Today we visited Guira Oga, a shelter and rehabilitation centre for birds and animals rescued from illegal trade or damage in the national park surrounding Iguazu.
The majority of the animals are seized by customs or police but some are also brought to the centre by the national park authorities, having been run over or in some way damaged – often by human activity.
The emphasis is on rehabilitation and so most of the reserve is off limits to visitors, which we were fine with, understanding the logic, but a number of other visitors grumbled, despite the very firm introduction to the tour which highlights that they are not a zoo and put the animals first. This does mean that most of what you see at Guira Oga are birds, many of whom are impossible to rehabilitate after too many years in human company. It also means that many of the animals you can only glimpse as they are in shaded shelters that give them some respite from the sun and tourists.
Actually, the sad reality is that many of the animals die within a few days of arriving. Of the rest, around twice as many are released as are kept. Some of those that are kept are used for breeding, and their young released, sometimes successfully.
The staff didn’t try to gloss over their frustration that the reason they exist at all is due to human behaviour, and at each enclosure we got a depressing list of why each animal was beyond rehabilitation (we didn’t get to see any that have a chance of rehabilitation as they are kept in another part of the reserve). There were of course some successes – an armadillo who had been run over was about to be released, some nearly-extinct birds successfully breeding and their young surviving in the wild, and a number of damaged animals nursed back to health and successfully breeding, and there is no doubt they do good work, but I found the whole place quite depressing.