Skip to main content

Costa Rica to close zoos, release some animals

By Rafael Romo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
August 8, 2013 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Costa Rica plans to close two public zoos next year
  • The new policy is "no cages," the country's environment minister says
  • Zoo officials say they help animals and are challenging the move in court
  • Environmentalists have said the zoos are unsanitary and harmful to animals

(CNN) -- Costa Rican officials plan to close the country's public zoos and open the cages where animals have been kept.

Environment Minister Rene Castro says the country, long known for its biodiversity, is going in a new direction to protect wildlife: "No cages."

Explaining the plan to close two public zoos next year, Castro described a memory from his childhood.

When he was growing up, his grandmother had a pet parrot, Castro told Costa Rica's La Nacion newspaper last week.

"One day, we took the parrot out to the patio, and a flock of wild parrots passed, and the parrot went with them," he told La Nacion. "It made a big impression on me because I thought that we were taking good care of her. We fed her with food and affection. ... all these things that we as humans thought she liked. And when she had the chance, she left."

As part of the government's plan, the Simon Bolivar Zoo in the capital of San Jose -- which currently houses hundreds of animals -- will be transformed into a botanical garden. And the Santa Ana Conservation Center west of the city will be turned into a park. The animals housed in the facilities will either be released into the wild or sent to animal sanctuaries, CNN affiliate Teletica reported.

Environmentalists have criticized the country's zoos, arguing that cramped cages and unsanitary conditions are bad for animals there -- claims that zoo officials have denied.

A veterinarian at the Bolivar zoo said environmentalists and the government don't know what they're talking about.

In his view, animals shouldn't be released back into the wild or sent to a rescue center.

"If they close it down, none of the animals here could be released. Most have permanent injuries. Even though they have been treated, these injuries prevent them from flying or seeing well," veterinarian Randall Arguedas told Teletica. "Some have simply lost their natural instincts. In other words, they will always have to live in captivity."

For the Bolivar zoo, there are also legal issues to consider. The facility was franchised to a foundation called Fundazoo 20 years ago. Fundazoo officials argue that they can run the zoo until 2024 because the government missed a deadline to cancel the franchise.

"The contract's clause that speaks about the renewal says that it renews automatically if neither party indicates that it doesn't want to extend it within the first quarter of the contract year," Fundazoo Director Yolanda Matamoros told Teletica. "Their deadline expired on August 10 of last year."

The move to shutter zoos and ban cages is the latest step by Costa Rican officials who say they're aiming to protect animals.

The Central American country banned circuses with animal acts more than a decade ago.

Sport hunting is also banned.

The most recent dispute over zoo animals has already made its way to the courts, and much like the animals at its center, it's already getting wild.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0500 GMT (1300 HKT)
China's Xi Jinping and India's Narendra Modi, leaders of the most populous nations face similar challenges. Can they learn from each other?
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
The U.S. is not returning combat troops to Iraq, President Barack Obama insists.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0038 GMT (0838 HKT)
A man abducted alongside killed U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff tells CNN that no one from the U.S. government has tried to talk with him.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
Mulatu Astatke is the founding father of ethio-jazz: a fusion of Ethiopian music with western jazz.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Have you been to these? The global museum list, released Tuesday, ranks 25 of the world's best museums.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1703 GMT (0103 HKT)
iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, comes with new features that you'll enjoy.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Psychedelic drugs are being researched as a potential treatment for conditions ranging from anxiety to tobacco and alcohol addiction.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in Bali.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT