Good news for reptiles, snakes, and all types of mammals and birds that have been abandoned or abused; the new Refugio Herpetologico, in Santa Ana, is perhaps the best zoo of its kind in the country; strictly speaking, this is not a zoo, it is a shelter for animals in danger of extinction, a rehabilitation center for those that were once captured and later on abandoned by irresponsible owners who could not look after them, or simply animals that were abused or, like in some cases, almost killed. The shelter is doing a marvelous job there and the team of guides, vets and keepers are the most knowledgeable, kind hearted and professionals you can get. Rodolfo Vargas is the Biologist who rescues and, rehabilitates the animals. His aim is to sets them free again, as they are brought to him severely damaged emotionally, psychologically and physically.
You will find the refuge on the Old Road between Escazu and Sta Ana, in Alto de Las Palomas. Upon entering, you are welcomed warmly by the staff. There are a couple of people who do speak English there; it is both important and very moving to know the stories of these animals.
The tour starts with the snakes. Rodolfo took us along the little path as we started with the non venomous snakes, including a false coral snake that mimics a real one to scare off its enemies. Next come the venomous snakes, including the fierce Fer de Lance; one of the very few snakes that does not hides away from us, this nasty piece of work will attack you if you happen to cross its path…The venom is very powerful and fast action is required if bitten. There are rattle snakes, tiger snakes, bushmasters, and various types of vipers, including bright green ones and yellow ones. Next comes the boa constrictors; people love to have these as pets, however more often than not they do not know how to look after them and the reptiles suffer physical harm as a result.
Sobek the Crocodile is a permanent resident. This huge animal would not be able to survive in the wild; because he got too close to cattle and people, his front legs were cut off. He was found, dying by a river. Sobek would not be able to hunt and would die if released.
Cesar is an Iguana that was rescued from the Central Market; the capture and selling of this reptile is absolutely illegal in this country. Cesar is missing half his tail, nobody knows for sure what happened to him.
What grabbed my heart though was the lovely spider monkey, whose name I have now forgotten. This lovely female, a master of agility, spent 8 years of her life confined in a small bird cage. This magnificent artist could not move, or climb, or run, she barely fit in the cage….For 8 long years. Now she has a lot of space to play, however when she is given some food, she immediately resume her fetus position, as if this was the only way she knew how to eat…It breaks your heart.
Nearby is a little squirrel monkey who is obviously quite scared of humans; nobody knows what happened to her either, Rodolfo explained that she suffered from a type of amnesia; some days she does not remember who she is and is in a happy go lucky mood, however the next day, she is a wild animal again, and is quite fierce and angry! They would like her to mate with a male they have there, however she would need to meet him only when she is in one of her “Good Moods”!
The Titi Monkeys are always popular and so lovable; these were pets and given to the refuge when the owners could not look after them any longer. Next to them is another horrific sight; Two beautiful Macaws, with most of their feathers missing, including the flying feathers of their wings. These two Macaws, found separately, suffered inhuman amount of stress and abuse. One of them in particular is in a shocking state; this, however, is self inflicted, as the poor birds plucked out their own feathers, out of sheer stress and misery! Truly horrific.
You will also meet a few turtles that were once pets and given to the refuge when owners could not look after them for a variety of reasons. Rodolfo will be happy to tell you their stories and you can even hold them if you wish; watch out there, my granddaughter was suddenly sprayed by one of them, Rodolfo assured us that it was “only water”!…..
The rehabilitation center is one of a kind in this country and hopefully, they will manage to survive, like their friends. Brady Barr, famous herpetologist of National Geographic, was present for the inauguration and is said to be in awe and very pleased with the refuge. This little publicity was a well needed push for Rodolfo and his team.
Rodolfo has been rescuing and saving reptiles since he was 12 years old. He is also involved in private research project for the Ministry of Environment as well as for private companies, and gives lectures at the School of Veterinary Medicine in Heredia. Of all the injured animals he receives, he can only release 60 per cent of them back in the wild. The remaining 40% would not be able to survive on their own in the wild.
The center covers some of the expenses with the small fee ($4 for adults, $3 for kids under 12 and for seniors) charged to the visitors, however donations are always welcomed! The little shop at the entrance offers an array of interesting souvenirs, including T-shirts with Sobek the Croc on the front, and a series of mug, jewelry, wooden crafts and post cards. The center functions as an educational center a and school tours are planned for the future. For more information, check the website: refugioherpetologico.com.
The visit does not take long, between one hour and one and half hours, however, not only is it particularly interesting and educational. It is often sad however it has a happy ending; even if the rescued animals cannot get released in the wild, they are well cared for there and live a happy, healthy life. Whenever you visit, the fee you pay will help buy medicine and food these poor animals; after all, we are responsible for this!
|Written by Mireille|
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