Home to nearly 400 animals of 60 different species, Costa Rica zoos are maintained regularly by volunteers who clean animal cages, wash dishes and prepare animals’ meal too. They call it a ‘labor of love’. However, due to the rich biodiversity in natural environment of this Central American country, it has become very difficult to take care of the captive wildlife. Therefore, Costa Rican officials have announced their decision to shut down both of the country’s public zoos.
According to the Environment Minister Rene Castro, the 97-year-old Simon Bolivar Zoo, located in San Jose, will turn into a botanical park and the Santa Ana Conservation Center, situated in the west of the city, is also going to close, whereas the captive animals will be freed from cages, and released into the wilds. While the government’s decision has been appreciated by different animal rights groups, it has also given birth to several new controversies.
It is not easy as it seems to free zoo animals. According to experts like Chris Draper from the animal welfare and conservation charity Born Free Foundation, and Yolanda Matamoros, director of Fundazoo (the organization that manages Costa Rica’s national zoos) there are several animals who are now accustomed to living in cages; many of them were born there. Releasing them free into the wild would only drive them to horrible circumstances, like death.
Moreover, many of these captivated animals have never lived in wild. Having spent all their lives in cages, they have never learned ways to obtain their food naturally, and to protect themselves from predators. They are not even familiar to the environmental conditions of the forests. Releasing them into the wilds would increase their risk of being starved to death, and being killed by the predators.
Another major issue arises in conserving theses animals in rescue centers. Most of the animal rescue centers in Costa Rica are non-profits and receive a meager funding from the government. Many of them are run on low budgets and can accommodate a limited number of animals. Moreover, there are laws passed by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), forbidding locals to keep wild animals as pets. This has limited the habitat of wild animals to rescue centers only, which are already running short of budget and space to support these poor beings. The government has identified the crisis, according to the officials, and is running projects to educate masses, in order to prevent rescue centers from being flooded with wild animals in future, and acting like backup to zoo.
Besides the government concern, local public is also playing their roles in this situation of severe crisis. Individuals ranging from high school students to retirees are working as unpaid volunteers. They are making their utmost efforts to conserve Costa Rican endangered wildlife, which comprises 5 percent of the total animal species on the planet. Other centers are facilitating the process by trying to accommodate more and more critters. Their attempts include actions like installing new cages for animals. During the process of trying to figure out the most effective solution to the rehabilitation of wild animals, Costa Rican seems to acknowledge the fact that country’s wildlife is their first priority.