San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Animal welfare

Lion at San José zoo needs a better home, agencies order

Kivú, the lion at San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo, may soon be moved from his cramped, concrete enclosure. Officials from the Environment Ministry (MINAE) and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) inspected the lion’s cage in July and concluded that Kivú should be relocated to a better space within two months.

The final inspection report, which was sent to the zoo on Sept. 7, orders the 18-year-old, captive-born lion moved to the Santa Ana Conservation Center. The center is a private refuge managed by Fundación Pro Zoológicos, which also runs the Simón Bolívar Zoo in downtown San José where Kivú currently lives.

The report states that the 70-square-meter cage is unsuitable for the lion and that several parts of it, including the roof, are destroyed and put Kivú at risk. The report notes that the cage prevents the lion from expressing his natural behavior and lacks features that would allow him to hide from visitors.

The report also notes that the lion “has lost opportunities to express his social skills” following the death of his partner Kariva five years ago.

Environment Minister Édgar Gutierrez agreed with the report and said the lion’s current conditions “must change radically.”

The inspection group included veterinarians, biologists and a lawyer. Their report noted that the zoo’s administration rejected the participation of a veterinarian from the National University.

Improvements ordered to future and current cage

Officials gave the zoo administration a two-month deadline for conditioning a new home for Kivú, not a metal cage, in the Santa Ana refuge.

The new space in the refuge should meet international standards for keeping wildlife species in captivity, according to the report. Specifically it must comply with all provisions outlined in the Lion Care Manual from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The enclosure should be at least 115 square meters and should mimic an African Savannah with trees, plants, a pond and trails, the report adds.

In the meantime, the lion will remain at the Simón Bolívar Zoo. But Minister Gutiérrez also ordered the zoo to make improvements to Kivú’s current cage, including adding features that resemble a more natural habitat, removing several metal structures and improving the cage’s surface, roof and drainage system.

The minister also ordered the zoo to add plants, grass and bushes to create a visual barrier between the lion and the public so that Kivú can hide when he wants to.

Officials also recommended improving the lion’s diet by giving him not only meat but also bones, feathers, fur and innards to stimulate his instincts.

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Kivú is skinny

Several messages on the zoo’s social media sites criticize the lion’s poor health conditions and his visible weight loss. The zoo responded that the lion lost weight as a result of being under full anesthesia during recent physical examinations.

Besides individual responses to messages, the zoo last week posted on its website and social media profiles an official statement signed by the zoo’s veterinarian Randall Arguedas and nutritionist Jessenia Vázquez. They said Kivú was recovering his physical condition, “considering his geriatric state,” and showed no signs of pain or apathy.

They also said the lion is eating appropriately every day and that his behavior, rest and activity periods and interactions with zookeepers are within normal parameters.

The Simón Bolívar Zoo declined a request from The Tico Times to comment on the agencies’ orders to move the lion. Zoo spokesman Eduardo Bolaños recently told Channel 7 Telenoticias that the organization had filed an appeal against the government’s orders.

Bolaños said the orders were “an imposition issued without any technical, scientific or legal foundations” and that they violate the zoo’s 1994 contract with the government.

He also said the z00 administration has a renovation plan that it hopes will allow it to keep Kivú at the downtown zoo.

Work, he said, is scheduled to begin this year on a new enclosure for the lion that would be “bigger than that recommended by the ministries’ report and in full compliance with international standards.”

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Contact L. Arias at

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