San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Road Checks Help Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Business was bad, but that was good for the volunteers from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the Natural Resources Vigilance Committee (COVIRENA), who were out on the highways Easter Saturday and Sunday checking to see that vacationers weren’t bringing back birds, animals or wild plants.

At a sheltered, shady spot on the Bernardo Soto section of the

Inter-American Highway

, just east of the tollbooth at Naranjo, en route from the Pacific beaches and Nicaragua, orange rubber cones directed traffic into lanes for inspections. Traffic Police helped keep cars and buses moving, and by noon only three parakeets and one orchid had been confiscated.

Inspections at sites around the country showed that the public has learned to leave wildlife alone. This was the 11th year environmental authorities have been holding wildlife inspections, and the numbers of animals and plants discovered to have been removed from the wild have gone way down.

In years past, Semana Santa (Easter week) was the biggest week of the year for capturing baby birds and parakeets. In 1999 the inspection at this same spot impounded 167 birds.

“We couldn’t carry them all,” said Sergio Arroyo of COVIRENA, who has participated most years. “In 2000 there were only 92.”

Numbers have been declining every year.

A shower of advertising on television and billboards sponsored by MINAE, ZooAve, a wild animal sanctuary in La Garita, northwest of San José, where confiscated animals go, and other ecological groups has raised environmental awareness. In the past, any and all animals and plants – iguanas, snakes, orchids and more – might have been taken as souvenirs or to sell.

By afternoon it was decided to inspect only buses, trucks and vans or cars that looked loaded or suspicious. In the case of one of the parakeets, the bus driver had called a contact at the inspection site to report a passenger with a bird. The impounded birds were placed in cages under the table for shade and given water and birdseed on the very hot day until Dennis Janic of ZooAve could come to pick them up.

Under the shelter of an awning the 11 volunteers, three police and two traffic officers took turns cooling off and drinking water.

This was also headquarters for Victor Julio Quirós, who headed the team and recorded all incidents. In the case of another parakeet, the man claimed it was a birthday present.

“Sure,” said a disbelieving Quirós. “The stores are full of things to get for presents. Why give a bird?”

Another case was that of a pickup truck full of fish. The owner claimed he’d bought them in Palmares and denied that he’d caught them himself in Puntarenas, on the central Pacific coast. This time Quirós agreed.

“The ice bed was too fresh to have come all the way from Puntarenas in this heat,” he reasoned.

Volunteers get training to work theinspections.

“Courtesy and respect are very important. People are tired. They’re hot and have been driving 150 or more kilometers in the sun. Any rash word can set off some driver or passenger,” Quirós explained.

One incident almost had tempers steaming when inspectors stopped a station wagon full of nuns with plants, including varieties of orchids that the nuns claimed were gifts from a religious community. Any purchased plants, or lumber, must have a stamped receipt. Quirós decided in favor of the nuns.

At 4 p.m., quitting time after seven hours keeping watch, it was gratifying to know that wildlife gets a little safer each year.


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