A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Costa Rica Shuts Down Its Zoos


Kivu the lion will soon be looking for a new home. And that’s a good thing.

Last month, Costa Rica announced that it’s closing its two public zoos. Between now and next May, 400 animals like Kivu will be looking for new homes at rescue centers and sanctuaries – in some cases so they can be released back to the wild; in others for a permanent sanctuary home.

Right now, Kivu lives just a few feet from where visitors walk by at the Simon Bolivar Zoo in San Jose. And that’s no fun for a lion who should be out in the wild with others of his kind.

The closing of the zoos in Costa Rica is all part of a new national policy: No wildlife in captivity.

“We want to promote wildlife in the wild, not in any other form,” Environment Vice Minister Ana Lorena Guevara told The Tico Times. “We cannot continue showing off animals in cages, instead we can see them on reserves where they are more in touch with their natural surroundings.”

For several years, the nation’s ecological groups have been lobbying to close the zoos. That’s because Costa Rica has some of the greatest biodiversity in the world. It’s home to five percent of all animal species on the planet. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” Environment Minister René Castro said when he announced the closing of the zoos. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

The organization, Fundazoo, that runs the two zoos is not happy and plans to go to court on the basis that its contract doesn’t expire for another 10 years. But the government is expected to win, and both zoos will be converted into wildlife parks with free-roaming animals.

And even if Fundazoo wins its case, Castro says “they will not be able to have animals in cages or replace any of their current animals that die or are returned to the wild with new ones.”

Costa Rica won’t be able to pull off this remarkable policy on its own. Sanctuaries are going to be stressed. The Monkey Park wildlife rehab center is already overflowing and not sure how to cope.

sloth-sanctuary-lucy-cooke-081413The Sloth Sanctuary will need some extra help. Other wildlife centers will be scrambling, too, and no one is quite sure how it’s all going to work out. Other countries will be asked to step in and house some of the large animals. And organizations like Humane Society International are offering to help find new homes.

But the commitment is firm. And in making this move, Costa Rica is joining other Central and South American countries in developing a 21st-Century approach to wildlife.

Two years ago, Bolivia banned the use of animals in circus acts. Former game show host Bob Barker stepped in to help, funding the relocation of 25 lions to Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary.

“Environmental functions and natural processes cannot be considered as commodities, but as sacred gifts from Mother Earth.”

Earlier this year, the Colombian Congress voted to ban the use of wild animals in circuses nationwide, joining Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in bringing an end to this form of animal abuse.

Costa Rica has also banned sport hunting.

After a national referendum in 2011, Ecuador put an end to bullfighting.

And last December, Bolivia approved legislation to establish a bill of rights for the natural world. The law states that “the environmental functions and natural processes … cannot be considered as commodities, but as sacred gifts from Mother Earth.” Part of the purpose of this is to prevent foreign companies from controlling the country’s natural resources. And the law creates an ‘ombudsman’ for Mother Earth (the Andean deity Pachamama) so that nature itself has a voice when it comes to the use of Bolivia’s substantial mineral and hydrocarbon reserves.

By contrast, when it comes to how we treat our fellow animals and the world of nature, the United States is still two centuries behind the times.