Environmental volunteering in Costa Rica with wild animals

Volunteering with wildlife in Costa Rica is an experience that provides knowledge on the management of wild animals of the neotropic. If you are looking to work with wild animals, NATUWA is a place where you have the opportunity to learn about aspects of the ethology and management of animal species such as jaguars (Pathera onca), sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni), macaws (Ara macao and Ara ambiguus), tapirs (Tapirus bairdii), anteaters (Tamandua mexicana) and more.

The care of animals and the environment that NATUWA carries out requires people with a high degree of commitment and cooperation. There are numerous diverse functions that you can perform to help animals, so you are not required to have specific knowledge about animals. All activities will always be carried out under the supervision of the organization’s staff.

Wildlife volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica

The wildlife volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica, offered by NATUWA, do not promote the domestication of wild animals. Our primary goal is to make people aware that we should NOT REMOVE wild animals from their habitats. Additionally, volunteers can not interfere with the animal’s natural behaviors while assisting them. Therefore, if your intention is to touch, hug, kiss, or talk to wild animals, then we recommend you look for another project. But, if you are seeking a place with a meaningful cause where you can give your time, effort and learn about with these wonderful creatures, NATUWA is your project.

Wildlife Rescue Team!

Wildlife volunteer learning about jaguars management

The Wildlife Volunteer who comes to NATUWA, joins our Wildlife Rescue Team to help carry out a daily Rescue Center routine. This includes feeding the monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, macaws and many more. Participate in the process of animal rescue and rehabilitation. In addition, they perform maintenance work in enclosures and environmental enrichment initiatives for animals. The tasks are focused on providing welfare to the animals and allow volunteers to learn how to handle and care wild animals correctly.

The tapir in NATUWA Costa Rica

Volunteer typical day

This volunteer project is quite different from other projects around Costa Rica. We never have a shortage of work, in fact, we are almost always looking for more hands to help! We have over 450 animals that need daily care. If you are lack motivation or passion for animal care and conservation, this may not be the project for you (and that’s ok!) Our daily schedule can be intense, but the work here is extremely rewarding!

The sanctuary is continuously working to improve the lives of the jaguars, tapirs, sloths, macaws and many more animals. Volunteers will participate in activities such as:

  • Animal feeding.
  • Cleaning enclosures.
  • Assisting animals in case of emergency.
  • Participate in efforts to rehabilitate and release animals.
  • Planting trees.
  • Assisting in giving tours of the sanctuary.
  • Maintenance of animal enclosures and property.
  • Constructing organic structures for the animals.
  • Participate in the environmental enrichment of all types of animals.
  • Agricultural production (for volunteers and animals).
  • Cleaning under animal feeding stations.
  • Providing water to animals.
  • Washing enclosure floors.
  • Sanctuary maintenance.
  • Feeding baby animals.
  • Providing fresh cut grass to our herbivores.
  • and anything else that needs to be done!

Volunteer daily schedule.

6:00am-8:00am – Morning feeding of animals with supervision after an introduction period (minimum 3 days).
8:00am-8:15am – Breakfast!
8:15am-10:30am – Daily tasks (see list below)
10:30am-10:45am – Juice break!
10:45am-12:00md – Daily tasks (see list below)
12:00md-1:00pm – Lunch, WiFi, and nap time!
1:00pm-3:00pm -Afternoon feeding of animals with light supervision after an introduction period (minimum 3 days).
After the afternoon feeding, volunteers are free to do whatever they would like for the rest of the day! Dinner is ready by 5:00pm, and it is self-serve.

Ecological restoration

Maintenance of animal enclosures and property

Assisting in giving tours of the sanctuary

Animal feeding

Environmental enrichment for animals

Cleaning enclosures

Volunteer with sloths in Costa Rica

Tow finger sloth rescued by NATUWA

Characteristics of sloths

One of the most emblematic creatures of the tropics in Costa Rica are the sloths, these charismatic animals with dense hair live in the forest, immersed in the vegetation, sometimes they are confused with mounds of termites or simply imitate the environment very well, which makes it very difficult to spot them.

In Costa Rica there are two species of sloths; one species is of diurnal habits, the three-fingered sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) while the other, the two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanny) prefers to be active during the quiet of the night.

The roads go through the natural habitat of the sloths, often they are trying to understand this big asphalt mace in the middle of their house, their forest … many are injured, others orphaned due to different reasons (dog attacks, road raids, destruction of its habitat), where the human being is always responsible.

The volunteer with sloths in Costa Rica, play an important role in the rehabilitation of these beautiful creatures, rehabilitation requires many hours of work, both day and night, so that the sloths can return to their natural habitat. At NATUWA volunteers learn everything about the management and care of charismatic sloths.

Volunteer with sloths Costa Rica, NATUWA Sanctuary.
Speedy, the two-fingered sloth baby (Choloepus hoffmanni)

Caring of the baby sloths

Baby sloth rescued by NATUWA Sanctuary
Orphanage sloths

Caring for animals is an activity full of challenges that involves a lot of commitment and responsibility. But even greater, is the commitment to take care of baby sloths that still can not feed themselves.

The baby sloths without a mother that takes care of them, depend highly on the feeding that the human being takes until his snout, literally. They are helpless creatures that can hardly survive without the assistance of the mother.

 Unfortunately, many baby animals are removed from the ecosystem, most of the time with the intention of having an “adorable” pet and others by the illegal pet trade. To this is added, the offspring of mothers who have had fatal accidents crossing the road, where miraculously the baby survives – baby sloths, anteaters, opossums, etc -.

Baby Sloth rehabilitation by NATUWA Sanctuary Costa Rica
Papita, the orphan baby who survived the attack of dogs. His mother died.

So, for these baby sloths and other orphans, the only chance of life is the one they find in the animal refuge center. Free from a violent death, in tragic conditions of starvation or desiccation, a death full of agony.

Thanks to the work we carried out at NATUWA, together with the Volunteers, the Fire Department, the Public Force and the National Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE), we prevent these animals from suffering and at the same time, we offer them the opportunity to return once again, to their life in the trees.

Overview

Each wildlife volunteer has a huge impact on the lives of the animals. Because, with your help  We can guarantee quality of life to the animals through activities of environmental enrichment, proper feeding, surveillance and general care. Together, we can improve the lives of animals in captivity and focus our attention on our rehabilitation and release efforts.

NATUWA is a wildlife volunteering opportunity where you can help and learn about how to conserve amazing creatures and their importance to the ecosystem.

At NATUWA, we are all animal lovers. And we know for a fact that many wild animals require our help. But, without interfering with the interactions they have with their natural environment, their ecology. However, being an animal lover comes with a lot of responsibility and comminment. It is our responsibility to direct our love in a positive manner. Loving an animal does not mean hugging, touching, or showing “affection” to an animal, but rather having scientific knowledge of how to care for an animal in a way that will allow it to succeed in nature. 

Come to NATUWA and learn with us to be a real Wildlife Volunteer. In few words, to learn to coexist in harmony with the environment that surrounds us.

Volunteering at NATUWA is a wonderful and unique experience that is perfect for people of all ages and all backgrounds. Volunteers will be able to positively impact the animals of the sanctuary, learn and practice Spanish, meet new people from all over the world and experience a different culture.

  1. No smoking.
  2. Do not talk to animals.
  3. Do not feed the animals (outside feeding time).
  4. When taking pictures, the use of flash is prohibited.
  5. The use of any type of drug is prohibited.
  6. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed.
  7. Be respectful of the staff of the sanctuary (sexual harassment, racism, homophobia or xenophobia will not be tolerated).
  8. Do not allow strangers (outsiders) to enter the sanctuary.
  9. Follow the safety rules according to the activity (gloves, helmet, eyeglasses, boots, pants).
  10. Do not carry any electronic device during working time (Cell phones and camaras).
  11. Insect repellents containing DEET are strictly prohibited.

Price of our wildlife volunteer program

  • $40/day
  • Transportation from Airport Juan Santamaría $100/one way

The price for groups of Institutions, Universities or related, should be negotiated directly with NATUWA.

Donations (Amazon wish list)

There are a few items that would help the animals that are difficult to purchase in Costa Rica. These items are listed on our Amazon wish list. Items that are easiest to carry in luggage are: Harrison’s Organic Juvenile Bird Formula and the Meyenburg’s goat milk powder. Volunteers are encouraged to bring these items to help the animals!

Details on Arrival

Volunteers may arrive whenever they want, during opening hours (6:00am to 4:00pm).

What to bring?

 *Mandatory

  • Rubber boots.
  • *Natural repellent (without DEET).
  • Natural sunscreen.
  • Mosquito net.
  • *Long pants (working pants).
  • Clothing that dries quickly.
  • Hat.
  • Afterbite.
  • Shower sandals.
  • Quick drying towel.
  • Beach items.
  • Many pairs of socks.
  • Reusable water bottle.
  • Biodegradable soap, shampoo, detergent and other hygiene products.
  • Topical medicine for allergies.
  • Allergy pills.

Optional items:

  • Thin bed sheets (one pair is provided).
  • Bandana.
  • Long sleeves.
  • Rain jacket.
  • Work gloves.

Included Services

  • WiFi access.
  • Accommodation type: Dorm Room.
  • All meals are provided for volunteers. Vegetarian options will be provided upon request.
  • In case of an emergency, the closest hospital is 40 minutes away.
  • La pulperia (small store) is a short walk from the sanctuary. Only 1 km away!.

Food & Drink

Food & Drink Details

The meals are typical dishes of Costa Rica. Almost every meal includes rice, beans, or salad. Juice or coffee is offered for every meal. It is very important that you inform us if you have any special diets or food allergies.

Example Breakfast Meals:
1. “Gallo pinto” with: egg, plantain, or sausage.
2. Cereal.
3. Fruits (watermelon, banana, and papaya).

Example Lunch Meals:
1. Rice and beans with a meat.
2. Rice and beans with spaghetti.
3. Meat and vegetable soup with rice.

Example Dinner Meals:
1. Rice and beans with a meat.
2. Hamburger.
3. Cold cut sandwich.

Volunteer Students in NATUWA

Accommodation

NATUWA volunteer facilities

Accommodation Types : Dorm Room

Currently, volunteer housing is in two separate buildings. The first building is a typical Costa Rica country style house with one room including three bunk beds, a fan, storage space, and windows. The house is typically reserved for long-term volunteers (4 weeks or more). The second building is a modified shipping container with three rooms. Each room of the container includes two bunk beds, a fan, and storage space for personal items. It is advised for volunteers to bring their own mosquito nets. Volunteers are expected to keep their areas clean and respect the property of others.

The bathroom and shower are located in a separate building adjacent to the rooms. No hot water is available for the showers.

Laundry is typically done by laundry machine. Drying of clothes is done on clotheslines.

WiFi is currently available in the volunteer housing and in the Sanctuary gift shop.

NATUWA Volunteer facilities

Transportation

Transportation from the airport is not provided, but can be arranged – just let us know if you need help getting here!

Best season to be a Wildlife volunteer

Costa Rica has two seasons, the wet season and the dry season. The wet season is from May to November, which brings rain almost every day, but at the same time highlights the lush green landscape of Costa Rica. During these months, the weather is cooler, making it easier to work in.

The dry season is from November to May, during this time there is a lot of sunlight and a beutifull blue skye. The landscape is covered with fruits, such as mangos and beautiful flowers multicolor!. NATUWA is located in the dry forest where it is very hot, especially during the dry season.

Then, you decide on what season of the year you will do your wildlife volunteer work in Costa Rica.

Voluntariado en Costa Rica con animales silvestres

How to travel to NATUWA ?

Public busses run everyday (except Sunday) to and from the sanctuary for the volunteers. At 6:00 am the public bus arrives in front of the sanctuary to transport people to the town of Puntarenas where there is a bus station with busses to travel around Costa Rica. The bus leaves from Puntarenas to Aranjuez at 11:30 am, arriving to the sanctuary around 1:00 pm. The price of the public bus is about 1 mil colones (equal to about $2).

A taxi service can be requested to bring volunteers to the sanctuary. From Puntarenas to the sanctuary, volunteers can expect to pay about $35. From  the Juan Santamaria Airport to NATUWA the cost is $100.

Places to visit near NATUWA and Free-time activities

Every week, volunteers will receive a day off to be able to relax and explore surrounding areas. The staff of the sanctuary can help organize places to visit. Options include the beach, local river, Puntarenas, Monteverde (two days), Volcano Arenal and others.

Public buses run every day (except Sunday) to and from the Sanctuary to Puntarenas. At 6:00am a public bus arrives in front of the Sanctuary to transport people to the town of Puntarenas where there is a bus station with buses to travel around Costa Rica. The bus leaves from Puntarenas to Aranjuez at 11:30am, arriving at the sanctuary around 1:00pm. The price of the public bus is 1,000 colons (about $2).

A taxi service can be requested to bring volunteers to the sanctuary. From Puntarenas to the sanctuary, volunteers can expect to pay about $35 for a taxi, and about $80 from the airport (Alajuela) to NATUWA.

Every Sunday, the feeding of the animals is the only task of the day, for which there is more time, to enjoy the beautiful Sanctuary. After feeding, we usually visit the city of Esparza, only 30min from NATUWA. To eat pizza !!!, each participant pays the trip with a cost of $ 7 approximately and everyone pays what they consume.

Interested in volunteering with us?

Fill out the form

To start your registration process at NATUWA Sanctuary, fill out the registration form to book your space with our team of wildlife volunteers (We have a limit space of 16 volunteers). The information you will send will be analyzed and we will contact you as soon as possible.

Environmental enrichment for macaws.

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Turner Morrison

I volunteered at Natuwa for 3 weeks and it was an amazing experience. The staff of Natuwa are great people and they all care so much about the animals. I would recommend this program to anyone who has a love for animals and nature and wants to see them where they belong, in the wild. The housing was basic but had everything I needed and the food was delicious. If you decide to volunteer during the rainy season I would highly recommend rain gear and rain boots. I promise that if you decide to volunteer at Natuwa you will not… Read more »

Educational, serene, and beautiful with a mission and vision to support, protect, and re-wild sensitive animal species. I was a volunteer at Santuario de Lapas (SdL) twice. The first time was with International Student Volunteers and the second was on my own. Both trips, SdL was welcoming, encouraged direct involvement in the care of the animals (feeding, cleaning, etc.), and made sure to educate me on the significant issues surrounding the animals, why the issues existed, and how I could continue to help, even after leaving SdL. The food is amazing, the sleeping quarters were great, and the site is… Read more »

Marina

I was at Natuwa in Oct./Nov. 2018 for three weeks and I really loved it. It was one of the best experience in my life. I was so happy that I chose this voluntary project. Everyone was so nice and the work with the animals was just great. I could also work with the babyslots and the babyanteater! Aww… but my favorite was to feed the monkeys (I love monkeys!😍) The chicos are so helpful and funny and they show you everything with a lot patience and answer all your questions. The are so passionate and have a big knowledge… Read more »

Stéphanie Gagné Clermont

I volunteered in Natuwa for 2 weeks between December 2018 and January 2019. It was a really great experience! I learn a lot about many things : why some animals can’t be released and others can, the different behaviors according to the species, how to take care of babies animals (I loooved working with them!), what a person should do and no do if she/he find an injured or orphan animal outside, how they build this place and his vocation, etc. It’s a really nice rescue center, I saw their love for wild animals (not pets). We can see that… Read more »

Sam Rosenblum

magical is the word to describe this place. I wasn’t able to stay as long as I wanted to but I plan to go again in the future for a long time. Not only were the staff and other volunteers so welcoming, being able to contribute to the well being of these precious animals is a feeling like no other. A huge perk is meeting people from different parts of the world and learning about their different cultures.

Adrianna P Disla

I volunteered in Natuwa for my Spring Break ( one week ) and by far has been one of my best experiences that I have had in my life. Everyone is very friendly and the program in Natuwa is very good, Would definitely recommend to everyone. One thing that I learned was that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your future goal is in life when it comes to the benefit of these animals everyone is welcomed. One week was very short for me and that is why I will return for more time in order to… Read more »

Johanna

Natuwa was one of my best experiences on my trip. I was here for four weeks and would have liked to stay even longer. If you have time, then visit this place. Here you learn a lot about animals and nature not only in Costa Rica. The history of the animals is interesting and moving. Rodolfo and the staff are super friendly and try to teach you Spanish in a fun way if you don’t speak it;) They are all committed to the cause. The work with the animals and people is just great. Every week you get to know… Read more »

Elisa

I had been looking for a meaningful project – one that has its focus not on creating a nice experience for volunteers, but one that is first and foremost a worthy cause, i.e. a real help for animals. Considering the information I had, I felt that NATUWA was the place to go. And I am so glad to say that I am absolutely happy to have supported NATUWA!! I tried to get to know the sanctuary as well as I could in the one week that I had become part of it. What I found was actually much more than… Read more »

Bine

I`ve been volunteering in NATUWA for four weeks and it has been a wonderfull experience. I learned a lot about the right treatment of wild animals and got to know a lot of friendly and open-minded people. The employeed Ticos are very helpful and diverting so that the work makes a lot of fun. In felt like my help was appreciated, learned some spanish and enjoyed the time with the animals. I definitly will go back to NATUWA.

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