Baby Two-toed Sloth. Photo by Sam Trull

Wildlife Rescue and Release + Sloth Love in Costa Rica
Organic Spa Magazine
by Zoe Helene


If your Costa Rica travel plans include a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, take a short detour to check out the KSTR’s Wildlife Rescue Center, the only legal rescue center on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast. Founded by two 9-year-old girls who were inspired to help save the disappearing rainforest, Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) rehabilitates wounded, sick, abandoned and orphaned rainforest animals with the goal of releasing them back into the wild, healed and healthy. With a 50 percent release rate—which is high—KSTR is making a positive impact on Costa Rican wildlife.

“The best part of my work is the moment when we release animals back to the wild,” says Sam Trull, a photographer and former wildlife rehabilitator at KSTR who is now the Sloth Specialist at KSTR's The Sloth Institute Costa Rica, a new independent spin-off project initially supported by KSTR . The KSTR rescue center, managed as a clinic, can care for as many as 70 wild animal “in-patients” at any time. In this biologically diverse region, visitors might see monkeys, sloths, anteaters, owls, kinkajous, raccoons, ocelots and even the occasional jaguarondi. Staff members and volunteers name every “inpatient.”

“We’re reversing the damage that’s been done in their lives,” Trull says. “We get so many animals because of human causes, like electrocutions, which is probably the number one reason we receive them. And these are so heartbreaking. Often these animals come in almost completely burnt.”

Baby anteaters come into the center fairly regularly, usually because the mother was either killed by a dog or hit by a car.

During her two-year tenure as wildlife manager, Trull realized she had a passion for working with sloths. “Sloths are such loving animals,” she says, “They melt the hearts of all who see them.” She’s now living her dream by serving solely as the Sloth Specialist at The Sloth Institute, a research and education center dedicated to helping the sweet, slow-moving creatures and preventing more damage. More and more sloth subspecies are becoming endangered as humans destroy their habitat.

“The Sloth Institute works very closely with KSTR, and I still take care of all the KSTR sloths, so we’re still very much in partnership with each other,” Trull explains.

Sam is featured with Newbie, a three-toed sloth she cared for, and Tiny, one of the youngest two-toed sloths she had ever come across, on BBC One's Natures Miracle Orphans which airs September 23 and 30, 2015 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After the broadcast the episode will stream online on PBS Nature.

Her new book, Slothlove, combines her passions—wildlife photography, conservation and rehabilitation—and helps support sloth conservation through its proceeds. Slothlove will hit the shelves in January 2016, but you can pre-order a copy at

These marmosets are safe and healthy but they cannot be set free. Photo by Sam Trull

Human contact with animals that are being rehabilitated for release is limited, but visitors can interact with “permanent residents” that have been deemed unreleasable. During one-to-two-hour tours, visitors see troupes of titi monkeys, marmosets and kinkajous in 12 different enclosures, including the recently added multi-species cage that houses a porcupine and a small troupe of capuchin monkeys. On premium tours, guests can watch through a glass window as vet techs rehabilitate and feed animals for release back into the wild.

A Titi monkey crosses one of the blue rope monkey bridges put up by Kids Saving The Rainforest. Photo courtesy of the Kraft Family.

“We rescue wild animals, but we also work very hard to prevent harm to them in the first place,” says Trull. Most of the baby animals at the center are orphaned because of human actions. Anteaters, for instance, climb trees to hunt for insects but spend half their time on the ground, where dogs or cars often kill them. The leading cause of death for the endemic titi monkey is electrocution by high-tension electric wires, so KSTR erected rope “monkey bridges” that offer a safe alternate route across strategic areas of Manuel Antonio. The species has been moved from a designation of “critically endangered” to “endangered,” which is rare and inspiring progress in wildlife conservation.

This tiny little girl is a baby Kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the “honey bear”. Photo by Sam Trull

“At KSTR, not only are we physically helping animals on a daily basis, but we’re also spreading the message about conservation and animals on a larger scale,” Trull says. “We’re addressing the immediate needs of the animals that are getting injured—literally in front of our eyes, sometimes—but also trying to plan for the future and address the long-term needs.”

Baby Squirrel “Titi” Monkey being bottle fed. Photo by Sam Trull

The center tries to put babies of the same species together so they can learn and grow together. “If they become entirely dependent on humans, they’ll learn how to never become wild,” Trull says. “It’s a tricky situation, for sure, because they do need you for emotional development and just to learn how to be wild, not just logistically but also emotionally. Then you have to back off when it’s time.”

Samatha holds a newborn baby three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) sloth to her chest. This method is called “skin to skin.” Photo by Seda Sejud

Trull holds a newborn three-toed sloth born immediately after her mother, who was brain-damaged when she fell from a tree, underwent the world’s first emergency C-section performed on a sloth. Trull is using a “skin to skin” method of increasing body temperature to reverse hypothermia, a common complication in C-section births. “It’s a quick and effective method, and it worked.”

Someone killed this Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) kitten's mother and kept the baby as a pet. Photo by Sam Trull

This orphaned ocelot kitten was confiscated after someone killed her mother and kept her as a pet, which is illegal in Costa Rica. One of the best ways to help the animals is to not support the exotic wildlife pet trade, she says. “People in the United States fuel the pet trade in other countries. Just because you buy the animal in some pet store in Florida doesn’t mean its mother wasn’t killed.”

Kermie and Pelota, these adorable two-toed sloths, grace the cover of Sam's new photography book, Slothlove. Photo by Samantha Trull

Trull’s new photography book, Slothlove, is a collection wonderful sloth photos with inspirational and heartbreaking stories about survival and loss as well as interesting sloth facts. Kermie and Pelota, two-toed sloths that Sam raised from tiny babies, grace the cover and are also in the book. Trull hopes the book will teach people to “appreciate these amazing animals for more than their obvious cuteness.” She also hopes to inspire people to help protect all wildlife and natural habitats. “I hope to increase awareness about the critical issues faced by sloths and all wildlife,” she says. “I’d like to see more effective collaborations with conservation and animal rescue organizations around the world.”



Primatography on Twitter @Primatography

The Sloth Institute Costa Rica

Slothlove: an inspirational sloth photobook

Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR)

KSTR’s Wildlife Rescue Center

Manuel Antonio National Park

All images are copyright protected and are published with permission. To request permissions for use, please contact Sam Trull at Primatography

September 2015