Monkeys in Costa Rica: An Incredible True Story of Animal Rescue and Reunion

This is the true story.

A story about Yury and Molly, two spider monkeys in Costa Rica. It's also one of the most unbelievable travel experiences we've ever had. It's an inspiring story that may bring you to tears. But most of all, this is a good lesson about how taking action — even when we think there's nothing we can do — can make all the difference in the world. 


Monkeys In Costa Rica


This is Molly when we first discovered her chained to a tether.

In many parts of Costa Rica, there are — as the tourist slogan goes — "still more monkeys than people". And it’s true! Small villages dot the most jungle landscape. Even near the beach areas are bordered by jungle and monkeys can be seen and heard everywhere.


Several species of New World monkeys reside here and elsewhere in Central and South America, the only monkeys with prehensile tails - an adaptation that enables them to dwell in trees holding themselves by the tail. How handy is that? They can forage, grasp and eat food in the trees - all while holding on by their tail. There are four main species: Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, White-headed Capuchins, and Squirrel monkeys (also called Mono Titi).


Have you ever heard monkeys in the wild?


There are monkeys just about everywhere in Costa Rica, but despite their numbers, it is illegal to keep monkeys in captivity. Just because they swing over your house, doesn't mean you can bring them inside. We had just learned this during our first visit one afternoon at the Jaguar Rescue Center, a Costa Rica animal rescue center located in Puerto Viejo. So the conversation was fresh in our mind.


Monkey in Captivity


We were leaving Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast, on our way back north to Guapiles for a quick overnight before we caught a flight to the Osa Peninsula. We'd had a great time getting to know new friends and more about the area. About thirty minutes north of Puerto Viejo in the tiny village of Penhurst, I spotted a bright yellow "Sloth Crossing' sign - how often do you see that? - and my husband pulled over so I could snap a pic. It was then, as I got out of the car, that we noticed something moving in the yard next to a small house along the road.

A young spider monkey with a leather collar around her neck was chained to a tether. She saw me standing there before I saw her, and ran toward me. Just as she reached the end of her tether, her head snapped back, toppling her over backwards and onto her belly. She got up and stared at me, her eyes somehow pleading with me. I had no idea what to do. It was heartbreaking. I didn't want to trespass in someone's yard, but I remembered what Sandro and Encar from the rescue center had said about it being illegal in Costa Rica to keep monkeys captive.


So I did the only thing I could think of. We jotted down the mile marker and noted the surroundings, and I took photos of her, promising her that I would try and help, feeling sick at the horrible thought of leaving her alone like this.

Taking Action


When we returned home a week later, the first thing I did was quickly email Sandro and Encar at the rescue center, sending along the photos and location details of her illegal captivity. Weeks went by without a response. I was sure my email had been lost, or maybe there was nothing they could do.


Then one day several weeks later, I received an email from Sandro which I almost deleted. It was written in Italian and landed in my Junk folder which I check only occasionally. I translated the email online and began to read. I couldn't believe what I read, through my tears.


She had been rescued! 

The Rescue, and Reunion


The email was from Sandro, and he shared the touching story of their rescue. But that was only half the story.  Here is his email to me. Though it was written in Italian and roughly translated online, this touching story had an even more amazing ending: 

This is Sandro, the companion of Encar.

I write this in Italian because the history of this story, of which you are partially protagonists, is wonderful and the stumbling blocks I would encounter by attempting to write in English, could make it more difficult for you to understand.
Approximately 2 months ago, Yury was brought to us, an adult Spider monkey whose owners did not want anymore. She is beautiful and sweet, but she is always very, very sad. We carried her to the Cerva, the reservoir of primary jungle (more than 50 hectares) where the liberation of animals happens, which we take care of ourselves. We know that the reintroduction of primate adults can be a very difficult one, but we begin the reintroduction process. But the beautiful monkey Yury is always sad, as soon as she is fed, and she does not like to be separated from us, even for a moment. We do not understand this - the reason escapes us!

Then your email arrives, and we quickly leave to search for the monkey you wrote about. We find Molly in the zone of Penhurst where you have indicated to us. And here we find out something wonderful - we discover that Yury and Molly are sisters! They had lived a long time with each other until the ominous circumstances where careless owners decided to separate them. When Molly was rescued and reintroduced to the Cerva, she and Yury embraced, crying from their happiness.

Now they pass the whole day grooming themselves and running after each other between the enormous trees of the reservoir.

Many thanks from all of us at the Jaguar Center, but above all from Yury & Molly!
— Sandro and Encar

Molly with Encar after her rescue, on the ride home to the Cerva in Puerto Viejo

The Moral of the Story


You too can make a difference! Even the smallest effort can have a big impact - whether it's helping rescue wildlife or calling attention to abuse or neglect where there was none. Take notes and pictures. Report or speak out against suspected animal abuse when you travel.

 Please support the important work they do at the Jaguar Rescue Center. A visit here will change your life, I promise.


How Can You Help?

The Jaguar Rescue Center will happily accept your donation of powdered Goat’s Milk when you visit. They come in medium-sized cans and are available on

If you're planning a visit, email them ahead of time to inquire about helping with needed supplies. They always need supplies like Meyenberg powdered goat milk.