Costa Rica Turns Zoos Into Wildlife Sanctuaries

Costa Rica has long been a leader in green economic development, managing to triple its GDP over the past 25 years while doubling the size of its forests. It has pledged to become the world’s first carbon-neutral nation by 2021.

Now, the country plans to open the cages at its two government-funded zoos and turn them into wildlife sanctuaries where animals can roam free, citing "a change of environmental conscience" among its citizens.

“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” says Environment Minister Rene Castro at a recent news conference detailing the plan. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

The 97-year-old Simon Bolivar Zoo in central San Jose will be transformed into a botanical garden and the nearby Santa Ana Conservation Center will become a 51-hectare forest reserve. The switchover could happen as early as next May.

Both zoos have been criticized and sued for poor conditions and sanitation. Together, the two facilities are home to some 400 animals representing 60 different species, including several types of monkeys and big cats, including a jaguar, tiger and lion.


All the animals will be either released to the wild or, if they can’t fend for themselves, they will be sent to rescue centers, says Castro.

But Costa Rican animal rescue centers are already inundated because of another new mandate that prohibits people from keeping wild animals as pets. Already this year, they have taken in more than 2,000 creatures — the same amount normally brought there in a whole year, reports National Geographic.

"We have received so many animals this year that we have been forced to turn away animals," Maria Pia Martin, a wildlife veterinarian at Kids Saving the Rainforest, told National Geograhic. "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."

More than half of Costa Rica is covered by woodlands and  almost 30% is preserved as forest reserves or national parks. The country has also banned hunting for sport and all circuses that exploit animals.

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