Jonathan zip-lines in Costa Rica

Nature Boy: Get to Know IE Expedition Leader Jonathan Sequeira

Jonathan zip-lines in Costa Rica

Growing up in Nicoya, Costa Rica as the son of a botanist and anthropologist, Jonathan Sequeira comes by his love of nature honestly. After heading off to Sri Lanka to get his PhD in Alternative Medicine, he headed back to his native country, where he balances life as a naturalist guide with breeding poison dart frogs and growing medicinal plants on his property in Sarapiqui. Here, we catch up with IE’s beloved expedition leader to learn more about his passion for plants, animals and people.


Tell me about your childhood in Costa Rica.

I was born in the town of Nicoya in 1966. My father was a botanist and anthropologist, and my mother grew up in the countryside and was a nature lover. In 1977, I heard concerns about deforestation in my province. Somebody from the Cousteau crew said, “If we keep cutting the forest, by the year 2000 Guanacaste will be a desert.” I knew at that moment that I wanted to be involved in the conservation of nature.

You went to Sri Lanka to get a PhD in Alternative Medicine, specifically the use of medicinal plants from the rainforest. What drew you to that field of study?

My study of medicinal plants was probably influenced by my father, who did some work for different universities. The Open International University for Complementary Medicine in Sri Lanka allowed me to continue my studies in Costa Rica, as it focused on plants from the rainforest. I was inspired by how plants found a way to defend themselves by developing compounds that stop predation. Through understanding the potential medicinal properties of those substances, we can find a way to improve our quality of life.


What are some interesting examples of medicinal plants in Costa Rica?

1) Almendro, or Beach almond (Terminalia catappa) -  This non-native ornamental tree has fruits that are one of the most important sources of food for the scarlet macaw. The leaves are astringent and therefore antidiarrheal; they have antimicrobial and antifungal agents; and some substances found on the leaves have effects on HIV replication.

2) Carao, or Sandal (Cassia grandis Fabaceae) - This medium-sized tree is known for the honey-like liquid from the large bean-shaped fruit, which can be used to treat anemia. For best results, it shouldn’t be mixed with milk.
3) Papaya (Carica papaya) - The sap of the unripe fruit is used as a meat tenderizer, because of its papain enzyme. A test on an injection of the enzyme into the spine to dissipate pains of the intervertebral disc had a 60% success rate, and a minimum risk of allergy. But the FDA is not approving the use of products with papain until more research has been done.

4) Indio Desnudo, or Naked Indian (Bursera simarouba) - This common tree secretes a natural resin that can be used to stop blood flow from wounds. The sap can also be used as an antidote for poison-wood. You can also use it in a tea for rheumatism or in a bath for back pain, and a poultice of crushed leaves can soothe bee and wasp stings.

How did you wind up becoming a naturalist guide?

Being a naturalist guide is a way to teach how important it is to preserve nature, and my love for nature have been part of my life since I was a child. I started guiding in Guayabo National Monument as a volunteer. It was there that I started learning about plants and birds, as well as the archeology of the area. After that I went to Corcovado National Park to work in a biological station call Marenco, where representatives of International Expeditions first contacted me. Later on, I started working for them.


You have a farm in Sarapiqui, where you breed Poison Dart Frogs. Can you talk about the environmental challenges facing amphibians around the world, and what their struggle tells us about the planet?

In 1988, during my first visit to Monteverde, I was lucky to see and photograph Bufo periglenes and Atelopus sp, a toad and frog species that later went extinct. Later on I learned about the illegal international traffic of frogs to supply a market in some countries in Europe. I tried to breed frogs in captivity to supply that market and send the price of those frogs down to the point of stopping the illegal trade. But I could not get permission from the government to manipulate specimens of endangered species. So what I am doing right now is keeping a piece of land in the rainforest, where I protect frog habitat. It is like my own little reserve, with monkeys frogs, birds, etc.


What do you hope IE guests will take away from their Costa Rica tours in terms of knowledge and experience?

I see guiding like converting people into a new religion. It’s a great pleasure when people tell me, “I will go home inspired and appreciating nature, being more alert about what we have in our backyards at home.”  Hearing that they will teach their children, and that this experience has changed their life… these kinds of comments make me enjoy my work even more. It’s my goal for all our guests!

Travel to Costa Rica with Jonathan!

Join IE's Master Naturalist in Costa Rica. International Expeditions has offered small-group Costa Rica tours for 40 years. Choose between naturalist-guided adventures encompanssing the natural and cultural history of Costa Rica, or enjoy our bespoke journeys, ideal for families.