Costa Rica is home to six different kinds of wild cats. Although thousands of visitors take to the country’s hiking trails each day, the chances of spotting one of these elusive, nocturnal felines is slim to none. Most likely, they turn up when injured or captured illegally. When this happens, it is Costa Rica’s many animal rescue centers that provide shelter and care. If you’re traveling to Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste, one shelter you won’t want to miss is Las Pumas Rescue Center. In this post, we’ll share all the details you need to plan you visit and see these impressive cats for yourself.
About Las Pumas Rescue Center
Located just outside the small city of Cañas along the Inter-Americana Highway, Las Pumas Rescue Center (Centro Rescate Las Pumas) provides a temporary, or sometimes permanent, home for wild cats and other animals that have been injured, rescued, orphaned, or confiscated in the illegal pet trade. Like many rescue centers, this one began with the passion of one individual and grew.
In the early 1960s, Lilly Bodmer de Hagnauer, an animal lover originally from Switzerland, began taking in animals that were in need of help. At the time, Guanacaste was in the midst of a boom in deforestation for farming. Habitat loss was displacing the area’s wildlife, and more and more animals were being captured and kept as pets or injured by passing cars and hunters. Not knowing what to do, Hagnauer’s neighbors would drop off wild animals at her doorstep. Soon even government agencies in Costa Rica were turning to “Mrs. Lilly” for help. Within just a few years, the project had grown into a full center with 160 animals, including monkeys, wild cats, parrots, and an array of other species.
Mrs. Hagnauer passed away in 2001 though her good works live on. The non-profit foundation created in her name and dedicated staff continue to further her mission by rehabilitating those animals that can be released and providing a safe, humane home for those that cannot.
What to Expect at Las Pumas Rescue Center
Of the six species of wild cat found in Costa Rica, five can be seen at Las Pumas Rescue Center. These include the two largest, the jaguar and puma, as well as smaller ones like the margay, ocelot, and jaguarundi. The wild cats are definitely the highlight of Las Pumas, but the center has many other resident animals too. Both the white-faced capuchin and spider monkey can be seen, as well as white-tailed deer, river otter, a badger-type animal called a greater grison, and birds like the Toucan, Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored and Mealy Parrot.
What’s great about Las Pumas is that the animals live in spacious enclosures, and you can tell that the staff takes great pride in their care. Unlike at some zoos where animals are confined to small cages, the enclosures are spacious and mimic the natural environment. Small streams run through the spaces and full-grown trees, rocks, thick plants, and dead logs provide shelter and camouflage. Although it is of course ideal for animals to live in the wild, release is not always possible for various reasons. Providing a comfortable place for the animal to live is the next best option and also serves the important purpose of providing public education.
Planning Your Visit to Las Pumas Rescue Center
Las Pumas Rescue Center is easy to find and is set up so that you can either make a quick visit while passing through or stay a while if you have more time. If you’re traveling along the Inter-Americana Highway, it would make an ideal stop between the beaches of Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playas del Coco, etc. and the mountains of Arenal Volcano/La Fortuna or the Monteverde Cloud Forests.
The center doesn’t do tours, but it is easy enough to guide yourself along the nice walking paths using the map provided at the ticket window. The enclosures also have signs that describe the story of each animal and explain how they arrived at Las Pumas so you will get a feel for the issues that face Costa Rica’s wildlife. There are 18 enclosures total, and it takes about an hour to see all the animals and walk around the whole facility. There is also a small gift shop, which helps support the foundation, and some picnic tables if you want to take a lunch.
Las Pumas is located 4.5 km (2.8 miles) north of Cañas off the Inter-Americana Highway (Route 1). It has a large sign by the highway with a picture of a puma (mountain lion). Follow the dirt road for about 100 meters (325 ft.) and the entrance will be on your left.
Las Pumas Rescue Center is open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Non-residents: Adults $12. Children and students (+12 years) $8
Residents: Adults ₡3,000. Children (4-12) ₡1,000. Students (+12) ₡2,000
How You Can Help
The price for admission and proceeds from the gift shop help to support the center by providing medical care and food for the animals. It also aids in advancing the foundation’s other objectives, which include environmental education, conservation, and wildlife management.
Those wanting to give some hands-on help can read about the volunteer and internship programs on Las Pumas’ website.
Finally, if you would like to help out but can’t make it to Costa Rica anytime soon, you can make a donation or sponsor one of the animals in your own name or the name of your company.
Have you been lucky enough to see Costa Rica’s big cats out on the trail or have you visited them at a wildlife center? Which cat is your favorite? Let us know below!