San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Zoo Manager Ordered to Leave (Part one in a two-part series about Costa Rica’s zoos.)

AFTER 10 years of what some environmentalistscall dismal operation, the private administratorof the country’s two public zoos has been told itscontract will not be renewed and the zoos must bereturned to government hands.An arbitration court confirmed the decision lastweek, resolving a contract dispute that has extendednearly a year between the non profit Foundationfor Zoos (FUNDAZOO), which administrates thezoos, and the Ministry of Environment and Energy(MINAE).Conservationist associations championed thedecision, calling it a step in the right direction toimproving antiquated and detrimental conditionsfor animals at Simón Bolivar National Zoo, indowntown San José, and the Santa AnaConservation Center, west of the capital.“SIMÓN Bolívar is in tune with the type of thinking about zoos they had at the end ofthe 19th century, when they broughtexotic animals from places like Africaand put them on display in small cageswhere they were always in direct contactwith humans,” said Luis Diego Marín,president of the Association for thePreservation of Wild Flora and Fauna(APREFLOFAS).Small cages with nowhere to hide orplay, lack of stimulating toys, and feedingtimes that do not correspond with naturalbehavior have made the zoos’ morethan 500 animals, from 97 species, psychologicallydistraught and unhealthy,according to APREFLOFAS and otheranimal-protection organizations.LOCATED in Barrio Otoya in theheart of San José since 1921, SimónBolivar has seen some infrastructureimprovements since FUNDAZOO officiallytook over in 1994.Vegetation-lined walkways meanderthrough the 2.5 hectares and a new educationcenter was built for visitors. Butfew improvements have been made tocrumbling animal facilities, according tocritics, who allege FUNDAZOO has mismanagedfunds.“These conditions give tourists whovisit the zoo a negative image of a CostaRica that is supposed to respect the environment,”Marín said.A scathing report written last July bya MINAE commission agreed with manyof these accusationsFUNDAZOO officials did notrespond to numerous Tico Times requestsfor information by press time.In the past, FUNDAZOO presidentYolanda Matamoros, who is also presidentof the Meso-American and CaribbeanZoo and Aquarium Association, hascalled accusations of mistreatment ofanimals and misuse of funds “lies” (TT,April 5, 2002). In her testimony beforethe arbitration court, Matamoros saidSimón Bolivar has received internationalrecognition as an important zoo sinceFUNDAZOO took over.THE dispute brought before the arbitrationcourt did not directly concern thezoos’ conditions. Instead it stems fromthe interpretation of a clause in the contract(which went into effect May 10,1994) that says the contract will be automaticallyextended if neither partyexpresses a desire to end it by the thirdmonth of the ninth year.MINAE gave such notice May 12,2003, for reasons that are unclear.But FUNDAZOO claimed this wastoo late, as the ninth year was 2002-2003(the first year was May 10, 1994 to May10, 1995). MINAE officials said theninth year was 2003-2004 (much like achild does not turn 9 years old until aftercompleting his or her ninth birthday).The clause goes on to say that ifnotice to end the contract is given, therewill be a nine-month period for FUNDAZOOto turn the zoo over to MINAE.Government officials say this is the finalnine months of the ten-year contract.The arbitration tribunal sided withMINAE.MINAE officials were not availablethis week to comment on why they choseto annul the contract.The Environment Ministry’s July 2004 report concludes lack of space (toallow exercise) shelter (for protection fromthe elements and constant contactwith humans), and “environmental enrichment,”such as toys, has lead to animalsmissing hair, shaking and repetitively movingin the same direction in reducedspaces.Furthermore, animals have opaquehair, unusual nasal secretions and loss ofteeth – demonstrating nutritional deficiencies,according to the report, written byseven biologists and a veterinarian.ON a Tico Times visit to SimónBolivar, San José resident Jimmy Castrostared with his 4-year-old son at the lionspacing and walking in circles, periodicallyletting out a weak, sickly roar.“The cage is really small, so they aregoing crazy,” Castro explained to his son.“They have them very uncared for.(The zoo) is better than it was before, withthese nice benches and everything,” Castrotold The Tico Times. “But it has notchanged for many years in terms of thesizes of cages.”The two lions, Kariba and Kivú, cameto Costa Rica in 1999 as 9-month old cubsfrom Cuba’s Havana Zoo (TT, Feb. 12,1999). At the time, the Hotel Del Reydonated funds to remodel the lion cagewith grass and artificial rocks. No sign ofthese improvements remain.Instead, the king of beasts is surroundedby cement, crumbling walls, some oldtires and stagnant water, despite an informationalsign indicating they like dryplaces.Such informational placards are fewand far between at Simón Bolivar.“Unfortunately, the average visitor hasfew possibilities of learning about the animalsthey observe,” the MINAE reportsays.MATAMOROS has said in the pastthe zoo is “terribly short of money” (TT,May 16, 2003).FUNDAZOO receives funding frominternational donations and entrance fees –¢750 ($1.65) for children and ¢1,000($2.20) for adults. The EnvironmentMinistry pays the zoos’ electricity, waterand telephone bills as well as someemployee salaries.When FUNDAZOO took over SimónBolivar 10 years ago, hopes were high conditionswould be improved from whatmany considered poor management by theEnvironment Ministry at the time. In May2003, Environment Minister CarlosRodríguez said FUNDAZOO had made“considerable improvements.”Promises have been made for years totransfer animals at the cramped SimónBolivar to the 50-hectare Santa AnaConservation Center, which was originallydonated in the 1970s, but funding constraintsprohibited its development until2001 (TT, April 20, 2001).FUNDAZOO recently moved its squirrelmonkeys, which are endangered, to anew enclosure at the center (TT Daily PageDec. 7, 2004).THE question remains whether anyother operator can further these improvements.“(The court decision) is just the firststep,” said Maria Elena Fournier, presidentof the conservation associationYiski.FUNDAZOO now has nine months tohand over zoo management to the government.MINAE says it will then begin apublic bidding process for a new administrator,Vice-Minister of the EnvironmentAllan Flores told the daily La Nación lastweek.Bidding is open to international organizationsand even the same FUNDAZOOorganization, he said.(Next: Read about what the future mayhold for animals at the Simón BolivarNational Zoo and the Santa AnaConservation Center.)

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