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Diatribe: Closing The Zoos In Costa Rica.


tree-frog-537x358Arguably, one of the most memorable learning experiences in a child’s life is a trip to a museum or a zoo.  Children of the 1960s and 1970s routinely found themselves on “field trips” outside the classroom.  Learning about nature, first hand, by observing live animals was a treat rivaled by no other.  Although today’s children can use the internet to observe animals in their natural surroundings via video found at websites like or live webcam experiences such as Live Animal Webcams, it’s not the same as seeing them up close and personal.  The absence of smells alone makes for a very different experience.

Sadly, beginning in March 2014 the children of Costa Rica will no longer have the option of learning about animals in captivity.  Citing a change in “environmental conscience”, the country will be closing its zoos and releasing many of its animals back into the wild.

“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.” – Costa Rica’s Environment Minister René Castro.

When the government’s contract with the organization that operates its two zoos expires, Simon Bolivar Zoo and the Santa Ana Conservation Center will be transformed into urban parks or gardens where wildlife will be able to visit and live freely if they so choose.

Animals deemed unfit for release will be relocated to wildlife sanctuaries but the rest will be on their own.  Presumably, the animals will be able to fend for themselves.

Fortunately, the Costa Rican Congress made a historical decision this spring when they approved a bill that bans the hunting of wildlife for recreational purposes.  The role of ecotourism in the country’s economy has grown in recent years as international tourists travel to the country specifically to see its wild animal population including the Capuchin monkeys that roam freely.  It is estimated that about 80% of tourists visit a protected area during their stay, hoping to spot the monkeys, parrots, reptiles and other tropical species that have made Costa Rica a destination for tourists from around the world.

It’s possible that the local children will benefit even more from living among the wild animals than they would by visiting them in a zoo.  Unfortunately, it stands to reason that many of the newly-released animals will find themselves prey to the others.  It will be interesting to see how the change impacts the countries to Costa Rica’s north and south.  Sadly, the wild animals could become just another commodity there as well.

Hopefully, Costa Rican students will get to learn about the animals, before it’s too late.

Would you miss your local zoo if it was closed?  Would you want the animals turned loose into urban parks?


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From → Diatribes

  1. I hate to see animals in cages so we can look at them, so part of me likes this idea. But I also worry about the animals re-adapting, or even adapting, to life out of a zoo.
    Can they do it, or will they just become prey for stronger animals?


  2. While I appreciate your point of view, I think animals viewed in their natural habitat is always better than animals being housed in captivity. With the internet, children can see animals behave in their natural ways instead of stressed out behind bars. I think captivity is cruel to animals. I would hope the closing zoos will have some plan in effect to look after animals who would not survive in the wilds though.


  3. This is a huge and important step for animal welfare in Costa Rica! Zoos do not give children a taste of the lives of animals in the wild. Animals in zoos, particularly wide roaming ones such as jaguars and pumas, can be found pacing the narrow confines of their cages over and over again. The psychological detriment to these creatures is immense. Also a child in Costa Rica is in a unique situation, they are never too far from a wildlife park! Although it is more difficult to find the more illusive species; Capuchins, howler monkeys, macaws, anteaters, coatis, tapirs, parrots, trogons, and all sorts of amazing animals are quite easy to find in many parks. The students will benefit much more from visiting one of these incredible parks than they can ever get from a zoo!


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