I didn’t travel all the way to Costa Rica to admire great beaches–even Long Island has good enough beaches. I wanted to admire that variety of plants and animals, both sea- and land-dwelling, that inhabit the Costa Rican jungles and rainforests. As a tourist, I had an important role in not disturbing these animals’ home. Since most animals have a habit of camoflaging themselves as a defensive mechanism, I decided to take a guided tour, rafting down the Penas Blancas River so that I would have help in spotting animals. We also visited La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which provides sanctuary to many rescued animals that are unable to live in the wild, including the toucans above.
I wanted to be on my best behavior, so at night, I drove extra slowly, as these nocturnal creatures would seem to jump out of nowhere, their slimy bodies catapulting from one side of the road to the other in a single leap. I got up close and personal with a few at a conservatory. I was there during the day, so most of the frogs I saw were asleep on the back of a leaf. When you actually see an animal up close, in its habitat, the effects of deforestation are painfully clear. No leaves? No place for a frog to rest its head.
Who and what a country puts on its currency can give someone a pretty good idea of what that country values. What do Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin all have in common? Nope–they weren’t all presidents 😉 Well, the sloth is on Costa Rica’s equivalent of a $20 bill. That’s right–a sleepy little animal that dwells in trees is important enough to reside on the most common bill in the country.
I didn’t know much about sloths before I got to Costa Rica–but boy do I now. We spotted a few as we rafted down the Penas Blancas river, nestled into a furry ball high in the trees. They were so high up that they were hard to make out–even with binoculars. These mammals have been around longer than any other mammals on the planet, and their evolutionary adaptations are fascinating. They barely move from their comfy spot nestled in a tree, and when they do, it’s very slowly. They weigh only a few pounds and have very little muscle. Their diet consists of mostly leaves–which take a while for their four-chambered stomach to digest.
Sloths stick their sharp nails (their only active defensive mechanism) into trees so that they won’t fall out when sleeping. In fact, when a sloth dies, it can take weeks for them to fall out of their tree since they are nestled in so well. Sloths do leave their trees once a week–to go to the bathroom. They (slowly) crawl down from their home base to dig a hole to urinate and defecate. They then bury it. Why don’t they just poop from the tree? Probably because it would attract predators. Sloths also leave their trees during mating season–traveling quite some distance to find another sloth! These solitary creatures will carry their offspring in the tree with them. If the infant falls from the tree, it’s not the long drop that will kill them–it’s whether or not the mother decides to make the long journey to the ground to rescue the infant sloth.
We spotted groups of these monkeys chillin in trees during our raft down the river. At one point, we saw as many as 15 in single tree. They were perched on the branches–not hanging as I would imagine. Also, these monkeys don’t eat bananas! Bananas are not native to Costa Rica, so these monkeys opt for native fruits and nuts.
True to their name, they are the loudest land-dwelling animal on the planet–and their howls can be heard clearly as far out as three miles. But they aren’t just sitting around making noise, they howl as a way to mark their territory, so they do it routinely at dawn and dusk.
The male:female ratio of these monkeys is something like 1:4. Although, there is generally one alpha male in the group. The alpha male “rules” for about four years, before another male monkey comes along to challenge him for the role. Once a male loses his alpha position, he is exiled from the group, and will be solitary for the rest of his life.
Flying with the Birds
As you can see from the photo above, we got to hang out with some pretty colorful toucans. I have a soft spot for birds, because we always seemed to have pet birds around the house. (Although, the concept of “pet” animals is something that I find more and more troubling.) But, birds aren’t the only things that can fly. I finally checked “zip lining” off of my bucket list!