Toucans, Owls and Sloths!

I have been traveling to Costa Rica for over 30 years. In my travels I search out places that are off the beaten path. I am not much for conventional tourism. It would be unusual for me to be drinking a pina colada on a white sandy beach. I prefer to find places where everyday people are doing extraordinary things. The Toucan Rescue Ranch is one of those places. It has been a place I have returned to every year. This colored pencil drawing was done to help promote The Toucan Rescue Ranch in the rehabilitation of injured and abandoned animals of Costa Rica. I am leading an Artistic Adventure Tour to Costa Rica for artists and photographers in 2018. We will be visiting the Toucan Rescue Ranch to support their efforts. You will be able to see owls, toucans, sloths and more up close and personal. Want to join us? Click here for more information about the tour. 50% of the sale of this painting will go to The Toucan Rescue Ranch…… You can OWN IT TODAY!

Toucan Rescue Ranch- Another success story!

Emma the River Otter- Toucan Rescue RanchI have been traveling and leading art and photography tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. It always warms my heart when something wonderful happens to help save the animals of this country.

We have been visiting Toucan Rescue Ranch for 8 years to expose our artists and photographers to a rare behind the scenes opportunity to draw and photograph the animals they care for. It is an opportunity to learn about the conservation and rehabilitation efforts by this organization. The Toucan Rescue Ranch was established in 2004 by Leslie Howle and Jorge Murillo as a rescue center for toucans and other birds. Nonetheless, the rescue center quickly expanded to owls and other wildlife. In 2007, a baby sloth, Millie, arrived and was solely in Leslie and Jorge’s care. Millie is initially what transformed the Toucan Rescue Ranch into to a wildlife rescue. Leslie and Jorge work as a team alongside a small staff, caring for resident rescues and new arrivals. It is a dedicated rescue for Costa Rican wildlife. The organization continues to see opportunities for expansion and betterment. TRR is eager to continue to grow to save more wildlife and implement breeding programs for endangered birds native to Costa Rica’s rainforests.

Today’s success story is about Emma! Emma is a neo-tropical river otter;  (Lontra longicaudis).

As a baby she was separated from her mother when a group of children were found throwing rocks at her by the rivers edge. Emma, who was too young to swim through the current to her mom, was left chirping on the riverbank. Luckily, a courageous woman stepped in and took action against such cruelty. She quickly scolded the children who were throwing rocks and snatched the orphaned otter and brought her to the police. The police in turn brought her to the Toucan Rescue Ranch.

Typically, at the Ranch they encourage minimal human interaction with wildlife to ensure natural behaviors and overall health. However, Emma is different. Because she was orphaned at such a young age she is not capable of returning to the wild. She does not have the proper skills to survive on her own. This is why TRR did a marvelous campaign to build Emma a permanent enclosure. She thrives off interaction and any chance she can to play under the water hose. Emma can make anyone smile with her energy, spirit and overwhelming character.

Watch Emma in this video and see how she can live out her life in her permanent home. Her new home gives her ample area to swim, run and play.

We are so happy to support the efforts of this small organization. Want to meet Emma in person? We will be visiting the Toucan Rescue Ranch on our Artistic Adventure to Costa Rica in March 2017.

Splash 15 from North Light Books

Splash 15 coverAs an artist I have to say that I am not a purist. I tend to work in whatever medium will get the job done and easily produce the results I am looking for. I have been known to combine mediums and some organizations frown upon this. Watercolor societies often require that you do NOT mingle it with anything else. This has led to frustration at times for me and this is why I believe a lot of artists find watercolor difficult. When North Light Books had a call to artists for Splash 15, I knew it was the right venue for me. It involved “capturing the novel approaches, beautiful accidents, and fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants moments that artists have creatively expressed in their unique visions and anecdotal captions.” This had me written all over it! I submitted one of my favorite (almost 100%) watercolor paintings of my pet iguana. Not only did they include it into the book, but they made it the featured image for one of their chapters! If you would like to find out more about the book or purchase it for yourself or a friend please click the link below:

Splash 15: Creative Solutions


To purchase the original painting or fine art print click here.

Happy experimenting!


Rescuing Cats-

King Arthur- MLighthipe©2005

“King Arthur”

King Arthur

Many of you may know that I am one of those “crazy cat ladies”. If you didn’t, you do now. I have had cats all my life and if my dad hadn’t gotten a kitten for my mom when she was pregnant with me…. my name would have been Gabrielle! The cat came first and I got spared the child trauma of being called “Gabby”.

About 7 years ago I started fostering cats for a rescue while I was living in New Jersey. I have a soft spot for “special needs” kitties. I fostered many of the very sick cats that didn’t make it. Raffe had melanoma, Brooklyn had irritable bowel syndrome, and Sinatra was hearing impaired to name a few.  All in all, I have fostered over 75 cats and found most of them homes. I currently have 9 cats that came with me to Florida when I moved.

About 3 months ago King Arthur, my diabetic cat, contracted an ulcer on his eye. I found an awesome vet in Gainesville, Florida, Dr. Gordon of All Cats. She is a diabetic also and took on the care of Arthur as a patient. Diabetes in cats is not unlike diabetes in humans. Arthur requires insulin shots every 12 hours. Most cats with diabetes live about 2 years but Arthur is a strong boy and I have had him with me for over 5 years. Unfortunately for Arthur, his eye ruptured and he is having surgery on Monday to have his eye removed. It breaks my heart that the eye could not be saved. He will hopefully not loose the sight in his other eye and heal quickly. It has been a painful several months for him.

As you can imagine my vet bills and grocery bills for 9 cats can be a bit overwhelming at times.  I am hoping to raise some money in the next few weeks of holiday shopping by offering 6 pastel portraits I did of some of my rescue cats. I am offering a set of 6 greeting cards. Each card has a portrait on the front with the cat’s personal story on the back….. and of course King Arthur is in the set! Here is what the images look like:

Rescue Cat Greeting Cards by MLighthipe ©2009

If you are a cat lover or have a cat lover on your holiday shopping list please consider purchasing a set of cards.

$15.00 includes free shipping in the USA via USPS

Select Quantity of Cards

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

20 years ago I made my first trip to Costa Rica. I had always wanted to see the rainforest. I went with some friends and we traveled by bicycle. Bicycling in Costa Rica was a challenge for me. To make a long story short…. I sold my bicycle there and have taken the bus and rented cars ever since. The first contact I made on that trip was Judy and Luis Arroyo. At the time they had a small business on the Estrella River giving birdwatching tours on a pontoon boat. The business name was Aviarios del Caribe; “The Aviary of the Caribbean”.  I wanted to stay longer but didn’t have the funds so I was looking for a place to volunteer. I was hoping to swap a t-shirt design for a place to stay. I wanted to spend a quiet week or so painting. I believe I was their first volunteer!

“Dulciné the 3-Fingered Sloth” Watercolor ©1992 Mindy Lighthipe. This is one of my very first paintings from my studies at the New York Botanical Gardens Illustration Program.

This is where I met my first sloth. Many of you know Buttercup. She is the 3-fingered Bradypus sloth that has become the mascot of the Sloth Sanctuary. She is the most photographed and probably the most famous sloth in the world. This was not the sloth I met. The first sloth  that came to Judy and Luis was also a 3-fingered sloth. Her name was Dulciné. She did not live very long but she paved the way for Buttercup and many other sloths to find their way to the Sanctuary. At this time there was very little known about sloths. It was uncertain what they ate, how they reproduced or communicated.The Arroyos became fascinated with these rainforest mammals and before anyone realized it, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica was born.

The experience of staying in Costa Rica was life changing for me. When I came home I enrolled in the NYBG botanical illustration program.  I decided to go back to school and study scientific illustration. I started my career in art and teaching in the early 1990′s. Since that trip I have been traveling to Costa Rica every year. I have been leading tours for 15 years to share with others what I have grown to love.  Each year we visit the Sloth Sanctuary and yes, Buttercup is still there!

In May of 2011 my dear friend Luis Arroyo passed away leaving Judy and her family to run and operate the Sloth Sanctuary. It has been a struggle with the world wide economic situation, the growing sloth population, habitat destruction and more, but Judy Avey-Arroyo is moving forward to continue the dream that she and Luis started years ago.

“The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica” Watercolor & Gouache ©2012 MLighthipe #40 of #52/52 Painting Challenge

So I am following full circle. I have just finished a new painting. I worked from some of the photographs that Suzie Eszterhas  took of a 3-fingered sloth and her new born baby. I am pleased and honored to share with you the new Sloth Sanctuary Logo. I am currently working on t-shirt designs and other gift items. The new “Sloth Shop” is up and running for the holidays!

make custom gifts at Zazzle

Going Batty!

Week #2- 52/52 Painting Challenge

I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the Lubee Bat Festival on October 29, 2011. The festival is held every year at the Lubee Bat Conservancy right here in my home town of Gainesville, Florida. The Lubee Bat Conservancy is an international non-profit organization working with others to save fruit bats and their habitats through research, conservation, and education. During the festival, Brian Pope the Director at Lubee approached me and Eve Wheeler about being part of a "photo opportunity" to go inside the cages and photograph the bats up close and personal. Only 40 people were invited for the day. This was the first time in the history of the conservancy that the general public was allowed inside the cages. Eve and I were thrilled! We spent the day with the bats and got see them in action.

"Grace, The Rodriguez Flying Fox; Graphite, MIndy Lighthipe ©2012"


Our favorite bat was a little bat named " Grace". She is a Rodrigues Flying Fox Pteropus rodricensis. She is a  small sized fruit bat with a wingspan of 3 ft and weighing 13 oz. Her diet includes flowers, nectar, and fruit. The Rodrigues Flying Fox is critically endangered. In the 1970’s only 75 individuals remained. Their range is limited to the island of Rodrigues, which is east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.  Here is my preliminary drawing of Grace. My final painting of "Grace" which is painting #2 of my 52/52 painting challenge for 2012 will be finished and posted on Friday. Stay tuned!


If you would like to stay in touch with the Lubee Bat Conservance check out their FaceBook Page.

Hatched to Fly Free – Costa Rican Macaws

Great Green Macaw- Colored Pencil ©2001 MLighthipe

For over 20 years I have been going to Costa Rica. I marvel at the diversity and the amazing array of shapes, colors, textures and sounds of the rainforest. One of the most thrilling things I have ever seen is a great green macaw flying in the wild. They are loud and gregarious and to see them flying rapidly like a rainbow streaking across the sky is breath taking. Through exotic pet trade these beautiful birds have been ripped from the wild to be stuck in cages as someones pet.

Scarlet Macaw- Colored Pencil ©2001 MLighthipe

The population of wild birds is dwindling but there is a husband and wife team who devoted their retirement years to breeding these macaws to release them into the wild. Richard and Margot Frisuis settled in Costa Rica and started Amigos de las Aves a non profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the two endangered species, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) and the Great Green or Buffon’s Macaw (Ara ambigua). Amigos de las Aves incorporates breeding techniques, aviary management, environmental and key studies and conservation issues, in order to carry out controlled release programs in conjunction with MINAE (Ministry of the Environment and Energy) and Costa Rican laws. 

For over 15 years I took my artists and photographers to see Margot, Richard and all of the fantastic birds. Margot has passed away and Richard has retired from the sanctuary. The couple successfully released over 30 breeding pairs into the wild. To successfully release the birds volunteers must monitor and subsidize the feeding for 2 years. Their food in the wild varies from season to season. Birds which are bred and raised in captivity are hand fed and most of the food  is not necessarily what they will find in the wild. This is a tough hurdle to climb over in releasing them. They need to learn from their human volunteers what trees will be in fruit at what time of the year. Margot and Richard trained and worked with their volunteers to make this project a success. Their legacy has continued through the ARA Project, which is in conjunction with the World Parrot Trust.

Here is an awesome video from the ARA Project of a macaw from egg to feathers. It was filmed over a 90 day time frame. This is an fantastic film for natural science and wildlife illustrators as it show the pin-feathers of the bird and how it develops. It reminds me of the time lapsed photography I used to see on Walt Disney on Sunday evenings.

I will be taking my next group of artists and photographers to Costa Rica this coming February 2012. Although I won't be seeing Margot or Richard I am hoping that I will see some wild macaws streaking through the skies. My friends have done a marvelous thing!

Learn more about traveling to Costa Rica on my Facebook Page- Artistic Adventure Tours.

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Harpo the 2-toed Sloth

As a natural science illustrator I love to travel and see animals in the wild. I have been traveling to Costa Rica for 25 years and it still is one of my favorite destinations. The diversity of the flora and fauna is amazing. The first place that I stayed in Costa Rica was Aviarios del Caribe, owned by Judy and Luis Arroyo. It was a bird sanctuary that was situated on Caribbean side of the country surrounded by 300 hectars of river, streams, ocean and rainforest. In 1991 there was an earthquake that registered 7.8 on the ricther scale and Aviarios was 2 miles from the epicenter. The Caribbean plate lifted up and the lagoon went from about 10 feet deep to about 4 feet deep. The river was changed forever.  The Arroyo's rebuilt the buildings and continued to offer bird watching tours, but it was now done by canoe rather than a pantoon boat. It was during that time that a local family witnessed a car run over a sloth trying to cross the road with a tiny baby on her back. The baby was thrown from the mother to the side of the road. Unfortunately the mother did not survive but the children brought the sloth to Judy. This was just the beginning for the Arroyo's. Aviarios del Caribe is now a recognized sloth rescue by the Costa Rican Government. They have approximately 140 sloths currently living at the sanctuary.  They come in as abandoned babies, burn  and injured victims, and  abused pets. Each one has a unique story. The sloths that come in as babies are unable to be released because they are dependent on their mothers to teach them to survive in the wild. Adult sloths that come in sick or injured are released back into the wild if they are fully recovered. Those that are not able to go back to the wild are given a permanent home at the sanctuary. There is very little research about sloths. Judy is now the foremost leader in understanding them with her 20 years of first hand experience. The sloth sanctuary has been part of my Artistic Adventure Tour for the past 15 years. During the tour we spend the day learning about sloth habitat, anatomy, characteristics. We sketch, photograph and have an intimate experience with one of nature's gentle creatures. I am currently at the sloth sanctuary and have been helping feed the  babies in the nursery. Here is a little video clip of my favorite baby, Harpo, a two-toed sloth.

If you would like more information the sloth sanctuary or the upcoming tour in February 2012 you can contact me through the blog or click on the links.

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Honey Bees- Why we need them

Honey Bees are the ultimate pollinators!


In 2009 I took a beekeeping class and received a grant from the state of New Jersey to start my own honey bee colony. I was so excited about the opportunity to learn about them. One of the first things I learned was that the reason the state was giving grants to individuals was that 75% of all hives in NJ were commercial and were leaving the state on big trucks to pollinate commercial farms across the country. New Jersey is called the "Garden State" and as far as I am concerned grows the BEST tomatoes in the world, among other fruits and vegetables. The bees were leaving the state and local farmers were in need of the bees to help with pollination of crops. The state decided to enlist local homeowners to help with the task and as an incentive they gave away hives to first time bee keepers.

So what does commercial bee keeping entail? An 18 wheeler can carry hundreds of bee hives on its trailer. Each hive can have 60,000+ bees in it. That's a lotta bees! The hives are stacked one on top of the other. They are taken across state lines to pollinate a variety of crops and travel a circuit of farms. An example of a "circuit" is the citrus groves in Florida. Golden Blossom Honey is a bi-product of the "work" the bees do on the citrus groves circuit. The bees are transported to Florida when the trees are in blossom each season. The bees fly from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar to feed their colonies. As they do this they carry pollen on their bodies and cross-pollinate the flowers. Cross-pollination is necessary for the flower to become fertilized and become a fruit:  orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit etc….. When the flowering season is over the hives are loaded back on the trucks and go to another location. Without the bees doing all the work there would be no citrus in your local supermarket. Golden Blossom Honey is the bi-product, which is the excess honey that the bees collect after they have fed their colony.

With  traveling, use of pesticides, and habitat destruction populations of domestic and wild bees are in decline. It is know as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists are just now beginning to realize the seriousness of this decline. This decline is a serious threat to our future agriculture. If you would like to learn more about honey bees here is a new movie trailer for the a movie coming out called "Queen of the Sun".

Pan Pastels & King Arthur

I recently had the wonderful experience of taking my cat, King Arthur to Florida on an airplane. I had business in Gainesville at the Florida Museum of Natural History and I had to be away for 10 days. I do cat rescue for Lifeline Animal Rescue in NJ and Arthur is one of my personal adopted cats. He is diabetic and requires insulin shots twice daily. I was able to take him on the plane and I thought he might panic but…… what a special guy. He is a Maine Coon mix and one of the gentlest cats I have ever known. He is major laid back and was happy to sit in his carrier on my lap and look out the window of the plane. When it came time for refreshments the fight attendant cut a paper cup down so that Arthur had a cup of water to drink with all the other passengers.

"King Arthur" PanPastels ; Mindy Lighthipe @2009

Animals are such wonderful creatures and domesticated ones are so dependent upon us. All too often people buy cats, dogs, iguanas etc as pets and then discard them when they change their minds.

I started working with PanPastels as a way to create portraits of some of the animals in our rescue. I was able to exhibit them and raise funds. What I like about the PanPastels is that I was able to recreate fur with relative ease.  I wanted to keep the price affordable so that people would  be more open to spending the money for an original as well as helping out the animals. The PanPastels cut down on my labor time without loosing any quality to the image.

If you would like more information about PanPastels please contact me.