7 Aug 2017
Costa Rica’s environmental conservation efforts go back decades; in fact, as far back as 1828 government entities were encouraged to “fight for the conservation and reforestation of mountains and plantations.” Then, in 1945, the country began to establish protected areas, subdivided by varying categories of environmental protection. Today an estimated 25% of the country’s landmass, both private and public, falls under the National Park System and the conversation sphere. Lush, green rainforests, mangroves, cloud forests, remarkable beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and coral reefs are some of the many habitats protected by the national parks and reserves of Costa Rica. Altogether, the country supports some 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 27 national parks, 15 wetlands, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves dedicated to protecting the varied natural habitations in the country. Over 35,000 species of insects, an estimated 850 birds and 205 mammal species, 220 species of reptiles, and 160 species of amphibians can be found in this tropical paradise.
The varied microclimates, rich ecological systems, and the natural wealth of the country make it a most favorable home for a varied number of species. Approximately a half a million species can be found here; Costa Rica is home to a wide array of tropical mammal species, such as two-toed and three-toed Sloths, three kinds of anteaters, Jaguars, Tapirs, and the Squirrel Monkey, among other endangered species. Costa Rica is also one of the very few places in the world that has numerous, protected nesting sites for endangered marine turtles such as the Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridely, and Green Turtles. The National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) are responsible for sustaining the country’s biodiversity.
The active participation of both the public and private sectors in these efforts is helping the conservation in Costa Rica on a national, as well as global level. With a growing network of ecosystems and a government that strongly endorses preservation efforts, Costa Rica stands on the forefront of the conservation efforts. Among other efforts, Costa Rica became the first nation in the world to ban hunting. In 2012, the Costa Rican Congress unanimously voted to ban hunting as a sport in the Latin American country. Under the law, hunters caught poaching wild animals face prison time or hefty fines. Likewise, it is illegal in Costa Rica for people to hunt wild animals to keep as pets. It should be noted, however, that the law does not apply to some indigenous people who rely on hunting for survival, nor does it apply to scientific research. Environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, said of the measure, “We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore.” While it is true that eco-tourism is the country’s premier industry, there is a darker side to the motives of some who visit Costa Rica, as some come to the country for the soul purpose of obtaining exotic cats, as well as rare and colorful birds, to sell on the black market as pets. Nevertheless, Costa Rica’s conservation efforts will likely enhance the future preservation of wildlife. Of Costa Rica’s efforts, Alonso Villalobos, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica, said “Costa Rican’s think of themselves as ‘people who are in very good relation with the environment, and in that way, we have made a lot of progress. We have a stronger environmental consciousness.”