Costa Rica Closing Its Two Zoos


Costa Rica is closing its two zoos, the government announced, citing concerns about animal captivity and welfare. They plan to rehabilitate those animals that they can, and then release them back into the wild. But, what about the other animals?

Monkey Park near Tamarindo and other similar facilities around Costa Rica will also be affected. Some of them will take in the animals that Costa Rica’s two zoos can’t so easily “rehabilitate.” But, they are facing an economic crunch, too, that might make taking in additional animals problematic.

The Associated Press reports that next year, Environment Minister Rene Castro has announced that the 97-year old Simon Bolivar zoo located in San Jose will become a botanical park. Also closing will be the Santa Ana Conservation Center, a zoo west of the city, will also close. The two zoos hold 400 animals of 60 species, including a lion, crocodiles, monkeys and a tapir.  F77C7D4569DC9C78F3DE120AA322_h316_w628_m5_cOCfxvFww

The more than 400 animals currently residing in the zoos will be transferred to private animal-rescue centers around the country, where those that are able will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

Environment Minister René Castro said at a press conference to announce the planned closures in July:

We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way. We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Animal-rights groups have praised the government’s decision, but a new law that makes keeping wildlife as pets illegal has resulted in the flooding of many of the same animal-rescue centers that will be receiving animals from the zoos.

Already in 2013, the rescue centers have taken in more than 2,000 new animals. That’s more than they usually get in am entire year.

According to Maria Pia Martin, wildlife veterinarian at Kids Saving the Rainforest, a rescue center near Manuel Antonio National Park:

We have received so many animals this year that we have been forced to turn away animals. The idea of turning down an animal is quite difficult. But we need to prioritize who we can save in order to do the best for them.”

The majority of Costa Rica’s animal-rescue centers are nonprofits that receive little to no government funding. Most of them operate with limited budgets and have a finite amount of space, which makes expansion due to taking in extra animals difficult.  monkey_looking_up.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale

According to officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), which oversees the country’s zoos and rescue centers, the planned zoo closings and the new law are further steps to ensure the long-term health of the country’s incredible biodiversity. 5 percent of all animal species on the planet live in Costa Rica.

Jose-Joaquin Calvo, wildlife manager for MINAE’s National System of Conservation Areas, has called the situation an “emergency.” He said his organization and others are working to house the animals.

Since the no-wildlife-as-pets law passed in December, MINAE has created a loophole that allows longtime pet owners to keep their pets, at least for now. The government is also working with wildlife experts and conservation groups, including Humane Society International, to write protocols that will help establish best practices for the facilities.

Cynthia Dent, regional director of Humane Society International, said:

The government has recognized the crisis and is trying to educate the public so they don’t further inundate the rescue centers. We’re also in the process of evaluating the more than 200 facilities around the country that house [wild] animals.”

The overcrowded rescue centers continue to struggle, on the short term, coping as best they can with limited resources.

Many of the animal rescue centers are turning to volunteers. These are short-term, unpaid staffers, who can range from high school students to retirees. They pay a fee in exchange for food, housing, and the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Costa Rica’s most adorable—and often endangered—species.

Other centers are making room for more critters. According to Adriana Aguilar Borbon, marketing manager for Proyecto Asis, a facility in the Arenal region:

Since the law took effect, we’ve had to build three new cages to host the new animals because we don’t have a place to relocate them all. We have eight acres—it’s a large property, but not big enough. It’s going to be even more difficult finding a place for all the animals from the zoos.”

Everyone in Costa Rica seems to agree that the country’s wildlife is their priority, though exactly how the animals from the two zoos that are closing will survive and be “rehabilitated” by far smaller animal rescue facilities remains to be seen.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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