Costa Rica Outlaws State Zoos, Relocating Hundreds of Animals


In a historic move, Costa Rica has decided to close its two remaining state zoos, marking a significant step in its commitment to wildlife Conservation. The decision, announced by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy, comes over a decade after the country passed a law prohibiting the captivity of wild animals in government-run facilities. This closure affects the Simón Bolívar Zoo and the Santa Ana Conservation Center.

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The transition, which began last week, involves relocating 287 animals to a rehabilitation center where their health will be assessed. According to Franz Tattenbach, the minister of environment and energy, some animals will be reintroduced to the wild, while others will be placed in sanctuaries if they are deemed unfit for release. “Captivity is only justified when animals cannot return to the forest for either physical or behavioral problems that prevent them from living in freedom,” Tattenbach stated.

This initiative aligns with Costa Rica’s wildlife protection law enacted in 2013. The law aimed to close state zoos by 2014 but faced legal challenges from Fundazoo, the foundation previously managing the zoos. Despite these delays, the government has now successfully taken steps to uphold its commitment to ending state-run animal captivity.

Notably, the closure does not affect the 18 private zoos operating in the country. However, wildlife advocates view this as a crucial victory. The FAADA Foundation, a wildlife nonprofit, celebrated the closure as a “very important step forward” in wildlife protection.

The animals’ transition will be carefully managed by biologists and veterinarians, ensuring they receive appropriate care. Some animals, including an alligator and turtles, are still awaiting transfer. Experts like Dr. Darryl Heard from the University of Florida highlight the complexities of reintroducing captive animals to the wild, emphasizing the need for time and careful preparation.

Dr. Alonso Aguirre of Colorado State University notes that Costa Rica’s actions could set a precedent for other countries. “If Costa Rica can do it, everybody else can,” he said, stressing the importance of moving away from captivity.

Overall, Costa Rica’s decision underscores its dedication to wildlife conservation and offers a hopeful model for global efforts to protect and rehabilitate wild animals.

This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by One Green Planet on 18 May 2024. Image Credit :Shutterstock / JT Platt.

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