Costa Rica wildlife internship
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’
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
Triage and treatment of new cases
Assessing issues raised by keepers/biologist
Daily rounds (checking all animals)
Treating ongoing cases
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 - 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)
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.
The volunteers stay in either a large newly built dormitory room, with tiled floors, ceiling fans and views out to the jungle beyond, or just nextdoor in 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 or you can pay for our laundry service. Drying of clothes is done on clotheslines. Free Wi-Fi is available at the front office. The gift shop sells delicious home made ice-creams, with flavours including raspberry, strawberry, local fruits, cookies and cream, cheesecake and chocolate.
The sanctuary is 2 hours from the airport, located half an hour from the beach and within travel distance of many amazing activities and destinations. Costa Rica is a nature lover's 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 coordinator each week for your off day and may include zip lining and sipping local coffee in Monte Verde, hiking in the beautiful Cloud Forest, 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!
1 week: £710
2 weeks: £1,169
3 weeks: £1,678
4 weeks: £2,187
5 weeks: £2,696
6 weeks: £3,205
7 weeks: £3,714
8 weeks: £4,224
Longer stays by request
Want to know what is included? Great news, it’s almost everything including
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
OUR PRICES EXCLUDE:
Airport collection and returns ($120 each way, 2.5 hours in a private taxi that we will arrange for you). This cost will be shared among multiple volunteers if numerous people arrive on the same date.
Personal medical insurance
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 the sanctuary for your initial tour and induction.
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
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
Alternative start dates can be arranged on some occasions, so please contact us if you need to discuss dates outside of our normal times.
"I enjoyed every part of my internship, from meeting new friends to work with so many different species! It's hard to pick one memory, but I must say that the procedure we did on the jaguar to treat him from a urinary infection was unbelievable. I was really looking forward to work with species I don't see often in my country and to get hands-on practice. I've been served!
I also have to point out the fact that the vet was super accommodating and friendly, so we felt that we could ask him anything. He made sure we tried almost everything we wanted to during our stay like cleaning the turtle shells, do a necropsy, feed the macaws, build homemade darts, do medical training with the marmousset monkeys, work with the tapirs, draw blood from an iguana or a chicken, neuter a cat, and many more!"
"Working with Marvin was incredible, he ensured all of us had the best learning experience possible. Working with the Tapir, the rescued Olingo and the sloths was the best."
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 click the "apply now" button and fill in our form.