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AmaZOOnico: Animal Rescue in Ecuador’s Amazon

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. Finally, 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

While we were at Cotococha Lodge we had an opportunity to visit AmaZOOnico, an animal rescue center near Tena, Ecuador. The thing about traveling in the Amazon is that its jungle is so thick and roads so few that it is far easier to travel by water. So 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 were a tangled mass of impenetrable leaves. Were it not for our guide and the sign we’d never have seen it or known AmaZOOnico was there.

As we climbed out of the boat we were greeted and escorted up a set of stairs to the welcome center, a small building holding a ticket office and small gift shop. The reserve makes a little money from tourism and souvenir sales but not enough to support itself. It survives through volunteer labor and the kindness of generous donors worldwide.

Volunteering 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.

Read accounts of what it's like to be a volunteer here:

As we were shown around 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 our guide told us stories 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.

Animals at AmaZOOnico

Here are a few of the animals we saw there. I hope you’ll forgive us for the photos that are out of focus; Dan did the best he could. Even more interesting animals were hiding, like the kinkajou and anaconda.

Scarlet macaws at AmaZOOnico animal rescue center near Tena, Ecuador
These scarlet macaws have broken wings. When they are healed they will be released back to nature.
This toucan was a pet and now cannot be released. For this beautiful guy, life can never be more than a cage.
AmaZOOnico caiman
This caiman was once a pet and never honed its sense of smell. That's an essential skill for any hunter.
This is a capybara, the world's largest rodent. He got used to people.

A novel way to help the environment

The Amazon is home to a small wild pig called a peccary, which is an important part of the diet for big cats. The indigenous peoples hunt them as well, and this creates an imbalance in 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.


Location: AmaZOOnico is located in Tena, Napo, Ecuador.

Open: Monday to Friday, 7:00 – 16:00

Getting there:

  • 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).

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Visit the AmaZOOnico animal rescue shelter near Tena, Ecuador.

Visit the AmaZOOnico animal rescue shelter near Tena, Ecuador.

Visit the AmaZOOnico animal rescue shelter near Tena, Ecuador.


Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries She has an insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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14 thoughts on “AmaZOOnico: Animal Rescue in Ecuador’s Amazon

  1. Loved how you went into the background of many of these beautiful animals at Amazoonico. It’s such a shame for those who can’t be released because they’ve lost the ability to survive in the wild. Hopefully this helps people think twice before purchasing exotic pets!

  2. Wonderful to see the work being done by this great organization. We recently visited a similar wildlife rescue in Tasmania. Thank goodness for such places all over the world.

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