San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Anti-Poaching Efforts Surviving on Donations

WHILE government officials claimtheir hands are tied regarding the poachingcrisis in the country’s national parks, privatedonors and non-profit organizationsare pitching in to provide the additionalpark guards necessary to keep hunters outof Corcovado National Park, wherejaguars and white-lipped peccaries arethreatened with extinction from the southernPacific area.According to the non-profit CorcovadoFoundation, which manages funds from atleast 10 private donors, anti-poachingefforts in the area have increased dramaticallysince 2002, thanks to private donations.“The panorama continues to be verysomber. I’m not going to lie and tell you,‘wow, we’re getting there,’” said foundationpresident Alejandra Zúñiga. “Butthere are people who are helping quite abit. There is a crisis, but you can help.”SINCE 2002, hundreds of thousandsof dollars in donations have helped addeight park guards to the Corcovado staff,she said.She said two- to four-day patrols inthe Osa Peninsula, a sparsely populatedarea rich in biodiversity in the country’ssouthern Pacific region, more than doubledfrom 2002 to 2003, and would likelyincrease dramatically this year. Therewere 20 such patrols in 2002, 55 in 2003,and guards had conducted 25 throughJune of this year, according to a recentreport by the foundation.One-day patrols increased from 50 in2002 to 97 in 2003. In the first half of thisyear, guards and volunteers have alreadyconducted 160 one-day patrols, accordingto the report.Catching poachers in the act isextremely rare. But the patrols are stillhelpful, Zúñiga said, because fewer poacherstend to enter the park when word getsaround that vigilance has increased.Scientists and government officialsagree that a sufficient number of guards continuallyconducting such patrols would bethe best method to put an immediate halt tothe rampant poaching in the Osa Peninsula,which has brought the numbers of jaguarsand white-lipped peccaries in the area to all timelows (TT, March 19, July 23).IN addition to patrols, the donationsalso have been used to fund visits to areacommunities to create awareness. Therewere no such visits in 2002, according tothe report, and 36 in the first half of thisyear.The 54,019-hectare park, created in1974, consists of steep mountains blanketedin thick jungle, making patrolling a difficultand dangerous task.Much of the park is surrounded bythousands of hectares of forest reserves,which do not enjoy the same level of protectionas Corcovado. Many biologistsagree it is one of the areas richest in biodiversityon the planet.SEVERAL large donations fromHorizontes Nature Tours, The NatureConservancy and the United Nations haveprovided sufficient funding to build a newpark guard station on the northern border,Zúñiga said.Park guards and some self-describedpoachers told The Tico Times thatCorcovado’s largely unmanned northernborder is the favorite entry point for manyillegal hunters.Construction on the station will notbegin until the dry season arrives, usuallyin December, because from now until thenthe peninsula is saturated by heavy rains,which would could significantly delayconstruction and raise the cost by nearly50%, Zúñiga explained.The donations, totaling about $65,000,will cover construction of the station, “if itgoes like clockwork,” she said, but thefoundation is still looking for additionaldonations for contingencies and to purchasebasic items such as beds and a stove.Some businesses on the Osa Peninsulahave started donating money to fund parkguard salaries, acknowledging the park iswhat brings in business.“WE depend on the wildlife and thebeauty of the Osa Peninsula for our business,”said Hans Pfister, manager of LapaRios Lodge, which for the past two yearshas donated $9,000 per year to fund a parkguard.He said regardless of a hotel’s qualityof service, “in the end, (visitors) come tosee the wildlife.”While donations such as these areproving to be the park’s only line ofdefense, and activists are thankful forthem, Zúñiga said they aren’t enough toguarantee Corcovado’s stability withoutgovernment support.Last month, President Abel Pacheco saidadditional funding for the park would beimpossible before the Legislative Assemblyapproves the fiscal reform package.Two weeks ago, the governmentreleased its proposed budget for 2005 (TT,July 30), which would freeze all park fundingat current levels.Zúñiga said that if the foundationreceives a donation large enough to pullthe park out of its current “state of emergency,”activists could focus more on pursuingcharges against poachers and educatingcommunity members.Those interested in donating funds tohelp fight poaching on the Osa Peninsulacan contact the Corcovado Foundation at297-3013 or e-mail North America – the vehiclemanufacturer – has also contributed significantlyto saving jaguars in Costa Rica.According to a statement this week, thecompany has contributed $1 million to theWildlife Conservation Society (WCS),which funds a jaguar study headed by scientistsat the Universidad Nacional inHeredia. The company also said it donated$50,000 to fund jaguar programs in CostaRica, Belize, and Guatemala.

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