Costa Rica is famous for its biodiversity and experiencing the wildlife is a major to-do item on most families’ itineraries when visiting this Central American country. Of course, experiencing monkeys, sloths, frogs in the wild is a very exciting experience, but our recent afternoon at Proyecto Asis, in the Arenal area, provided a memorable opportunity to learn about and help animals that had been rescued.
During the first part of the afternoon, we toured the grounds and visited the many different animal enclosures. We learned that most of the animals – which ranged from monkeys to toucans to peccary – had been kept illegally as pets or had been injured in the wild. The goal of the rescue center is to provide these animals as natural an existence as possible; some will be rehabilitated and carefully released while others will stay at the center throughout their lives. We did not interact with the animals, but we were able to see them relatively up close as we learned about their lives, diets, behaviors and more. I found that the kids on the tour were much more attentive here than when doing a nature walk where they had to look at animals through a scope.
After a brief coffee break, we started our volunteer experience. I was pleasantly surprised that we had an authentic task to help prepare the evening food for the animals. Our guide showed us a huge board with all of the animals listed along with their morning and afternoon meals. We were given menu cards for each animal and weighed out papaya, watermelon, spinach, eggs and more. It was a great lesson in the importance of variety in a healthy diet and also in math; weights were relatively precise so we had to cut up the ingredients to be sure the animals received the right amount.
Then came our son’s favorite part: preparing the food in “devices” that would challenge the animals to have to think and work for their food. We were provided wire boxes, tubes with holes, cardboard, and more and put the food into these vessels. Depending on the animal, we made the puzzles more or less challenging to open. Once everything was put together, we delivered the packages to the animals and reveled in watching them open their “gifts”. It was so rewarding to see the fruits of our labor. Our day volunteering at Proyecto Asis was a definite highlight of our two week trip!