San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Animal welfare

Right of reply: Lawyer for former vets of Sloth Sanctuary

Editor’s note: In Costa Rica, any party who feels they have been the subject of incorrect or false information in a news publication has a legal right of reply. The following is a right of reply to “Inside Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary: Horror show or a solution to a complicated issue?” published on Aug. 1, 2016, from the lawyer representing the two former Sloth Sanctuary veterinarians who filed a formal complaint against the wildlife refuge.

Sloth papers

Ms. Camila Dunner and Mr. Gabriel Pastor agreed that there is an area in the back of Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary in Limón that most visitors do not see. There are 191 sloths in total in condition of residents, not all of them are injured.

Due to the absence of a management plan in the Sloth Sanctuary, we can found some adult sloths that were admitted into the sanctuary without any injury and they were illegally captured and locked into cages to “prevent” accidents (most of these animals were crossing a street or climbing wires, etc), instead of release them immediately in their natural habitat.

The Investigation

Since 2015, Ms. Dunner, Mr. Pastor and the Sloth Sanctuary were working together in collaboration with the Austral University of Chile in the first investigation on sloths. This university was offered to finance this investigation, which consists in recovering samples of soft tissues and blood to be analyzed in Chile and then introduce the results to the scientific community. Mr. Dunner was designated by the Sloth Sanctuary and the Austral University of Chile as the main investigator.

Curiously, when all samples were ready to be send to Chile and the only pending issue was to obtain the import license, AVIARIOS DEL CARIBE, S.A. (Owner of the Sloth Sanctuary) desisted in the formal request at the CONAGEBIO (National Commission for the Management of Biodiversity, under the Environment Ministry) and decided to abandon the investigation breaching all relationship with this university and Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor. Why didn’t Ms. Avey-Arroyo want to finish the investigation in collaboration with the Austral University of Chile?

The Dark side of the Sloth Sanctuary

Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor were working for the Sloth Sanctuary since July 2015 as veterinarians until March 2016, when Ms. Avey-Arroyo dismissed them without any reason.

During all this months they were working under very bad conditions, below minimum salary, no payment of extra hours, never were recorded as employees at the Social Security System of Costa Rica (CCSS) and they did not have workers risk insurance.

Due to the violation of their rights Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor had no other choice and they filed a labor claim against the Sloth Sanctuary, first at the MTSS (Labor Ministry) and then at the Labor Court in Limón. Ms. Avey-Arroyo does not want to conciliate with them at the MTSS, so currently we are waiting for the court to schedule the hearing.

On the other hand, Ms. Avey-Arroyo filed a criminal claim against Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor saying that the samples regarding the investigation of the sloths were stolen by Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor. The samples were NEVER stolen, they were under the custody of the main investigator, Ms. Camila Dunner, and she was obligated to protect those samples from any threat of destruction in order to conclude the investigation with the Austral University of Chile.

With this action the reputation of Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor was severely affected. They went to the Criminal Court in Limón to give their statement and they offered to deliver the samples to the Criminal Court for custody. The Court ordered MINAE (Environment Ministry) to pick up the samples and preserve them. Unfortunately, Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor have not had any response from the MINAE despite many attempts to contact them (emails to the Ministry, phone calls and meetings with Shirley Ramírez and many others).

Finally, regarding this Criminal Claim, the Prosecutor asked the Judge to close the case because there was no crime to investigate.

Save the Sloths

Last April, Ms. Dunner and Mr. Pastor filed a claim at the MINAE because of the animal abuse and overcrowding suffered by the sloths, and many other irregular situations regarding the operation of the Sloth Sanctuary which violate the articles 45, 78, 80, 106, 144 of the Decree N° 32633-MINAE “Ley de Vida Silvestre.”

  • Absence of a management plan
  • Absence of the regent agent 24/7 (just appears once every three months)
  • Absence of permission to register births in captivity
  • Absence of maintenance of the cages suitable for the species
  • Absent of marking techniques
  • Absence of a complete logbook
  • Absence of separation of display areas and rehabilitation

Shirley Ramírez, wildlife advisor of the MINAE, said Ministry representatives are scheduling a visit to the Sloth Sanctuary in the near future. However, to date (August 2016) there has been no progress on the investigation and the sloths remain in captivity. Some of these sloths are perfect candidates for release. Why does the main institution in charge of protecting animals not have any interest in helping the sloths? Or if they have it, why is it taking so much time?

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Loren Ford

I would say that Tico Times should contact the Minister of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications, MINAET, Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez Espeleta, ask him for comment on the situation with the sloth sanctuary, and specifically, on MINAET wildlife advisor Shirley Ramírez. I have no personal knowledge of the management of the sloth sanctuary by its owner, Ms. Avey-Arroyo, or by others, but I’m personal friends from the United States visited here earlier this year specifically because of their interest in visiting the sanctuary, evidence of its value to the economy of the southern coast of Limón. If Costa Rica is to maintain its many-decade reputation as a valuable and reliable place to carry out natural resource research throughout the hemisphere and beyond, then this research on sloth biology should be appropriately continued.

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