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 victimized 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 deal with are always changing. To give you an idea, on 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


The volunteers stay in a large cool (important in this hot climate!) newly built dormitory room, with tiled floors, ceiling fans and views out to the jungle beyond. Longer term volunteers can move into smaller converted shipping containers with just 2 bunk beds. Both these options are side by side and share a nice large social area consisting of a tiled veranda and a long row of tables, chairs and hammocks where you can hang out, play card games, socialise and relax. The sounds of the jungle fill the air and you really know you are living in nature.

It is advised for volunteers to bring their own mosquito nets. The bathroom and shower are in a separate building adjacent to the rooms. The showers do not have hot water, but this is never a cause for concern as the weather is warm and everyone is always eager for a cold shower.

We provide 3 meals a day. The food is traditional dishes and consists mainly of rice and beans or salad and is hearty and filling. Tea and strong local coffee is offered with every meal, and we often have fresh juices too. Laundry is typically done by hand, but a laundry machine is available for a fee, or you can pay for our laundry service. Drying of clothes is done on clotheslines. Free Wi-Fi is available in the volunteer housing and in the sanctuary gift shop. The gift shop sells delicious home made ice-creams, with flavours including raspberry, strawberry, local fruits, cookies and cream, cheesecake and chocolate.


NATUWA is 2 hours from the airport, located half an hour from the beach and in travel distance of many amazing activities and destinations. Costa Rica is a nature lovers paradise. It is studded with volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforest, beaches and cloud forests. Home to over 500,000 species of wildlife many of which are classified as rare or endangered. Extra activities are selected by the co-ordinator each week for your off day and may include zip lining and sipping local coffee in Monte Verde, hiking in the beautiful Cloud Forrest, days at the beach, boat rides to see phosphorescent plankton (seasonal), cultural tours and more. You are also welcome to plan your own trips or just take a walk to the nearby shops to try some local fruits, snacks and chocolates.

The climate here is tropical, warm and sunny all year around and locals are rated as one of the happiest nations in the world. No wonder then that this country makes an incredible travel destination. The staff at the sanctuary all speak English, elsewhere most people speak Spanish with limited English. There is no shortage of outdoor activities, whether you want to try surfing, hiking climbing, rafting or zip lining. The food carries a Latin American flare which has all of our volunteers coming back for more!


2 weeks: £840

3 weeks: £1160

4 weeks: £1530

5 weeks: £2270

6 weeks: £2640

7 weeks: £3010

8 weeks: £3380

Longer stays by request

Want to know what is included? Great news, it’s almost everything including

  • Pre-departure assistance

  • Accommodation on site at the sanctuary

  • 3 delicious meals a day

  • 24 hour support on every project and at the volunteer accommodation by onsite staff


  • Airport collection and returns ($120 each way, 2.5 hours in a private taxi that we will arrange for your). This cost will be shared among multiple volunteers if numerous people arrive on the same date. 

  • Visas

  • Personal medical insurance

  • Flights


Volunteers fly in and out of San Jose airport, arriving on a Monday and departing on a Sunday.  The start dates for this project are every 2nd week throughout the year. When we are less busy we can be flexible with arrival dates, feel free to email and discuss this with us if needed. We will collect you from the airport and drive to NATUWA for your initial tour and induction.

2022 start dates:

7th and 21st November

5th and 19th December

2023 start dates:

9th and 23rd January

6th and 20th February

6th and 20th March

3rd and 17th April

1st and 15th and 29th May

12th and 26th June

10th and 24th July

7th and 21st August

4th and 18th September

2nd, 16th and 30th October

13th and 27th November

11th December

2024 start dates:

8th and 22nd January

5th and 19th February

4th and 18th March

1st, 15th and 29th April

13th and 27th May

10th and 24th June

8th and 22nd July

5th and 19th August

2nd, 16th and 23rd September

7th and 21st October

4th and 18th November

2nd and 16th December

Volunteer feedback

Sarah Callon

August 2022

"We came as a group from university. This trip was the most awesome way to gain clinical and veterinary experience and learn exotics medicine whilst being surrounded by nature. I learned parasite control, clinical exams, wing fracture fixations, orphan raising protocols, biosecurity and loads more. You feel like you are right in the middle of the jungle, it is so peaceful although it isn't too far to visit to local shops or attractions"

Adam Mitchel

June 2022

"For me the best part was helping the rescued animals. We had a lot of new species come in during my time there including cockatoos, parrots, sloths, possum, tortoises and monkeys. Each one had its own injury or illness so it was exciting and varied. I loved working with the biologist too and learned a lot about husbandry. I would say this trip is so worth every penny. I came alone but made friends straight away"


If joining us in Costa Rica to help wildlife in need of medical care, attendion and management sounds like your dream trip, we want you! Be part of this amazing project, just fill in the form below and we will be in touch with you right away.