“Breakfast with the babies” seemed too good to be true. Offered by the animal rescue Toucan Rescue Ranch, the tour offers the opportunity to enjoy a leisure breakfast surrounded by the rescue’s most adorable residents. Breakfast is served with a healthy dose of information on how to protect these animals as well as the individual stories of how everything from tropical birds to baby sloths and endangered jungle cats made their way to the center. We had visited other famed rescues in Costa Rica, but none like this. With the promise of getting to meet, and learn about, the residents of this inspirational rescue we promptly sent an email and booked a tour for the same week.
A safe haven for animals on the mend
Breakfast with the babies began with exactly what the promotion had promised: enjoying a typical Costa Rican breakfast while observing the babies being fed: juvenile woodpeckers and parrots are current residents but the undisputed stars are a collection of two and three-toed baby sloths who take breakfast by the bottle. Founder and chief conservationist Leslie Howle feeds the babies, throwing out interesting facts like the number of vertebrae in each sloth species while the animals offer living proof, turning their tiny heads like an owl to melt the hearts of guest with their permanent smiles. Their story is tragic, as is the story of many animals at the ranch, and though Leslie’s ultimate goal is to “work herself out of a job” issues like illegal animal trading, abuse, and accidents are constant threats. This, at least, is a place where the animals can rest, heal, and ideally – return to their natural habitats. The curiosity and health of the babies is testament to this mission, and the money generated from each tour goes directly back into helping keep that vision alive.
Feathered friends at the Toucan Rescue Ranch
We pulled up to the gate after following directions from someone in town telling us to turn right at the “big, wooden toucan.” Flecks of brilliant reds and gold through thick foliage and the unmistakable squawking of scarlet macaws assured us that we had arrived. Bright green glass mowed short around the property grew feet-tall in some enclosures, while native trees and bushes provided cover in others and several volunteers carried stacks of metal trays full of tropical fruits and pellets specific to each animal’s needs.
Toucans, we learned, are picky eaters and the misconceptions of what they eat often lead to malnutrition and in the worst cases, death. Parrots and macaws outlive most of their owners and as social birds, need company and room to roam. Lorita, a resident mealy amazon parrot was kept in a tiny cage for 30 years before her rescue and is making up for lost time. On Leslie’s cue, she waved at us before scooting over alongside her longtime “boyfriend,” an adoring bird half her size. Scarlet macaws swing and socialize in large cages close to their endangered cousins, the Great Green Macaws (fewer than 1,000 left in the wild) and a series of habitats display multiple species of owls. Both the resident striped owls and keel billed toucans have made headlines as the first of their kind to breed in captivity – proof that the Toucan Rescue Ranch is definitely doing something right. Hundreds of tropical birds have called the Toucan Rescue Ranch home, and they were Leslie’s first love. In fact, the registered wildlife reserve was originally meant to be just for them.
More than misfits: Endangered mammals find refuge
As her reputation grew, so did the amount of enclosures at the Toucan rescue ranch. It all started with a tiny baby sloth who required 24 hour care and a series of phone calls to every wildlife professional Leslie knew. Soon, hers was the go-to place for injured animals of every kind ranging from the big-eyed nocturnal kinkajou, to a slippery river otter, a blind pourcopine, and tramatized spider monkeys. One day, a spotted cat was found rummaging through local trash cans, hungry and completely foreign to the wildlife officers trying to identify it. When the call came, Leslie was hesitant – it would be the first feline in her growing collection of rehabilitating wildlife, and a new enclosure costing thousands of dollars needed to be built just for it. That call, it turns out, was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity explained Leslie as we approached the cats cage. No bigger than a typical housecat, but with markings reminiscent of its cousin the jaguar, the elusive and highly endangered Oncilla woke up with a yawn and promptly climbed to a higher vantage point, mock-stalking us as we circled its enclosure.
A mission fueled by education & conservation
A group of schoolgirls in Switzerland “adopted” Millie the sloth, and they even Skype when they get the chance. Local schools take field trips to meet the animals and participate in activities ranging from creating bird toys to storytelling. This, Leslie informs us, is perhaps the most important mission that the Toucan Rescue Ranch must fulfill; a generation of young people who value and understand these animals means fewer animals needing rescue centers like hers in the future.
A steady flow of both volunteers and visitors are what is necessary to keep the Toucan Rescue Ranch in business, and creative offerings like the breakfast with the babies tour, or an afternoon tour with a lunch provided by Sibu Chocolate & Garden Café not only give guests a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get close to a huge range of native animals, it gives Leslie the funds to continue their care. A popular “adoption” program helps sponsor the care for specific animals and two guesthouses that sleep up to five is available to rent for those looking for a truly unique place to stay. It’s a place where guests can be fully immersed in the Costa Rican wilderness, without wandering too far from the central valley. Where they can fall asleep to the cooing owls and chirping of golden eye tree frogs and wake up to the call of birds and sleepy baby sloths looking for their bottle breakfast.
The Toucan Rescue Ranch is first and foremost a wildlife reserve and rehabilitation center. Because of that, tours are by reservation only. Located in the Heredia province, close enough to Sibu’s chocolate tour and Garden cafe to combine for a day trip (recommended!), and only 20 minutes from San Jose Center. Click here to reserve your tour and receive full directions.
Breakfast with the babies costs US $55 ($27 for children ages 6-10) per person, and begin at 8am. The tour last approximately 3 hours.
Afternoon tours beginning at cost $30 for adults, and $15 for children (under 6 years old come for free) and last 2 hours, Mon-Wed-Thurs-Fri-Sat .
For a full list of tours and prices, click here
What to bring
Walking shoes, a camera (no flash).
Reserve your tour in advance, and for a fully immersive experience spend the night! For a full day of fun head to the delicious Sibu Chocolate Tasting Tour in the morning, then spend the afternoon with the animals at the ranch.
+506 2268 4041