A streak of mysterious animal deaths at Corcovado National Park, in the country s Southern Zone, led environmental authorities to suspend tourist admission into the park this week until scientists determine the reason for the losses.
Monkeys, sloths and toucans are among the animals that have been found dead in the area, bearing no apparent sign of illness or aggression, according to wildlife experts.
Famed environmentalist and Osa Conservation Area Director Alvaro Ugalde told The Tico Times no death count currently exists for the animals, but the losses are many.
Although agents at the National Park information service, reached by dialing 192, said they were unaware of developments at the park, authorities restricted admission to scientists and participants in the investigation.
The restrictions, which began Monday and are scheduled to last until Dec. 20, have not yet affected area tourism, according to Luis Centeno, president of the Osa Tourism Chamber.
UGALDE said the park, located on the Osa Peninsula, may reopen to visitors before that date, depending on the results of laboratory analyses on blood samples taken from the dead animals.
While laboratories at Universidad Nacional (UNA), in Heredia, north of San José, will analyze most samples, according to Joel Sáenz, director of UNA s department of wildlife studies, Ugalde said some were shipped to laboratories in the United States on Tuesday, and results could become available next week.
Although Ugalde, other conservationists and area residents agree the animals may have starved to death, at the moment their theories are merely speculative. Alejandra Monge, executive director of Fundación Corcovado, a local nonprofit conservation foundation, said it seems likely the heavy rains that struck the area this year may have destroyed many of the fruit trees the animals fed on, leaving them malnourished and more susceptible to infections.
Monge, who said animals in the park started dying approximately two months ago, added that many area residents complained that monkeys were breaking into their kitchens and storage areas to steal food.
Pedro Garro, manager of Aguila de Osa Hotel, a 30-minute boat ride from Corcovado, echoed Monge s theory. I have lived here 25 years, and since 1982, I have not seen a stronger rainy season, he told The Tico Times in a phone interview from the Osa Peninsula, adding that the rains cause fruit to fall from trees and washes it away.
Garro said he may have been the victim of a monkey break-in this rainy season, when monkeys apparently went into his storeroom to steal food.
Despite the park s temporary closure smack at the beginning of the December-May tourism high season, members of the industry, such as Garro, said they are not worried.
Honestly, at this moment (the park s closure) has not affected us, said Garro, who runs boat tours from Drake Bay to Corcovado and to Isla del Caño. The hotel manager said no reservations to Aguila de Osa have been cancelled.
Centeno, from the Osa Tourism Chamber, was not even aware the park had closed until Tuesday, he said.
It (the closure) is going to undoubtedly alter things. Some hotels have already sold packages (with tours to the park). But we know tourists will understand, he said.
According to Centeno, the Tourism Chamber has already been trying to promote new destinations within the peninsula to preserve the overly visited Corcovado and Isla del Caño.
We don t want to saturate them, he said, explaining the peninsula contains private reserves such as Marenco Biological Reserve, next to Corcovado, which offers similar biodiversity to the National Park s.
For more information on Osa destinations, contact the Osa Tourism Chamber at 786-6534 or Osa Tourist Services at 372-7409.