Earlier this month, a team of veterinary specialists at a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica used an assortment of titanium plates and screws to mend a broken jaw during a tricky two-hour surgery. Their patient? A young female ocelot. Just eight months old, the small cat had been beaten with a pipe and left to languish in a cage for days afterwards – yet another story of animal abuse to emerge from Costa Rica in recent months.

The injured ocelot was brought to the Refugio Herpetológico in very poor condition after police officers found her on a private property near the capital of San Jose, The Tico Times reports. The cat had been beaten after the property's owners discovered her in their henhouse, and was then left for days in a cage without access to food or water, the reports say. Aside from a fractured jaw and other injuries sustained during the beating, she was also malnourished, dehydrated and covered in ticks.

The little survivor has since been nicknamed Alik, and she's been making a steady recovery since her surgery. "Since the operation was successfully concluded, the beautiful Alik is stable and recovering from anaesthesia. Now comes the recovery, which can be a long and delicate process for these cats," said refuge staff in a Facebook update shortly after the surgery. 

That recovery process can take many weeks as the ocelot's broken bones slowly heal, and it will be months before she's well enough to return to the wild. That she can return at all makes her a pretty lucky cat – many of Refugio Herpetológico's animal rescues will live out the rest of their lives in captivity due to the severity of their injuries.

For now, at least, Alik's carers are happy with her progress. “The jaw has held in a good position and she has already started to eat. Currently we are only feeding her prepared meals and ground beef, but her overall health condition is very good,” biologist Rodolfo Vargas Leitón, who works with the refuge, told The Tico Times last week.

Alik's is just one of several cases of wildlife cruelty to make headlines in Costa Rica this year. Back in February, the story of a male toucan whose beak was horribly mutilated by a group of teenagers inspired hundreds of people to donate money to a crowdfunding campaign to fund a 3D-printed replacement beak for the wounded bird. Donations also helped pay for the titanium parts needed to repair Alik's jaw, and the wildlife refuge is still seeking funds to pay for the ocelot's day-to-day care.

Moves to strengthen Costa Rica's lax animal welfare laws have been afoot for some time, and several local animal welfare organisations, including Humane Society International, have been pushing for legal changes that would increase penalties for offenders. But it seems that one key piece of legislation in particular, which would impose fines and jail time for abusers and clamp down on cruel practices such as bullfighting, has been mired by extensive delays. 

Marches to highlight the problem of animal abuse have been taking place annually in Costa Rica for the past six years, and last year's march saw animal activists calling on government to speed up the proposed legislative changes.

Top header image: Mike Fisher, Flickr