Traditionally, when juvenile or infant wild animals arrive to a rescue center, humans have tried to correctly provide nutrition and medical care in a standard manner which often involves a high level of physical contact. As humans, it is easy for us to forget that we are one unique species among 4500 different species of mammals and 8600 different species of birds. Highly intelligent animals will learn our own species-specific behaviors through the positive reinforcement of providing hands-on nutrition. In many cases, these animals whose behaviors have been so drastically altered will not reproduce, which diminishes their value in the genetic pool. Once this happens, the effects are life-long and irreversible. Imprinted to the humans who provide nutrition, these animals lose the natural instinct to stay elusive to humans. Having no fear of humans, whenever a negative situation develops involving a human, these animals will react in a species-specifically incorrect way towards the human, using physical aggression resulting in many complications. When physical aggression is not possible, frustration levels build up to a point where abnormal behaviors learned from humans will occur, such as screaming, arboreal animals being more terrestrial like their human caretakers, continuous aggressive displays as opposed to their natural elusive behavior, over-grooming and nervousness, and in many cases, self-mutilation as a result of unnatural frustration levels.
A new era is beginning at Monkey Park. When juvenile animals arrive at our rehabilitation-to-release center, after a brief medical examination, an appropriate species-specific plan is established as to how to provide hands-off nutrition and medical attention. Once the correct nutrition is determined, it is regularly administered in a quiet location by a camouflaged caretaker resembling a tree with leaves, making human presence indistinguishable from other foliage patterns in the exhibit. In the medium- to long-term, this process of rehabilitation is positively assured by a wild animal’s ability to receive external stimuli, use the senses to process the stimuli and categorize it as positive or negative, analyze and respond to the situation, and commit it to memory. Thus in preparing rehabilitated indigenous wildlife for release into select sites throughout Costa Rica, we are able to effectively monitor the non-imprinting success of our rehabilitation efforts and ensure that our unique conservation methodologies are preserved for the benefit of Costa Rican biodiversity.