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The Osa Wildlife Sanctuary This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

The sun-kissed water lapped my face, and when I resurfaced, I found myself staring out at a serene ocean hugged gingerly by the peninsula's warm embrace. Three pairs of scarlet macaws soared overhead as I drifted with the warm current in quiet solitude, no one in sight.

This place I'd come to was almost magical. Observing the coastline, you may see workers walking back and forth along the shore, carrying tools or buckets and exchanging nods. You may even see the four species of monkeys in Costa Rica weaving in and out of the trees with their long, dexterous arms. The loud, booming call of a howler echoes through the trees, frightening all who are unaware of them.

You might not be able to guess what actually happens here on this small “island” – until, perhaps, you see a strange woman jogging along the sand with a big brown spider monkey on her back and earbuds in her ears. There's a strange government program in progress, concealed by a thick blanket of 862 species of trees. There's a crazy gringo woman living alone in the jungle with ­monkeys. So many stories could be told.

Though no signs will tell you, this is the Osa Wildlife Rescue Center, a sanctuary in which love and care are the primary medicine given to a variety of injured, sick, or abandoned animals. It is a practice misunderstood and disregarded by many.

I made my way out of the miniscule waves onto the black sand. I slipped on my sandals, wrapped myself in a small green towel, and continued along the path up to the clinic. The stones were barely visible beneath the overgrown grass, and were laden with lizards and leafcutter ants laboring away. I was careful not to step on any; they give a stinging bite. I passed the cages where the baby birds acted as echoes of past conversations, repeating over and over the name of one of the spider monkeys, “Guapo.” Then came the cages with the baby pizote and porcupine, whose quills had grown recently grown in.

Finally, I reached my own large cage at the top of the hill. It sounds odd, but the truth is, the humans are the ones in the cage. The three spider monkeys who reside at the Sanctuary are free-roaming, staring in at us with their large black eyes, plotting to swing through the door to steal a jar of honey when an unsuspecting person isn't quick enough at closing it. I was that naive person the first few days at the sanctuary.

After quickly changing into dry clothes, I jumped over the wall separating the sleeping area from the clinic and began preparing milk for the baby titi monkeys, also called squirrel monkeys. We feed them five times a day: four scoops of Isomil, four scoops of baby cereal, one jar of baby food, and two cups of water all mixed together. I poured 120 mL of the freshly made milk into another measuring cup and let it heat up on the stove. The rest went in the freezer for another feeding. I let the milk cool, then sucked it up with two syringes topped with little rubber nipples. I stuck these through the cage. A female baby titi monkey drank from one syringe and the male drank from the other. They squealed with delight. Overhead, a baby green bird cooed happily when he received his own meal: two scoops of baby cereal and three scoops of water.

“How's it going, Cocomo?” Carol asked energetically as she came strolling down from her room above the clinic. “Cocomo” was the nickname she had given me and the other volunteer. She joyously hugged Sweetie, the friendliest and smallest spider monkey, and put her head to her chest as a greeting before quickly entering the clinic door. The other two monkeys – Poppa Lou, the diva, and Winky, who likes to stick her tongue out – sat silently by, giving the occasional giggle that melts your heart.

Who is this strange woman? She is considered by some to be the Jane Goodall of the Osa. For sixteen years she has dedicated herself to the animals here in Costa Rica, traveling to Puerto Jimenez across the bay to pick up animals, undeterred in her mission to protect and heal those in need. Only a week before I arrived, she and Aaron, another volunteer, brought back a baby anteater from the port during a torrential downpour. Their boat stopped midway and they were stranded there in the rain for a while. Aaron had to keep the baby anteater warm under his shirt as the rain tried tirelessly to create a futile journey. Carol ended up feeding it every three hours, even through the night. This is how far she goes.

The sanctuary costs fifteen thousand dollars a month to run. The only revenue coming in is from volunteers, donations, and the two-hour daily tour we give each morning. We show admiring travelers the scarlet macaw, the tayra, the toucan, the kinkajou, the collared peccary, the capuchin monkeys, and the sloths. At the end of each tour, all three of the free-roaming spider monkeys come out to interact. They pull the travelers over to the row of tree stumps, inviting them to sit and scratch the monkeys' fur, while Carol answers any questions with undying exuberance. Then we head back over to the clinic to continue our work, whether it is feeding animals, washing dishes, or laying blankets out to dry.

From early morning till sundown, we work. We take small breaks to write in a journal, read, swim or eat. We work tirelessly, with determination and love, for the victims of abuse, the abandoned, the lost souls stolen by the infamous pet trade. And Carol mentors the volunteers so we can help her and take care of the animals to the very best of our ability. At the end of the day, when the bugs are humming, the animals are fed and sleeping, and the rain is pattering outside the open cage where we sleep, we realize that all the bug bites and cold showers and early mornings are worth it. They are worth it because we make a difference. We make a difference in the lives of those who are all too often forgotten, and who are all too deserving of our unconditional love and care.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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