriously—these last few months have been a crash course in animal care. It would make for a good training montage if it wasn’t at times practically slapstick. One morning, while I was cleaning the porcupine’s cage, he decided he wanted to give my leg a hug. Know how you get an affectionate porcupine off your leg? You don’t, that’s how. The kinkajou tries to bite whenever I try to change his water, as if he takes it personally. And there was that one time we had to feed everyone in rehab, give a physical exam to 2 sloths, then neuter a coati. On the same day. Shoot, the same morning. We had him snipped and clipped and then went to lunch. It was exhausting.
And also rewarding. Impressive, to be sure. It’s a testament to the work and passion of everyone here at KSTR that even in a global crisis we still function. A handful of baby owls came in and a few have already been released. An anteater just got moved to our prerelease area and is foraging on her own. There’s a young toucan who’s coming along nicely, even though his beak’s still just a little stub.
I may be tired, bitten, scratched, and terribly unqualified for even assisting a veterinarian, but this kind of work is keeping me sane. It’s keeping all of us together. I hope you all have your causes to keep you equally productive, occupied, and fulfilled during this time. Me, I have sloths. Although I might give sourdough a try.
Animal Care in Quarantine
By Mckenzie Wing, Volunteer Coordinator & Biologist
When I think back to the time before this madness started—just over a month ago, if you can believe it—I’m astounded by how things changed so fast. Beginning of last month, we had 14 volunteers living and staying onsite, and within a few weeks they were gone. We kept them safe, and made sure they felt so, but one by one they decided to return to their home countries while they had a chance. And so, like the rest of the world, KSTR closed down, self isolated, and effectively cut itself off from the rest of the world.
But we still have animals. Animals in need of care and attention. Animals who don’t care if the world is coming to an end—they’re hungry. And without our volunteer workforce, we have just a handful of permanent staff—a ragtag collection of citizens, expats, and foreigners—to do the work of over a dozen people for over 50 animals within our care. Plus no source of income.
So while it may seem like the world has come to pieces and life as we know it has come to a dead stop, here at KSTR I got to witness the miracle of my coworkers rally like never before. Everyone pitched in. Everyone. People took pay cuts and work furloughs. We slashed our budgets and tightened our belts, cutting expenses left and right. Without volunteers to manage or tours to lead, I effectively started working as an intern with the animals in the rescue center. Some offsite staff moved onto the property to minimize commutes and transmission risk.
We had some help, too. Many people have pitched in with donations of funds or fresh fruit, keeping our animals properly fed. MINAE and SINAC were gracious enough to allow us access to public beaches to pick leaves. Although let me tell you, standing alone on a deserted Playa Espadilla during Semana Santa was one of the weirdest moments of my life.
In times of crisis, I try to be realistic. But I also try to be thankful. So I’m thankful of all our supporters out there. I’m thankful of my coworkers, especially those patient enough to take me on as an intern. And in a strange way, I’m also thankful of the animals themselves, and the work they provide for us. It’s helping keep us all sane by keeping us busy.
If there’s any advice I can offer to you, it’s to find your own work to keep busy, something wholesome and rewarding. Stay sane. Stay healthy. And stay hopeful. Things will go back to normal one day.
But until then, I have animals to feed and cages to clean. Wow, I had no idea being an intern was so much work.
For my Focused Volunteer Placement with my gap year program, Carpe Diem, I chose to work at a jungle animal rehabilitation sanctuary in Costa Rica, called Kids Saving the Rainforest. To start my day, I eat breakfast with all of the volunteers and staff, including fellow Carpe Diem member, Sierra. We start work off by chopping fresh fruit and vegetables for the animals, and making sure everyone gets their necessary medication. Some animals housed at our sanctuary include parrots, coatis, kinkajous, sloths, capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and marmosets, just to name a few. My personal favorites are the marmosets, Darwin the Spider Monkey, and a Scarlett Macaw named Bouche. There are around 60 animals and 16 species. After preparing the food, we go clean each enclosure and distribute food. We do this twice a day. With our extra time at work, we prepare enrichments. These can be reconstructions of cages, where we go out to the jungle and chop new trees with machetes, or find different things to put food in, such as bamboo chutes or coconuts. This is to keep the animals entertained and not bored, since they will live the remainder of their lives in the sanctuary. Once in a while, I will give a two hour tour of the property to the public, or help out in the clinic. In my free time I take naps (it’s more exhausting than it sounds, I swear), spend time with the wonderful people I’ve met here, go to the beach, read, or hit the towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
Since its foundation 21 years ago this month, by two 9-year-olds, Kids Saving the Rainforest has always tried to keep at least one nominal “Spokes-kid” around to continue the tradition of, well, kids saving the rainforest. However, with all the children of staff and volunteers growing up or moving away, such a role has just recently been passed to me, for reasons I still don’t fully understand. Am I the youngest? Not even close. The most childlike-at-heart? Not likely. The most immature? Not—Ok, well, possibly.
But when I am not filling the tiny shoes of all the Spokeskids before me, leading tours of the wildlife sanctuary, organizing sloth research, assisting with animal pickups (mostly because no one else on staff can drive our manual-transmission Wildlife Ambulance), or relocating wild snakes off the grounds, I find time to do my primary job, which is coordinating KSTR’s volunteer program.
I’m always interested in the reasons people choose to become volunteers, who consist of our largest workforce and one of our greatest sources of funding. Their stories impress and mystify me. Their backgrounds are as varied and diverse as the countries they call home.
Many, as I expected, tend to be young people looking for work experience. These are the twenty-somethings on a gap year, or in between college semesters. Maybe they have an environmental background, or are trying to champion a good conservation cause. Maybe they’ve traveled before, but some are away from home and out of the country for the first time. They may stay and work for a few weeks, but oftentimes extend and stick around, postponing flights back to “real life” to spend more time with the animals.
But some are older, with careers and families. Some are couples, using a rare opportunity to synch vacations and travel together and come here to spend that precious time off to help animals. More often than not these types have no environmental or science background at all—we’ve had lawyers, doctors, engineers. They come from London, New York, Sydney, even from Dubai. And yet here they are.
What brings people like these out here? What possesses someone to be so generous to spend a vacation working? To “Voluntour?” For most, again, the opportunity is a career move and work experience, but that’s not always the case. After all, how exactly does a lawyer from London personally benefit from using their holiday to feed sloths?
Some say curiosity. They wanted to try something completely different. Their lives were unfulfilled. They wanted to help. They wanted to challenge themselves, to get out of their comfort zone. They really, really like sloths. Actually, I get that one a lot.
So if you have the time, the resources, and the inclination, come check us out. Want first-hand animal work? No prior experience necessary. Need a break from that office job? Contact me. Do you get bored easily on a vacation and prefer to stay busy? We can use you. Do you like sloths? Like, really, really like sloths?
You are not alone.
The first person to drive me around Quepos, Costa Rica when I moved here two years ago was Chip Braman. A silver-haired, tan-skinned, distinguished gentleman who looks much younger than his 72 years, Chip moved to the Quepos and Manuel Antonio area on the central Pacific coast 18 years ago from Connecticut. After spending 30 years traveling the globe as the international marketing director for Avon, Chip was ready for a change. Costa Rica’s pristine natural environment, affordable cost of living, and friendly people made the country an easy choice.
“It doesn’t even matter if you don’t speak Spanish,” says Chip. “Look at anyone here in Costa Rica, smile, and say ‘pura vida’ with that thumbs up, and I guarantee, he’s going to say it right back at you. And you’ll realize: You know what, he’s right. It’s all pura vida here. It’s a good day, and it’s beautiful.”
Chip soon met an ambitious expat named Jennifer Rice, then 44, who was the founder of a hotel called the Mono Azul, (or “Blue Monkey”). Her husband had died a few years before, but she was helping her young daughter Janine, then 9, and her friend Aislín start a fledgling nonprofit organization. Chip fell in love with both Jennifer and the idea, and the rest is history.
Kids Saving the Rainforest is now a 20-year-old non-profit in Quepos that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife, runs a sanctuary and educational tours, plants trees, and puts up life-saving wildlife bridges over roads in Manuel Antonio. Chip and Jennifer have since sold the Mono Azul and have retired to life at the sanctuary. They now have much more time to devote to their ecological passion and are living their dream here in the rainforests of Costa Rica.
Both he and Jennifer are active members of the vibrant local expat community in Quepos, and over the years they’ve spent here, they have made firm friends with people from all over the world. Chip does his accounting overlooking the lovely swimming pool of the Blue Banyan Inn—a complex consisting of three luxury cottages he has built on his property outside of Quepos. Running a business, as well as helping out with the sanctuary, has had its challenges, but nothing they couldn’t handle. As Chip puts it: “Nothing ever happens like you expect it to. But at the end of the day, it all works out and you’re still in Costa Rica.”
Even if things get busy at times, it’s still retirement. Chip finds plenty of time for his favorite pastime: sketching the plants and animals that inspire him in the surrounding rainforest. He’s also surrounded by a motley crew of volunteers from all over the world: wildlife veterinarians, biologists, and other people dedicated to the cause—a true family he has brought together.
That laidback attitude of Chip’s rubs off too. Recently, I was standing in the bus station at Quepos—the local hub for cheap and mostly comfortable transport to the rest of Costa Rica. (Ten dollars will get you from Quepos to San José, the capital, in about four hours.) I had just missed a series of three buses to visit a beach I had never yet been to. I heard that saying of Chip’s in my head.
It’s true. When you make the adjustment, Costa Rica’s relaxed pace gets to be a benefit, not a frustration. I spotted a stand with soda and empanadas selling for less than a dollar. The public bus would take me to the beach in Manuel Antonio in less than 10 minutes for about 70 cents, as long as I had the patience to wait.
I headed for the empanada stand, and who did I run into buying a bus ticket to the capital city? Chip himself. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, and he repeated his saying onsite for effect. I grabbed an empanada and pineapple soda. Pretty soon, I was on my bus, the cool breeze blowing away the heat of the day. Chip was right, and the day was beautiful.
If you’re in the Quepos area and want to pay Chip a visit, he offers warm hospitality, a booming greeting, and a hearty handshake when the Kids Saving the Rainforest wildlife sanctuary offers educational tours (9 a.m., every day but Tuesday). He’ll have plenty of advice to give you on living the laidback lifestyle in Costa Rica.
Story taken from the International Living Magazine Oct. 2019 Vol. 40 No. 6 Pg. 8.
Click here to download the issue
Hello from Kids Saving the Rainforest Animal Rescue and Sanctuary & Reforestation project!
Is it really 2020 already? 2019 was a great year for KSTR as we planted 10,000 on our reforestation property and treated many kinds of birds, sloths, kinkajous, monkeys, anteaters, coatis, porcupines, and other wild animals at our onsite vet clinic. We also celebrated our 20th year anniversary in 2019.
We want to bring the New Year in right by thanking all of our donors, sponsors, and supporters of 2019.
Thanks to you all, our first 5K Rainforest Run was a huge success! So many people asked us to do it again next year, that it is now a tradition!! So save the date for November 22, 2020!
This years finish line!
Everyone that ran the race had a tree planted in their name!
(Ok, 2 year old Mariana didn’t run the race but she posed for the picture!)
These were the fabulous t-shirts for the racers!
And last but not least, our Sloth Mascot! And yes, you can take a sloth selfie with him!
KSTR teamed up to help the Costa Rican government to promote “No Selfies With The Wildlife”. The only wildlife that can be in pictures with humans are Plush Wildlife.
This is our KSTR Staff to promote “No Selfies With The Wildlife”.
Please remember to not take pictures with the wildlife, it is very stressful for them! They are voiceless so we are speaking for them!
Many of you know that we have been teaching people not to feed the wildlife for over 15 years. It started with 7 Reasons Not to Feed the Wildlife, then went to 10 Reasons and we are thrilled to say that there a now 11 Reasons because the government is enforcing the law if anyone does feed them.
We have been disappointed to hear that people are still feeding them for personal and professional gain. The Mangrove Tours are feeding the white-faced monkeys to get them to come onto the boats and even let the tourists feed them. Hotels and Restaurants are feeding them to bring more tourists to their businesses.
We have said for a long time that we are going to publish the names of the locations that are feeding them. We never have because we want to live in harmony with the community. But this is too important to allow it to happen anymore. So please save the wildlife by reporting anyone feeding the wildlife to:
If you are feeding the wildlife, you now know you should stop. If you don’t stop, we owe it to the wildlife to publish your name with the local media and report you.
Wishing you all the best for the coming year, 2020!
Welcome back to Kinkajou Travels! I am officially done with my internship now, and the past few weeks have gone by in a blur. As I write this, I'm sitting on a bus to San Jose for the next leg of my journey (more about that later). It was difficult to say goodbye to everyone at KSTR, and my only consolation is that I know that I'll be back soon in December. I'm not sure how I'm going to say a final goodbye to my jungle home, but I guess I don't have to worry about that quite yet.
This past month, I've lead quite a few tours. We take guests through the sanctuary and tell them about the rescue and rehab work that goes on. Before my first tour, I was naturally a bit nervous, and I questioned whether I would tell them the right things and pace the tour right. However, after my first couple of tours I settled into a rhythm, and I started to really enjoy telling people about the animals and the rainforest. I loved talking about the wildlife, and I found that most of the time, the tour guests had good questions and were genuinely curious about the animals and the conservation projects. For some guests, it was their first time to ever see a sloth or to learn what a kinkajou is, and I was so happy that I was able to share that experience with them and see the joy that crosses their face. At the end of the tours, I often chatted with the guests before returning to work, and a lot of them were very interested to know what I am doing in Costa Rica, how I've liked it so far and what I want to do for a career. On my second to last tour, I was having a nice chat with the guests when one of our kitchen staff came up to me and informed me in Spanish that a man had arrived and was waiting in the parking lot with an animal, an oso hormiguero. I was very confused when I heard this, because I understood the word "oso", which means bear, but not "hormiguero". I excused myself from the guests, then jogged out to the parking lot, all the while trying to figure out where someone had found a bear in Costa Rica! A friendly Tico was waiting in the parking lot with a medium-sized box that was softly squawking, and when I took it from him and looked inside, I saw that it was a baby tamandua, a type of anteater who's name translates to "ant bear" in Spanish!
Although our clinic is not equipped to handle a bear, it is perfectly capable of handling a tamandua! After I brought the squawking box into the clinic, the little anteater was checked over and moved to the nursery. There, she's been given the name Tinker, and she'll grow up for several months before being moved to the pre-release area.
Additionally, I've concluded my internship project and presented the results of my work to the staff at KSTR. As I mentioned previously, I was trying to determine how long it takes for the kinkajous to habituate, or become bored of, enrichments that are put in their cage. From my data, I was able to conclude that interest in enrichments sharply drops off after just one day, which is unsurprising given the intelligence and dexterity of these animals. I recommended an enrichment schedule to the staff in the sanctuary, and now I will be working on writing up a protocol on the enrichments that I used, to provide ideas for future enrichments. I was glad that despite all of the technical difficulties and frustration involved, I was able to get results from my research that are going to help improve the care we are giving the animals.
I want to give a final update on the capuchin training because there is great news! After months of working with Hector, he came into the shift cage during training last week on multiple occasions! This is fantastic because it not only means that the clinic can conduct their physical exams soon, but it also shows that he is learning to trust the people that are taking care of him. With this foundation, we can continue to build on the training we are doing to allow us to more easily treat any medical conditions and provide a stimulating challenge for the capuchins. Moncho's training continues to progress as well; before I left, I went for a walk through the sanctuary and called out to him as I passed the capuchin cage. From the other side of the cage, he turned his head, then leaped and climbed over to where I was standing. This indicates to me that he recognizes his name and associates it with positive rewards, and it was also good to see him one last time before heading out.
Looking forward, I am heading to San Jose because I am going to be spending a week at La Selva biological research station! I am looking forward to seeing all of the different projects going on, and it will be exciting to see the carribean lowland rainforest, an entirely different ecozone than the costal pacific rainforest I've been living in. I'm going to cherish the time I have left in Costa Rica, and I'll be sure to share my adventures here on Kinkajou Travels.
As you walk through the rainforest, carefully stepping over roots and dodging hanging liana vines, you hear a rustle off to the side of the path. Something is jumping through the trees, something small and nimble. As the rustling continues, you hear a warbling twitter that sounds like it belongs to a bird. It is answered by other twitters in the trees surrounding you, and as you peer closer to find the animal that is responsible, a pair of close-set, dark eyes stare back at you from a white face. They disappear in a flash of gold, and suddenly you spot a small monkey perched on a branch curiously peering down at you. These monkeys are grey-crowned squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus), known locally as the monotiti or just titi. They are an endangered subspecies of the widespread central american squirrel monkey, and are only found in the region around Manuel Antonio National Park. Squirrel monkeys are the smallest of the four primate species native to Costa Rica, and can be found in large troops in primary forest, secondary forest or palm plantations
At Kids Saving the Rainforest, the intelligence and dexterity of these monkeys is on full display, as there is a wild troop living around the sanctuary that has become habituated to humans. They have learned that people carry around big buckets of food for the animals twice a day, and won't hesitate to quickly swipe a piece of fruit when the keepers are distracted. In fact, they even attempt to get into the cages to steal the fruit! I have witnessed a panicked monkey frantically running around the parrot cage after the hole he used to sneak in turned out to be a one-way door! In fact, the combination locks used on all of the cages in the sanctuary are there partly to keep nimble monkey hands from opening the doors up in quest of a snack
There is currently one squirrel monkey, Chicky, in the rehabilitation process. I've mentioned him in previous blog posts, as he has been in the care of KSTR for a while after being admitted for injuries from electrocution. Although he was at first unable to properly sit up and feed himself, he has recovered well so far, and we are currently working with him, doing physical therapy treatments to help him regain all of his mobility. His right arm is stiff and he avoids using it when climbing or feeding, but he needs to regain back it's full use if he is to be released. The jungle is not a kind place for a little monkey, as there are many predators of this species including ocelots, snakes, birds, and other monkeys. His recovery is continuing slowly, and if he gets to the point where he is releasable it will be long after I've returned to Texas.
Chicky shortly after he was received at KSTR laying in a blue bowl that was used to weigh him.
As Chicky has gotten stronger and faster, catching him to deliver medicine or conduct physical therapy gets more difficult.
Occasionally, Chicky needs to be brought into the clinic from his outdoor cage in rehab to receive mediation and check-ups. I'm usually the one to go out with gloves and a basket to catch him, and he always protests with loud alarm calls when he is caught. When bringing him back from rehab to the clinic, I pass by the squirrel monkey cage in the sanctuary. Once as I was passing under this cage, Chicky in hand, I looked up to see not only the captive squirrel monkeys, but also the habituated wild troop staring at me, hostile black eyes following my every movement. Chicky's alarm calls had alerted them to the presence of a threat in their environment, and once it became clear that I was the threat, they immediately put on aggressive and intimidating body language to make sure that I knew I was not welcome!
Skittles and Dewo are intrigued by the target held by a staff member. This small orange ball on a stick is usually used to train the capuchins, but the titis are also fascinated by this strange object.
Skittles, the alpha monkey of our captive troop, stares at the visitors to the cage.
"Epithet after epithet was found too weak to convey to those who have not visited the inter tropical regions, the sensation of delight which the mind experiences… The land is one great wild, untidy luxuriant hothouse, made by nature for herself." -Charles Darwin, Voyages of the Beagle
Welcome back to kinkajou travels! I haven't posted for a while, and I'm sorry to leave all of you guys in the dark for so long! I have had some personal deadlines that needed attention, and there was several busy weeks that were very tiring, both physically and emotionally. My first month here, intakes were fairly sparse, and the work was more centered on healing, rehab, and release. While I learned a lot from this time, I also forgot that I am working at a rescue center, where the worst cases of injured animals come through. I was abruptly reminded of this fact lately when there was a quick succession of severely injured or sick animals coming through the clinic that we were unable to save. Although difficult, these events brought conservation to a personal level. It is one thing to hear about the effects of power lines and roads on wildlife, but it is another thing entirely to see the devastation before your eyes. Although these kinds of things are very tough to witness, I'll never forget the things I've learned and seen, and I was inspired by the teamwork and support of everyone here at Kids Saving the Rainforest.
Another update concerns the capuchin training! In a previous post, I mentioned that we were training them to come into the shift cage so that we could dart them and conduct their biannual check-ups. That training had been going fairly well, but we kept hitting a wall with Hector, the very nervous monkey. Any time we tried to get him to come and do the training inside the shift cage, he would leave and not participate in the training anymore. Luckily, as we were encountering these problems, we had veterinary students from Spain come and stay with us for a week. One of them, Valentina, was conducting a project on medical training for monkeys, and was willing to work with us to revamp our program! We talked with her, and based on her experience and our ideas of where to take the training, we redesigned the entire training plan. To begin, we paired each monkey with someone from the clinic staff so that there would be less problems with monkeys stealing each other's food. I was paired with Moncho, a juvenile male capuchin. Young monkeys act a lot like human children: Moncho is distracted by almost everything, from passing butterflies, to interesting-looking sticks, to a rock another monkey found on the floor. However, he also picks up new tricks very quickly, and I have to constantly think of ways to keep his training engaging. Working with Moncho presents a unique set of challenges, but I enjoy it a lot
After redesigning the training, we started from scratch, beginning with training the monkeys to come when they hear their name and ensuring that they are completely comfortable with the tricks they've already learned before we push them out of their comfort zone. With the redesigned plan, we started to see progress again, and training sessions felt a lot more focused. With their physical exams coming up, it was very gratifying to see the training once again moving forward. However, we knew that once all monkeys were comfortable with going into the shift cage and closing the door, we would lose all of the progress we'd made in training if we darted them to sedate them as was the plan. Capuchins are one of the most intelligent species of monkey, and scary experiences can stay with them for a long time. Therefore, we reevaluated and are talking about switching to an oral sedative. Since the monkeys are already accustomed to taking treats individually, we could give them their sedatives inside the shift cage, where they can go to sleep peacefully without the risk of falling from the tall structure inside the main cage. Additionally, this less-traumatic plan will allow the staff to build trust with the monkeys, and they could continue with training that would allow clinic staff to treat cuts and scrapes and deliver medicine easily. There's a lot of exciting new directions with this training, and I personally find it fascinating to get a chance to see how these monkey's minds work!
Another interesting bit from recent events: a group from KSTR went on a night walk in the back property! I had never been deep in the jungle at night, and it was fascinating to see how the fauna changes once the sun sets. Walking through the dense forest, I could hear the chorus of frogs from nearby puddles as they seek a mate with which to produce their ephemerally aquatic offspring. I watched the slow, deliberate steps of the katydids, insects that are reputed by locals to bring bad luck to any person who kills it. Along the sides of the path, pale, ghostly fungi sprout through the forest floor whose ephemeral beauty will be gone by the morning. One can only wonder what other creatures peer silently down as we noisily pass below, a thought that is both fascinating and eerie
So many other things have been going on! I wish I could go on and on about it all, but to avoid writing a whole novel here I'll add some photos below to summarize the past couple of weeks.
The Kids Saving the Rainforest staff