Costa Rica Zoos Will Close In May, Government Says

Costa Rica zoos will close in May 2014. Environmental Minister René Castro made the announcement last week. He said bluntly that animals would no longer be held in captivity and that capital city San José's zoo will be converted into a botanical garden.

According to Tico Times, Castro said at a press conference that Costa Rica wouldn't renew its contract with the nonprofit Foundation for Zoos (FUNDAZOO) that has run the nation's two zoos for 19 years.

"We don't want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is them," he said.

The second zoo at the Conservation Center of Santa Ana will be converted into a forest reserve complete with an artificial lake.

But FUNDAZOO is not going quietly. They've been fighting attempts to cancel their contract for years. And they have already filed an appeal to a Costa Rican court to keep the zoos open.

In a statement Saturday, FUNDAZOO spokesman Eduardo Bolanos said that they were concerned about where the animals would be going. Non-native species and even longtime native zoo animals can't simply be released into the wild to fend for themselves.

So many of the animals will simply be moved elsewhere and still be in captivity but under different management.

Bolanos said that FUNDAZOO's contract runs through 2024 and not 2014. He also claimed that their facilities were the only ones in Costa Rica with a vet who specialized in forest species.

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Keel-billed toucans are easily seen in Costa Rica

Will other countries follow the small but progressive nation's lead in closing zoos? Costa Rica is Central America's Switzerland, a democratic oasis with no Army since 1949.

It has a well-regarded public health system. Its citizens live longer than people in the United States. And many Americans, including this writer, have traveled there for medical services.

On the environmental side, Costa Rica is the first country in the Americas to ban hunting. A large percentage of its land area is protected parks. And its government has announced plans to become carbon-neutral by 2021.

So there's no question that Costa Rica is often a leader with its policies.

There's equally no question that most nations aren't ready to follow where they're going -- including the United States.

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Wild male quetzal in Savagre, Costa Rica

Even without zoos, Costa Rica's diverse wildlife is easily seen up-close. The quetzal posing in the above photo is a wild bird who just visited a food table in someone's backyard near a public road.

What do you think about Costa Rica's plan to close its zoos?

[keel-billed toucan photo credit: Grand Velas Riviera Maya via photopin cc][quetzal in Costa Rica photo by Elaine Radford][top photo scarlet macaw rescue Osa, Costa Rica photo credit: alumroot via photopin cc]