If you drive north for about 4.5 km north from the town of Cañas on the Inter-American Highway you see a huge board at the side of the road which if you know your big cats is a Puma and it is there to direct you to Centro de Rescate Las Pumas (Las Pumas Rescue Centre).
In one form or another animals have been rescued, rehabilitated and wherever possible returned to their natural habitat since the 1960s by a woman of Swiss origin called Lilly Bodmer. After her death in 2003 her family set up the Hagnauer Foundation to continue her work.
Not only did she rescue, rehabilitate and return animals to the wild she was also a worked with the students of all ages teaching them about conservation and the effects of deforestation, hunting and poaching. This work is still continued by the foundation and they achieve this through a variety of different activities that students can participate in. The foundation lists ways they get their message across to the students. Depending on the subject they may use drawing, colouring books, playing endangered animal bingo, a puppet theatre, exhibitions, and educational talks.
In 1999 a survey was taken in Costa Rica, although the sample was only just over 1200 household the results showed that 71% of the households polled kept a pet of those 24% of the pets were classed as wild species. In a survey taken in 2014 the environmental ministry found that 25% of households had either a parrot or a parakeet. In addition thousands of monkeys, iguanas, toucans, turtles and other rainforest animals are kept as exotic pets putting some species at risk.
Costa Rica has in place Act No. 7317 Law of Wildlife Conservation which is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife. These laws are not aimed only at the Costa Rican population but also visitors to the country. For the visitors that enter Costa Rica’s sensitive ecosystem it is very important to remain in compliance at all times. As with all laws it is a complex document but in effect it says:
Do not remove or disrupt any plant life. Do not attempt to engage or remove any animal from their habitat. Do not feed the animals because it will change their eating habits and create an unhealthy dependence on humans.
When ML and I were travelling around Arenal Lake recently a large group of Coati came out onto the road stopping the traffic, people began feeding them. If animals come to roads for food they are changing their feeding habits and putting themselves at risk of being injured or killed by the vehicles. Places like Las Pumas pick up the casualties caused by human intervention.
Last year, Las Palmas received 130 animal, roughly 60 percent were released back into their natural environment. Visitors must be aware that Las Pumas is not a zoo, so the enclosures are set up purely for the rehabilitating animal, so it may be difficult to sometimes see them especially some of the big cats. Also it isn’t the easiest place to photograph them either, different grades of wire is overlaid and so it is difficult to get a clear shot of the birds and animals.
That being said the centre wasn’t set up for people like me to take photographs but to rescue, rehabilitate and release the animals. Still it would be nice if a small viewing panel could be put into some of the enclosures if it wasn’t too expensive and I’m sure that is a major consideration on making changes.
The Foundation is run on the admission fees from visitors and from sponsorship from businesses, they produce and annual calendar and souvenirs, the money is put into the care of the animals so given the choice of a viewing area in an enclosure for visitors or medicine for the animals you can see why there is no viewing area as yet.
The day we visited there was a small turismo mini bus full of tourist already in the car park and just ML and I, so it wasn’t busy and we let the small group get ahead of us. I wandered off looking at a toucan which fascinated me, the colours of its bill resembled something a small child given a pack of neon highlighters would design; Costa Rica has some beautifully coloured birds
It turns out rebel that I had veered of the prescribed path that a very large map was telling me that I should follow so I waved the toucan bye bye and headed back down the path to the beginning of the planned route, although if the truth be told both ML and I soon wandered off the prescribed path again quite soon. I must admit I’m with Katharine Hepburn when she said;
The animals that are in the centre I assume change as they are able to be rehabilitated and released but there are some that the centre is unable to release from captivity as they are deemed incapable of surviving back in the wild so they become permanent residents.
To be continued