Leslie Howle helps save the wild animals illegally kept as pets in Costa Rica. In her neighbourhood alone, she estimates over half of all households are in possession of an animal taken from the jungle

It seems many Costa Ricans have an innate love affair with keeping rainforest animals as pets and it’s an illegal practice all too familiar for animal rehabilitator Leslie Howle.

A BBC film crew recently joined Leslie on a mission to rescue a young coati named Panchito, who despite having been"cute and cuddly" as a baby, was now proving far too difficult for his owners to keep within their modest family home.

Clip above from BBC One's new series 'Nature's Miracle Orphans'.

Howle, a director at the wildlife rescue centre Toucan Rescue Ranch, believes that in her neighbourhood of San Isidro alone, in the rural south-central region of Costa Rica, an astonishing 50 to 60% of households provide a home for animals taken from the wild.

This practice is not just restricted to San Isidro, as nationwide surveys have revealed just under a quarter of all households across this small Central American country commonly flout the law. If keeping wild animals as pets is strictly illegal, why is it so common?

Speaking to BBC Earth, Leslie reveals it is deep rooted in Costa Rican tradition.

"It is cultural; we all grew up with a parrot in the house," she explains. Where parrots and songbirds are abundant, such as coastal and mountainous regions, each house has a little cage of songbirds.

"I can go for a walk along our street and hear black-faced solitaires singing from virtually everyone's porch."

Cultural heritage is of course an important aspect of modern life in any society, but unfortunately this particular tradition comes with its own set of challenges. Many owners who keep parrots, monkeys, and songbirds are simply unaware of their specialist requirements. As a result such animals often either fall ill or become too difficult to manage.

These "wild pets" are so plentiful, yet the wildlife rescue centres able to give expert care are so few and far between. Only a lucky few will be offered a second chance by people like Leslie.

Taking in those that have become sick or injured, her centre provides veterinary care and, when possible, the opportunity to prepare them for an eventual return to the wild.

While Leslie agrees that the laws with respect to wildlife are in theory fit for purpose, the cultural challenge still remains: "Even with laws, it’s hard to get everyone on board."

The illegal international trade in exotic species is also exacerbating the issue. Yet ironically protecting both the environment and its precious wildlife could be one of the keys to the survival of the economy. In 2015 Costa Rica welcomed 2.66 million visitors, many of them drawn precisely because of the country’s incredible wealth of wildlife.

All is not lost, however, as there are still reasons to be hopeful. Costa Rica banned sports hunting in 2012 as part of a pioneering move to protect its native fauna, and in 2014 wildlife rescue centres and activists gathered together to discuss the issue of captive wildlife. This was the first step in opening up talks with the government to expand environmental educational programmes to locals, foreign visitors and tour operators.

And as for Panchito the rescued coati, things are looking up. Although not yet back in the forest, he has now joined up with a semi-wild group of rescued coatis at a nearby centre. From alone in the kitchen to hanging out with his own kind – he is one lucky coati.

Nature’s Miracle Orphans begins in the UK on Sunday 7 February at 5.35pm on BBC One.