Once upon a time, a family adopted an ocelot cub because they couldn’t resist how cute it was. It’s too bad that they conveniently forgot one essential detail: Babies grow up.
One day, the ocelot was just too much pet to handle. Perhaps it decided to sharpen its claws on their sofa or maybe it got a little too rough in its play, or it could have just become too expensive to feed. Whatever the reason they decided to get rid of it. AmaZOOnico to the rescue.
Rescuing Amazon animals: AmaZOOnico
Our Amazon tour included an opportunity to visit AmaZOOnico, an animal rescue center near the town of Tena, Ecuador. We quickly learned about traveling in the jungle: It’s easiest to travel by water. The growth is so thick that there are few roads through the area.
As a result, we all piled into a canoe and headed down the Napo River. This was no Native American-type canoe with paddles, though. It had a gas motor and a roof and could easily carry 20 people.
The shores of the Amazon are a tangled mass of impenetrable leaves. Probably branches, too, but they were obscured by the leaves! Were it not for our guide and the AmaZOOnico sign, we’d never have seen it or known the animal rescue center was there.
As we climbed out of the boat, a volunteer greeted us and sent us up a set of stairs. The welcome center is not much more than a small building holding a ticket office and small gift shop. The reserve makes a little money from tourism and souvenir sales, but it certainly isn’t enough to support itself. AmaZOOnico mainly survives through volunteer labor and the kindness of generous donors worldwide.
Volunteer at AmaZOOnico
Our guide was a volunteer from Germany. Volunteers at amaZOOnico work 5 days a week, 7am to 5pm, with 2 days off a week. They work for a minimum of 6 weeks and get a variety of experiences. It is hard but very rewarding work.
As she showed us through AmaZOOnico, we learned more about the animal rescue center’s mission. Its primary goal is to try to rehabilitate every animal that comes through its doors and help it return to the wild. The goal is lofty but unfortunately, by the time they arrive at the center, approximately a third of the animals they receive are in such bad condition that they don’t survive.
Of the animals that do, half cannot be rehabilitated and will have to remain in captivity. Usually it’s because their senses have become dulled through disuse or because they are no longer afraid of people. The volunteers are thrilled whenever they can bid an animal goodbye one of the remaining animals can be rehabilitated and released back to its natural habitat.
As she took us past the various cages, we heard about the animals we were passing. Most of the stories were sad ones: wings clipped so birds could never fly again, pets abandoned by their owners, animals rescued from poachers, or found injured along the road.
Ecuador animals at AmaZOOnico
Here are a few of the Amazon animals we saw there. I hope you’ll forgive us for the photos that are out of focus. Dan did the best he could, but animals rarely stop to pose for selfies. Plus, the most interesting animals were hiding, like the kinkajou and anaconda.
Community service projects
The Amazon is home to a small wild pig called a peccary, and the animal is an important part of the diet for big cats. The indigenous peoples hunt them as well, which unbalances the Amazon food chain.
To help fix this, AmaZOOnico now raises and sells peccaries to the locals. Getting them to accept the idea has been an uphill battle, but they have been making progress: Recently, three were purchased for a wedding banquet.
Here is some more information to help you plan your own trip.
How to visit AmaZOOnico
If you want to visit the rescue center, it is located in Tena, Napo, Ecuador.
- Open Monday to Friday, 7:00 – 16:00
- By bus: In Tena, find one of the bus terminals or Centinela Jumandy tena. Take a bus to Puerto Barantilla ($2.50 / 1.5h).
- By car: From Tena, take the road to Ahuano. When you arrive at the junction of Ahuano, continue straight until you get to Puerto Barantilla (45 min).
- Once you arrive at Puerto Barantilla, take the motor canoe to AmaZOOnico ($5/15 min).
Where to stay
We recommend using Booking to make your lodging arrangements. Compare prices, amenities, and ratings before you book. Easy.
We stayed at Cotococha Selina Amazon Lodge on the Napo River.
Want an organized tour?
Here are some Ecuador tours that you might like.
- 3 or 4 Day Amazon Napo Adventure
- Ecuador Highlights in 10 Days
- 15 Days Classic Highlights Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
On As We Saw It
Here are some other stories about Ecuador’s Amazon basin.
- Amazon Kichwa: How to Use a Blowgun
- Amazon Kichwa: Panning for Gold
- Amazon Kichwa: Native Face Paintings
Read accounts of what it’s like to be a volunteer here:
- Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands
- Amazon Highlights: Peru · Ecuador · Colombia · Brazil (Bradt Highlights)
- Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians