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When you are in Costa Rica, you have a lot of animals literally on your doorstep. You don’t have to go into the jungle to find them, sometimes they find you, but certainly staying in a jungle environment (especially in respectful accommodation that is a good neighbour to them) means they will be more keen to visit. Our host told us that often people would come to stay for a few days or a week and go off everyday on all these excursions in order to see the wildlife, when in truth if you just sat there long enough, you’ve got more chance they’ll come to you at home. Or you’ll stumble across them when you pop out for a bite to eat. We were there three weeks and the majority of the time we were staring at lush greenery and nothing more, but being patient and keeping an eye out, brought us all kind of treats.
Our animal neighbours
Apart from all the stuff we couldn’t see – goodness knows what was out there – we had a lot of visitors in our three-week stay in the jungle house in Cocles. There were a ton of butterflies – my favourite of which I called big blue and never managed to capture on film. Dragonflies the size of drones. Large flies which hatched from muddy nests in our bedroom rafters. An alarmingly large nocturnal mammal which was apparently a tree cat which looked more like a giant weasel than a cat (I think, via the power of Google, that it might have been a Tayra). There were the fat bottomed rodents who often came as a family, munching on the bits of banana the monkeys had dropped in the grass.
Our noisy neighbours
Howlers aside we had some other very noisy neighbours which I found it harder to forgive. The woodpecker was magnificent but rather annoying. There was a bird, who I never actually saw, which shrieked like a banshee. And my number one nemesis was the squirrel. But squirrels barely make a noise you say! They do when they are trying to gnaw down into a coconut through the thick green outer. They really, really do. Like fingernails on a blackboard. He was quite adorable when he wasn’t putting my teeth on edge though.
The night times scratching about on the roof turned out to be mice. They’d started to wake me because they were playing a nighttime game of scrabbling down the branches of a large plant which just reached the roof and just took their weight and then nibbling on the leaves. I knew before I knew what animal it was, that something was nibbling on the plant, due to the chunks that were missing in the morning. Eventually, the game was over for these not so genius mice. This all went down about 2 am, normally Mark ignored me and my late night jungle watching but even he woke up for this. Two of them had made their way over from the roof onto the plant’s large leaf. There were two mistakes made here. Firstly there were two of them and were weighing the leaf down secondly, they’d been eating the bloody leaf so it was now half the size. So it didn’t reach the house anymore. Mouse one is teetering for a while on the edge of the leaf trying to reach his little paws to the edge of the roof to get back on. It was not meant to be and henceforth it was known as Kamikaze Mouse. We couldn’t see any sign of him and had hoped that the vines on the porch had caught him or at least softened his fall. Turns out this was actually the case, but in a house full of cats by the morning he was found in the kitchen, having departed for mouse heaven with the help of a fluffy feline. The second, stranded mouse, miraculously thanks to not having the extra weight of two mice, managed to make his way home. Way to go Mr Mouse! That was the last time for the noisy midnight scamperings outside my window, so they did have some sense after all.
Our scaley neighbours
This orange-trimmed hunk of an iguana was hanging around in the leafy canopy next to us for much of our stay. How the vines took his hefty weight – you could always hear him when he was on the move.
Our monkey neighbours
We had two types of primate visitors. It was rare that more than two days would go by without seeing, or at least hearing, one of them.
Cappuchins – Our host put out large bunches of bananas a fair distance from the house so that they could come to eat but there is no actual human interaction. These monkeys remain wild and quite rightly cautious of humans. I wasn’t really a fan of capuchins when we first arrived, having encountered only ones in areas more heavily touristed and who are not afraid of humans and not afraid to get what they want off humans. 100% the fault of the stupid tourists who insist on carrying around food and feeding them of course. It was a very different experience with these ones and I did warm to them, though they could still be mardy little sons of bitches when they wanted to. Mark loved them the best. He likes something which in essence performs for him. Hours of entertainment with this merry bunch.
Howlers – I’m not sure if it was the first or second night we woke up to the dawn chorus and realised they were literally above our heads, in the high trees hanging over the building. My own personal study of them concluded that they move positions at least once a day, move around quite a large area, but make their way back around again. You could tell by their noise how far away they were and it was exciting when you realised they were heading back. They are quite elusive and tend to sit high in the trees so most of the time you are only going to catch close sight of them when they are on the move, when they are playing. When the howlers were nearby I took to having the binoculars or camera by my side and even whilst reading or doing something else, would have my senses on alert to catch any movement. It took a long time before I got to see a face. In this picture below they were quite far away and if you weren’t looking through binoculars or with a zoom lens you couldn’t see very clearly. I just love their faces. The older males have almost Amish like beards.
One day I go exceptionally lucky and they were on the move right outside our window. So incredibly close I could hear and watch all kind of behaviours as I stood quietly behind our window. I don’t know if it was my imagination but I’m sure they were communicating through gestures. I know that capuchins definitely have actions to communicate, but not sure if true for Howlers as well.
Our mouldy neighbours
If you do not love sloths then you have a cold, black, unexplainable heart. They are such unique creatures. Kind of exceptional and kind of crap at the same time. We’d encountered sloths when in Manuel Antonio but on the Caribbean side, we encountered them a lot more. Being less developed there is more habitat for them, but they are still at great risk. Development of the area is coming at a great rate, though in Costa Rica has a whole and certainly in this area, progress is not more important than their wildlife so some care is being taken. There are two type – two-toed (piggy nosed faces) and three-toed (smiley faces).
The closest sloth encounter we had was with a two-toed, as we were just walking along the beach road to Puerto Viejo. It’s not uncommon to see sloths slowly making their way across roads though we didn’t see any ourselves. Obviously this is a great risk to them but on the whole, locals are aware and will stop and wait for it to cross. You should avoid handling them unless you totally know what you’re doing and even then, not ideally.
On our grounds, we had a beautiful blondish sloth who would pop up at the front of the house and go back and forth from time to time. They are sooo difficult to spot due to their colouring and because of their lack of movement. When they move, if that catches your eye, you’ll see a little bit of action for a while before they stop again – for a long time. It can really be a waiting game and they can actually be quite quick so once they are on the move, it’s easy for them to disappear without you noticing. When they are hanging around (literally!) quite often the only movement they will be making is to have a good scratch.
Mind Blowing Moment – Sloth meets Iguana
We had the most unexpected, incredible experience one day while hanging around at home. Our hosts were downstairs and when Mark ran down to tell them, they were as excited as us as this was a rather unique event. Our neighbourhood Iguana was hanging about on the vine next to his usual stomping ground bush. You can see him in all his splendour in the photo I took that morning. Suddenly a sloth and her baby appear to the left of the iguana, on the move, making their way through the jungle. Rather than finding another route across, the sloth simply made its way down to that same vine beneath the iguana. Its face was only inches from the iguana at one point. Obviously, sloths and iguanas have no beef, but this still seemed a bold and possibly risky move, particularly for a mother to make. I had thought the baby was on its tummy the whole time, but I only just saw, through zooming into the one crap photo that I got, that the baby was hanging on around the side. So she wasn’t being an utterly crap mother after all! I had been told that sloths aren’t always the best mothers, or in terms of the instincts we’d expect – so don’t judge me for judging her. This one itself had apparently, only that morning been witnessed dropping the baby at the other side of the property. Babys falling down and having to be rescued is something not unheard of as the expert at the Jaguar Rescue Center told us. Say the baby drops to the bottom of the tree – a place where it is quite vulnerable, the mother will go to rescue it, of course, but at the same speed she would do anything else. Stopping to sleep along the way. It can take hours for this rescue to take place. So if you ever see a baby crying at the bottom of a tree, just leave it – the mother is most likely on her way. Just very slowly. Bless their slightly crap cotton socks!! I will forever kick myself that we unusually had the wrong lens on the camera so I couldn’t zoom in for what could have been a potential National Geographic masterpiece, but who cares, it was the coolest thing to watch.
Jaguar Rescue Center
This was not the reason we came to Cocles but it was a reason we were grateful we had and is where most visitors to Cocles are headed. The center is actually nothing to do with Jaguars, there are none there, it was just named this. It is a center setup gradually by a husband and wife team, who started to rescue various animals and became known for it so got brought more and more. The husband passed away and the wife continues to run it with the help of some staff and a huge number of volunteers. These volunteers pay to come and spend some time at the center, stay and get fed in nearby lodgings (like the young Germans do in the dormitory building up by us) and work six days a week on a variety of jobs. There’s a lot of food prep, cleaning up, sloth wrangling and believe it or not, taking the monkeys out for a walk in the forest. They go out everyday and yes the monkeys come back. The aim for almost all the animals is to get them back into the wild as soon as possible, but with some that is not an option. There are some wildcats, there for instance that would revisit the center after release or revisit the farms they had terrorised before they were first taken. These cannot be safely left in the wild. There are wildcat species that are pretty unheard of, outside of the larger puma and jaguars who you aren’t likely to come across unless deep, deep in the jungle. They have some Ocelots and Margays at the center, which look pretty small and cute but could do you some serious damage and few staff are allowed anywhere near them.
After rehabilitation at the center, they also have a center deep in the jungle, La Ceiba, which animals are taken to be released. You can arrange to join the night walks they occasionally do here. We heard about the twelve-foot boa constrictor they had there right now ready to be released. We knew that this snake had, in fact, made its way through the grounds of the property we were staying at, not long ago and had freaked out quite a few Cocles residence before being picked up (god knows how) and taken to the rescue center.
It’s definitely worth a visit here. We decided to not be cheap for once and rather than do the big group tour in the mornings, did an afternoon tour where we had someone just to ourselves. This was $120 for the two of us, which is a lot but we had done few excursions and we’d been down to the center a couple of times for a drink in the cafe and had seen how busy the larger tours could be. Was definitely worthwhile to walk about the place when it’s not so busy and ask questions at your leisure.
Rescue Center Highlights:
SLOTHS!!!! I mentioned the sloth wrangling before, but as we took the private tour we were there at the end of the day when they were getting in the sloths who had been out and about all day. Well these sloths, great climbers that they are, have crawled up onto rooves and into an interesting array of nooks and crannies, that the volunteers have to get them down from. Sometimes the more experienced members of staff had to step in to get the tricky little blighters. As they were being brought back through we learned that Marcus is apparently well endowed, but that apparently it’s quite difficult to sex a sloth and for six months they thought Marcus was Martha! We didn’t see any three-toed sloths. Apparently, they are much more sensitive so they tend to keep them away from the public. Perhaps beware if you are other places where you are allowed to be in close proximity with them. We got to see a couple of bundles of baby sloths which is every bit as heart bursting cute as you can imagine. They each have a nail-varnished claw in different colours to help identify them, but the longer term staff tend to get to know the faces of all the animals and are able to identify them that way. I’m now just going to supply some gratuitous baby sloth shots for your possible adoration here:
A sneezing crocodile – yes, crocodiles sneeze. I heard it with my own ears. Who knews? The croc they have in the center made the mistake, as a youngster, of turning up on the beach at Puerto Viejo and some drunken arse took it upon himself to ‘save the beach’ and bludgeoned the poor thing. He’s in the physical state to return to the wild but our guide did muse that she thinks he’d do a good job on the guy who hurt him, now he’s a fair bit bigger – if we were to pit the two against each other. Then that guy would get his just deserts!
Toucan play that game (amongst many Toucan jokes which were made during our trip). It was a treat to see these birds up close. This is one of the smaller, stockier species. There was also a beautiful rainbow one. Often birds end up in here after collisions or attacks. Only those that return to flight can be released for their own safety. We were so excited when we finally saw some toucans in the wild. They turned out to be quite elusive. We mostly saw them fly by – so quickly, blink and you’d miss them. And bizarrely they were recognisable as they fly with their bodies kind of straight – imagery we automatically recognise from vintage Guinness advertisements.
Spider monkeys – wow these are really quite ugly. Our guide was quite horrified that I thought this, but I meant ugly in a lovable way, like a scruffy, ugly mutt dog.
Green Macaws – Unlike in the Manuel Antonio area of the Pacific coast, where we’d seen quite a few Red Macaws, these glorious parrots were generally not seen about the area. Macaws are shockingly endangered in general, but Green Macaws even more so. There are apparently only thirty-five breeding pairs in the whole country. Outside the rescue center they have a breeding box for a pair, which we saw them poking their noses (or beaks) out of.
This little fella came slithering along while in the cafe at the rescue center. This was our first snake encounter and it was fascinating to watch. Mark kept getting really close to it to film it/take photos and I kept telling him to get out of its face or else it’s going to feel threatened and that I had no intention of taking him to the Emergency Room. He duly ignores me until the snake lunges for him. At this point we had no idea if this was a dangerous snake or not (we later learnt this one is harmless – if it had been yellow, he’d have been in trouble). He did say that he felt he’d learned a valuable lesson there. Jeez!
Remains of the day
Not in the rescue center, but just on the side of the road, we came across this skeleton. It’s strange to see skeletons for animals you are not used to. It looked kind of monkey-like but I guess it could have been all kinds of things – raccoon etc. Death is a part of life, of course, but un-necessary death and harm to animals due to humans taking up their space, is not. It’s just great to know that the rescue center is doing so much, with its work and it’s education, to try to prevent too many un-necessary demises.
What more is out there?
I would often sit staring out into the greenery wondering what wonderous things were out there that I could not and probably would not ever see. Even when you see nothing, the noise is phenomenal. It’s tricky to work out what is making half the noises. Tiny frogs can make a huge din. There’s always rustling in the bushes. You just know that there are all kinds of David Attenborough worthy goings on out there.