It looks like Costa Rica's zoos as we know them may become extinct in May 2014. The Costa Rican Environment Ministry (MINAE) announced at a press conference on Monday that it will not renew its contract with the nonprofit Foundation for Zoos (FUNDAZOO), which has served as the administration for the country’s two zoos for the past 19 years.
“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” said Environment Minister René Castro. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”
Both the Simón Bolívar Zoo in Barrio Amón in San José and the Conservation Center of Santa Ana will close down in May 2014 when the contract ends. According to a MINAE press release, the zoo will be turned into a biological education center and the conservation center will become a 51-hectare forest reserve with an artificial lake.
MINAE plans to partner with the Culture Ministry, the University of Costa Rica and businesses and community partners in both Barrio Amón, in the center of the capital, and Santa Ana, southwest of San José.
The zoos' animals, which include monkeys, a jaguar and an African lion, will be distributed throughout the country’s animal rescue centers, but specific rescue centers have not yet been identified.
FUNDAZOO was aware of the ministry’s plans prior to today’s announcement and has already filed an appeal with the courts to fight for the contract’s continuation. The FUNDAZOO administration would not comment on how long it has known about the contract’s termination or when the appeal was filed.
“We have a number of concerns about this,” Eduardo Bolaños, FUNDAZOO’s spokesman, told The Tico Times. “Where are they taking these animals? Why do they want this to stop being a zoo? Where are people going to see Costa Rica’s biodiversity if they close down the country’s most easily accessible public zoo?”
According to Bolaños, the zoo’s lawyers inserted a clause in the MINAE-FUNDAZOO contract in August 2002 that would automatically renew the contract every 10 years. FUNDAZOO presented this clause in court in hopes of forcing MINAE to renew the contract in 2014.
In FUNDAZOO’s near 20-year reign as administrators, there have been numerous complaints filed against the zoos for poor conditions. In 2006, a zoo employee came down with a case of leptospirosis, an infectious bacterial disease that can cause liver and kidney damage, and sparked questions from environmental groups about the zoo’s sanitation.
That same year, the Association for the Preservation of Wild Flora and Fauna (APREFLOFAS) filed a lawsuit against the zoo, and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ordered MINAE and FUNDAZOO to improve the zoo's conditions.
This is MINAE’s second attempt to pull FUNDAZOO’s administrative powers. In 2003, the ministry did not renew its contract with the nonprofit organization, but FUNDAZOO retained its role arguing that the ministry did not give proper notice. In 2005, an arbitration court ordered FUNDAZOO to turn the zoos over to MINAE, but the decision was annulled in an appeal on a technicality.