Costa Rica plans to close its two zoos and end the caging of animals by May of next year, eventually rehabilitating and releasing the animals 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,” Environment Minister Rene Castro announced at a news conference. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”
Some environmental and wildlife groups consider it a big win after years of lawsuits against the zoos. Castro said the move was a response to “a change of environmental conscience among Costa Ricans.”
The Environment Ministry has tried unsuccessfully since 2003 to terminate its contract with Fundazoo, the foundation that runs the two facilities, which argues it is under contract through 2024.
The two zoos are home to more than 400 animals, and Fundazoo spokesman Eduardo Bolanos wondered where the animals would go if not the zoo, arguing that most of the animals are rescues, making the zoos "rescue centers."
Castro said the country’s 97-year-old Simon Bolivar Zoo in central San Jose would be transformed into a botanical garden, while another zoo west of the city, the Santa Ana Conservation Center, would become a 51-hectare forest reserve.
But in the meantime, Costa Rica's animal rescue facilities are already stretched thin without having to taie in the zoo animals to prepare them for the wild, or find another suitable home for them.
Coupled with a recent law making it illegal to keep wildlife as pets, rescue centers are full.
Jose-Joaquin Calvo, wildlife manager for MINAE's National System of Conservation Areas, called the situation an "emergency." Already in 2013, the country's rescue centers have taken in more than 2,000 new animals -- more than they usually get in a year.