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Costa Rica wildlife internship

Costa Rica

This sanctuary based in tropical Costa Rica accepts volunteers interested in working in vet, nurse, vet tech or animal management roles. The focus is on husbandry and both preventative and reactive medicine. With over 500 animals that need daily care, the work is exciting and varied. The sanctuary provides refuge and protection to wild animals that have been victimised by hunting, trafficking, habitat loss and human encroachment and has a permanent onsite vet every day of the week, plus a visiting specialist most weeks. Volunteers are invited to work alongside the team looking after resident animals as well as helping rescue and treat wildlife brought in by the public or the government. The end goal for all species is a wild release and many volunteers get to be part of this during their stay.


  • Care for jaguars, sloths, tapir, macaws, spider monkeys, and more.

  • Work in the onsite clinic and laboratory

  • Learn from the friendly and encouraging resident veterinarian, biologist and support team

  • Learn about reactive and preventative medicine through hands on cases

  • Be part of a team fighting the illegal wildlife trade

  • Live in the middle of the rainforest, surrounded by wildlife. You will see wild parrots from the dining hall and monkeys roaming around the gardens

  • Help rescue, rehabilitate and manage iconic species in one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet

  • Enjoy fun and cultural excursions with other volunteers to temples, beaches, volcanoes, and rainforest. Adrenalin junkies can skydive, zipline and brave the ‘Tarzan swing’

Project video

The sanctuary, known as "NATUWA" within Costa Rica, is home to six species of macaw, umbrella cockatoos, four species of amazon parrots, seven species of parakeets, parrots, spider monkeys, marmoset monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tamarin monkeys, collared peccaries, tapirs, ocelots, and jaguars to name just a few. These are some of the most advanced and welfare focused enclosures in South America, with a heavy focus on animal behaviour, enrichment and research. The Macaw enclosure is a one kilometre long doughnut shape, allowing the birds continuous circular flight. Being based in the middle of the rainforest the area is teaming with wildlife and you will see more animals working here than most people do when coming on holiday to look for them!

Our veterinary team play a key role in maintaining the health of the animals at the centre and work closely with the animal keepers and biologist to maximise their health and give rehabilitating animals the best chance of a wild release possible. The vet work can be broken down into the following activities

  1. Triage and treatment of new cases

  2. Assessing issues raised by keepers/biologist

  3. Daily rounds (checking all animals)

  4. Treating ongoing cases

  5. Supportive feeding (common in anorexic birds)

When animals are brought to NATUWA, they are always greeted by our veterinary team who provide a triage and assessment of the animal. When needed, the animal is restrained or put under anaesthesia for a full health check, blood sampling and analysis. This is the fast paced work that provides the first line of care to animals in need. Volunteers are at the forefront of this work and are always hands on and helping. Cases can arrive at any time of day, sometimes even with no warning! We never know what species may come through that gate!

Each day our resident vet walks around with the volunteers checking on every animal in the sanctuary. The grounds are quite large and this will take over an hour. This is time to really enjoy animals in a relaxed environment, getting to know their personalities and behaviours. There is a lot of wildlife roaming the grounds and it isn’t unusual to see an iguana, coati, monkeys or parrots moving freely around the canopy. The air is always filled with the throng of crickets, birds and primates who call the rainforest their home.

Critically ill animals are kept in the clinic for ongoing care and support. Less pressing cases are housed in quarantine enclosures and checked regularly. Some days the vet team are rushed off their feet with sick and injured animals, crop feeding birds, receiving new patients, saving lives and reacting to problems. Other days the focus is ongoing work such as parasite sampling, faecal egg counts, reviewing protocols, data input, and cleaning and reorganising the facilities. Whether you are rushing around the clinic, or reviewing management and dietary protocols, you will be assisting with important work and getting a true feel for sanctuary life.


Volunteers are encouraged to remember that no 2 days are the same in wildlife work and this is especially true in developing countries where plans can change with very little warning and activities may run late, be rescheduled or even cancelled. As a rule, the day will go as follows:

6:00 am - 8:00 am Morning feeding of animals (vet volunteers can opt in to this activity if they wish)

08:00 am - 08:15 am Breakfast!

08:15 am - 10:30 am Daily rounds and tasks (see list below)

10:30 am - 10:45 am Juice break!

10:45 am - 12:00 am  Daily tasks (see list below)

12:00 md - 1:00 pm Lunch, Wi-Fi, and nap time!

1:00 pm - 5:00 pm Afternoon feeding of animals, rounds and tasks (see list below)

The cases the vet team deals with are always changing. To give you an idea, in a single month, here are some of the cases that occurred. This is certainly not an exhaustive list and whilst we can’t guarantee you any specific procedures, or these particular cases, it will help give you an idea of the workload.

  • Assessment of resident cockatoo for foot lesions

  • 3 wild parrots brought in for wing trauma. One remained at the sanctuary, 2 released

  • 2 parrots on crop feeding regimes

  • Wild howler monkey brought in for head trauma. Released

  • 10 smaller avian patients brought in with trauma. Rehabilitated and released

  • Resident Ocelot anorexia

  • Resident Jaguar anorexia

  • 4 orphaned possum babies brought in for hand feeding and rearing

  • Tortoise post mortem

  • Countless avian post mortems

  • Assessment of resident tapir for bad eye

  • Sloth weighing exercise for the growing youngsters

  • Parasite analysis or carnivores

  • Deworming squirrel monkeys

Dinner is from 6:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Whilst veterinary work is the focus of this project, there is always a huge amount of work going on to feed, house, clean, rehabilitate and enrich the lives of the animals on site, which you will also help with. Your tasks will include:

  • Cleaning under animal feeding stations, providing water to animals

  • Collecting samples for ongoing research projects (blood, faeces, feathers)

  • Translocating animals

  • Entering data to our record system

  • Running laboratory tests

  • Clinic organisation and maintenance

  • Feeding baby animals

  • Feeding fresh-cut food to the animals in the clinic

You will work 6 days a week from 6 or 7am to 5pm. Volunteers can join extra activities on the day off to discover more about Costa Rica. Activities include visiting the beach, a local river, water sports, swimming, sightseeing, diving, snorkelling, climbing and hiking.

Project Photos