Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat
 Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary

Geotourism Challenge 2009

1. What is the goal of your innovation ?  Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

Our project focuses on all conservation issues in our area, to preserve and protect our lil’ corner of Costa Rica,  including conservation education, wildlife rescue center, reforestation.

2. Please write an overview of your project.  Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. 

Our project consists of a wildlife rescue center; wildlife sanctuary (28 acre property of secondary & primary jungle near  the national park Reserva Cabo Blanco); conservation education in the local schools; reproduction for re-introduction of endangered or already extinct (in our area) species of animals & birds; combating poaching & illicit pet trade in our area; promoting reforestation by providing rare & endangered hardwoods & native fruit trees, along with providing expert advice and hands on help (along with our volunteers) to landscape natural forest environments, at minimal cost ($1 U.S. per tree).  We also work together with other conservationists to acquire, restore, and/or create key properties with biological/wildlife corridors in order to expand wilderness habitat territory available for the wildlife in our area.  We provide nature tours to nature lovers at minimal cost.  We are networked with numerous biologists from all around the world to expand the knowledge about various animal species.  We maintain a nursery of rare medicinal plants and trees, and promote the use of natural remedies made with native medicinals.  Our volunteer program draws over 200 volunteers from all over the world to Cabuya annually, and this influx of eco-tourism has a noticeable positive impact on the economics of our community.  Our wildlife rescue center draws visitors from all over, Everyone enjoys the close contact with the various wildlife species we care for.  The visitors also impact the community positively (hotels, restaurants, service industries, transportation, etc.). Conservation education is our focus for all aspects of our project.  We gladly advise and counsel people who are striving to develop similar projects worldwide.

3. Explain in detail why your approach is innovative.

The lack of wildlife rescue centers in Costa Rica is shocking.  We have battled the bureaucracy and legal obstacles from day one, to acquire our permits, and to provide other conservationists with vital information to make their efforts at rescuing wildlife in other areas less challenging.  We are pioneering the reproduction for re-introduction of many mammal & bird species that have been ignored in the past by conservation efforts.  We have effectively repaired the food chain on our sanctuary, and now are seeing an influx of wildcats and other predators.  No-one before us attempted to deal with the conservation issues that threaten the wildlife in our area…poaching in the national park and surrounding properties, wildlife deaths due to electrocutions on the govt.s’ electric lines, wildlife being killed by unrestrained domestic dogs, clear  cutting of forest and wildlife corridors, etc.

1.What is the origin of your innovation?  Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

The wildlife losses we suffered to poaching in the years since we bought our farm came to a peak in October of 2004 when our favorite stallion was shot & killed by poachers hunting with flashlights at night, on our sanctuary.  We had previously lost several rescued & released deer, a family of 5 anteaters (they were shot, then thrown into our well), and countless other animals. Our horse being shot on our farm enraged us to the point that we declared open warfare against the poachers.  We sought out support from the judicial system (the local judges), the police, the district attorney, and the OIJ (Costa Rica’s FBI)…and began a campaign to stop the slaughter of the wildlife.  Using no weapons, only armed with cameras, we began to document the poachers and their kills, warning them that we would file charges if they continued to kill wildlife.  We held town meetings to educate the public about laws that protect wildlife.  The national park guards at Reserva Cabo Blanco began to confront the poaching problem following our initiative.  We began to network with other conservationists all over Costa Rica to continue the battle to protect wildlife.  It was a natural progression that we began the wildlife rescue center to save what we could of the local wildlife suffering from injuries, abandonment (usually poachers had killed the mother), captivity, etc.  The other aspects of our project naturally evolved.  

2. Please provide a personal bio.  Note this may be used in Changemakers’ marketing material.

Born in Texas, as a child I always nurtured animals in need of rescue (wildlife & domestic).  Other areas of interest include oceanography, ichthyology, and marine aquariums.  Hobbies are beachcombing, shell collection, arts & crafts, painting & drawing. I spent the majority of the past 30 years living & travelling in tropical Central America. When stateside, my home was South Padre Island, Texas. I lived most of the 80’s in Belize, on a small island I homesteaded in the mouth of the lagoon near Placencia, Little Harvest Caye.  When life became too radical for me in Belize, I moved to Costa Rica in 1990.  I married Simon Gomez Gomez in 1993.  In 1996 I bought the property that is now the Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary, 28 acres of secondary & primary jungle near the national park in Cabuya.  The Rainsong project evolved from organic fruit orchards, biodynamic gardening projects, & an extensive reforestation nursery of rare & endangered tropical hardwoods, to include the broader aspects of all pertinent conservation issues.  I have always considered myself to be a fellow planetary guardian.

3.  Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides.  Be specific, give illustrative examples.

Visitors to Rainsong experience close contact with various rare & little-known species of wildlife, including several species that are already extinct in our area of Costa Rica (crested guans, chachalacas, kinkajous, teqezquintle or pacas, peccary pig, wildcats, etc.).  The tour thru the sanctuary is a lesson in sustainability, reforestation, permaculture, and multi-purpose land use. Rainsong’s grounds are a natural pleasant environment of mixed ornamentals, rare hardwoods, native fruit trees, medicinal plants and trees, and pleasant wildlife habitats built by hand with love by ourselves and our volunteers.  We offer nature tours by horse or hike thru the local wilderness jungle.  Everyone is amazed, and enjoys their visit to Rainsong.  The experience is educational for even seasoned biologists, vets, environmentalists, etc.  Conservation Education is our focus, and all visitors are informed in detail regarding the status of each species at the Rescue Center.  All visitors are asked to make a minimal donation for the maintenance of the animals in the rescue center.  We have no financial sponsors, no funding from grants or universities.  Our entire budget is provided by donations.  Many people donate more than expected, thanking us for the chance to have this inspiring experience, and to be able to contribute directly to the continuance of our efforts. 

4.  What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

From the beginning we have been developing a network of wildlife specialists, including zoologists, biologists, vets and students of veterinary sciences, and other sciences involved with environmental issues.  We exchange observations, advice, and counsel on the various aspects of our project.  We have many expert friends who are knowledgeable about Central American hardwoods & reforestation.  We have helped some quite large projects plan & execute a comprehensive reforestation of large areas. We would like to reach a level of networking that embraces all areas of planetary wilderness.  We have been contacted by other similar projects around the world. Our most urgent concern is acquiring funding for the continuance of our projects.  We welcome all nature-lovers from around the globe to join us in our efforts.  Rainsong is a planetary biological station open to all fellow planetary guardians.

1.Describe the degree of success you have had to date.  How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics?  How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism?   How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

The impact of our project is demonstrated to us daily by the gratitude & appreciation expressed to us by the communities around us.  Visitors & locals alike tell us about the positive changes we have implemented thru our Conservation Education programs, Reforestation programs, Wildlife Rescue Center, and general Conservation projects.  By means of our always expanding network of knowledgeable experts & conservationists, we are able to provide resource networking for others who want to implement similar projects.  In 2005, after we began battling poaching, wildlife losses to poaching dropped dramatically.  There are still poaching problems, and other serious issues threatening wildlife & wilderness in our area.  We are confronting these problems daily and including the local communities in our efforts.  The wildlife rescue center at Rainsong is attracting more tourism daily, a different type of tourism. ‘Eco-tourism’ in Cabuya is a very positive and economically beneficial factor for the whole community.  We promote the preservation of wildlife & wilderness; there are no negative impacts from our project.

2. In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input?  How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

All the communities on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula have taken an interest in our project.  We are active in rescuing wildlife, conservation education, and reforestation. Rainsong’s Penjamo Community Wildlife Refuge is a unique approach to planetary conservation, and serves to inspire landowners to protect the wildlife on their properties.  Rainsong involves locals as employees in our reforestation projects, habitat construction on the Sanctuary, nature tours, etc.  The eco-tourism attracted to our area by the wildlife rescue center has had a very noticeable positive effect on all aspects of the local economy.

3. How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locals?

Cabuya is a small country village, isolated & remote.  It was never exploited for tourism like nearby Montezuma, due to the fact that the beaches in Cabuya are quite rocky. Prior to our project, visitors to the national park in Cabuya would drive straight thru Cabuya to reach the park, and drive right out again, never having a reason to stop. Cabuya residents had to travel outside of Cabuya to find steady employment.  Once our rescue center began attracting eco-tourism, many new restaurants, guest houses, and service industries sprang up. Visitors enjoy the cultural exchange they experience in this quiet village.

4.  Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educate them on local environmental issues.

 Rainsong strives in all aspects of our projects to educate visitors and locals alike, in order to prompt necessary changes in the overall management of wilderness, wildlife, & natural resources in our area and on our planet.  ‘The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.’ Chief Seattle


1.How is your initiative currently financed?  If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others.  Please list: annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff. 150 words

 Rainsong receives donations from visitors and volunteers, & occasionally people make donations thru our website. Our volunteer program attracts over 200 volunteers annually.  We release all animals that suffer no permanent disability.  But the number of permanent resident animals increases daily.  Add to this, the animals in our reproduction for re-introduction programs.  Currently our budget for just food, vitamins, & preventive medicines is well over $1500 per month.  The continual construction costs for building habitats for new animals is extremely expensive.  The local hardware store supports the project by providing building materials on credit without interests.  Usually we hire a carpenter to supervise construction projects carried out by our volunteers. Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary Association is registered non-profit, tax-exempt in Costa Rica. We are striving to create a non-profit NGO stateside to allow us to apply for grants stateside.
Our staff is comprised of Mary, Simon, Christine, & long-term volunteers. 

2.  Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable?  If not, what is required to make it so ?  Is there a potential demand for your innovation?  100 words

Thanks to the concern and donations of conservationists and volunteers from around the world, our project has been able to continue forward momentum, and our network is expanding daily. There is a need worldwide for more projects that protect mother nature. Once we have a non-profit NGO registered stateside, we are confident we will find funding to continue our efforts. Daily we are contacted by fellow planetary guardians willing to dedicate their lives to the continued protection of wildlife and wilderness.

3.  What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation?  What barriers keep your program from having greater impact? (200 words)

 We find that the major obstacles to our project are: continued problems with bushmeat poaching and illicit pet or hide poachers, increased animal deaths due to electrocution on the govt.’s electric lines, apathy in the local communities, lack of sympathy and cooperation from government officials, acquiring donations sufficient for our monthly budget and construction projects, and a shortage of dedicated personnel. Funding would solve most of our challenges. With funding we could expand our Conservation Education Programs to create change in our local communities and protect mother nature with more effectiveness.

4. What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach?  Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so. (100 words)

We would like to see a worldwide network evolve made up of fellow planetary guardians who are enabled with knowledge and skills to protect wilderness and wildlife everywhere.

Comment from Geotourism Judge:

Great program Ms. Perry
by Robert Billington on Mayo 4, 2009 - 21:01
This is a great project with great passion behind it. I just have one question about tourism growth in Cabuya. You mention the growth of tourism related businesses. This is great and very healthy. Do you have an idea of what may be too much growth or too rapid a growth pattern. Too much tourism for the community sometimes may be worse than no tourism development at all. Cabuya may be a long way off from too much tourism, but you may want to begin to think about it.
Keep up the amazing work.
Mary’s response to Judge’s comments:
Eco Tourism in Cabuya
by Rainsong Wildli... on Mayo 8, 2009 - 16:06
greetings from paradise !!!
i appreciate your concern about negative impact from too much tourism in Cabuya, and your appreciation of our efforts at conservation in our area.
my reply is very long, but important, so i hope you take the time to read it all.
EcoTourism = travelling to places for the purpose of experiencing & observing wildlife in their natural habitat.
Conservationists & the public in general (in developed countries worldwide) understand the urgent need to protect & conserve the wilderness areas remaining on our planet.
In general, people are more aware of global environmental issues nowadays, and would like to be part of the solution, not contributors to the decline & eventual disappearance of wildlife & wilderness areas.
Ecotourists yearn to contribute significantly & personally to efforts to save wilderness, especially in the areas they visit to appreciate the biodiversity.
Ecotourism & Conservation work together for the same goal : the salvation of the remaining wilderness on mother earth.
Ecotourism & the preservation of wildlife habitat are compatible goals.
Example : Kenya´s policies on wilderness management are an excellent example of ecotourism & conservation efforts accomplishing a shared goal.
Without ecotourism, Kenya´s diverse wildlife would have dissappeared decades ago.
In Costa Rica, in just the last decade, tourism has replaced banana & coffee exports as the leading source of income for the nation.
Costa Rica receives over half a million tourists annually.
The fact that over 300,000 out of 500,000 tourists visit the national parks of Costa Rica is a clear indication that the majority of tourists visiting Costa Rica are "ecotourists".
How does this rather recent flood of tourism affect the nationals on a local level ?
I explained in Rainsong´s entry questions that Cabuya was never exploited for traditional tourism (beach resorts) due to its rocky shoreline. Locals had to travel or live outside Cabuya to find steady work in order to provide for their families.
The only other options were fishing, hunting, or logging.
The construction of a bridge over Rio Lajas (only 15 years ago) opened up the area to ordinary car traffic. Shortly after the Rio Lajas bridge was built, a Cabuya family established a bus service to Montezuma. Having a regular bus service facilitated greatly people´s ability to travel to work.
Still, traditional tourist projects never developed in Cabuya.
The only attraction in Cabuya was the national park Cabo Blanco. But due to continued heavy poaching in the park, the majority of visitors to the park complained that they didn´t see any animals on their treks there.
In Costa Rica, in areas where ecotourism & conservation were diligently applied & developed, the exhaustion of natural resources thru poaching & logging has been slowed, stopped, & even reversed.
The best example in Costa Rica of this reversal of wilderness depletion is the Monteverde/Santa Elena area.
The consciousness of the local residents has changed. They now realize that the animals alive in their natural habitat are worth much more, & bring a constant revenue that isn´t depleted, than their worth dead as bushmeat, or captured for the illicit pet trade.
Same for the forests that house the animals. They provide a constant attraction for ecotourism $´s, in contrast to their value as logged lumber.
Once the locals understand this correlation, the battle is won !!!
They then become allies in protecting the very animals & forests that before they traditionally plundered.
Poaching & deforestation are serious threats to the future of wilderness in Costa Rica.
Altho it´s almost unbelievable, Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Central America, and the world.
The World Resources Institute ranks Costa Rica fourth among the world´s nations in rate of deforestation.
Rainsong is striving thru Conservation Education and community outreach programs to elevate the consciousness of the locals in Cabuya til they can appreciate this fact :
The animals & forests are worth more alive than dead.
The ecotourism attracted to Rainsong (volunteers & visitors) is providing economic opportunities for Cabuyan residents. Many locals have expressed their appreciation of this fact, and their support for our projects.
We still face serious challenges locally in our conservation efforts.
Yet, we strive to maintain a hopeful attitude when confronting obstacles caused by ignorance, apathy, and out-dated traditional mentality.
"The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth." Chief Seattle
Time is running out, in Cabuya, in Costa Rica, in the world.
Those of us who care, and want to change the destiny of our planet must take action NOW !!! Before it´s too late.
We invite all fellow planetary guardians to join us in our labor of love to save mother earth !!!
happy trails,
mary at rainsong
we have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand ~ and melting like a snowflake.