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Environmental volunteer stabbed while stopping illegal hunting in Costa Rica

An Environment Ministry (MINAE) volunteer sits in San José’s San Juan de Dios Hospital Tuesday after a stabbing from a rogue hunter last week left him temporarily unable to walk.

The stabbing took place during a MINAE operation in the Cerro Salvaje, a protected area in Palmichal de Acosta, near San José, last Thursday. Franklin Araya, who has volunteered with MINAE for approximately five years, was part of the operation along with 23-year veteran park ranger Arístides Chinchilla and three police officers.

The group received an anonymous tip from a resident in the mountains who complained that hunters were in the area.

“It’s part of the culture in this area to hunt and have hunting dogs,” Adrian Arce, the wildlife coordinator for the Central Pacific Conservation Area, told The Tico Times. “Fortunately some residents are very conscientious about hunting and will call to inform us.”

Araya and Chinchilla discovered a group of hunters and dogs pursuing a paca (Cuniculus paca) up the mountain. While the police ran after the men, a dog approached Araya and Chinchilla, who confiscated the animal to take it to a rescue center.

The two arrived at a local farm where they planned to keep the dog when another car pulled in front of the MINAE vehicle, blocking the road. Chinchilla attempted to drive away, but the car ended up in a ditch. Then, two men attacked them.

“They reached in, grabbed my neck, hit me over the head and tried to take the keys,” Chinchilla told The Tico Times. “Then one took out a knife, and when Franklin tried to help they stabbed him the leg.”

Police arrived on the scene shortly after the incident, and Chinchilla exited the car.

“The men all had rocks in their hands, and they got in my face and kept saying, ‘Hit me, hit me,’ and accused us of stealing their dog,” he said.

Neither Chinchilla nor Araya were armed.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the men have been charged with attempted murder, aggression against authority, instigation and intent to commit a crime. The stabbing suspect filed a counter-case for abuse of authority against MINAE.

Although MINAE and the Prosecutor’s Office suspect the men were hunting, officials said they were unable to gather physical evidence and the suspects will not be charged with illegal hunting.

Costa Rica banned hunting for sport in January across the country. The law only allows hunting for wildlife population control, research and in very limited cases of consumption. The offense is particularly egregious in Cerro Salvaje, which, due to its high concentration of wildlife, is designated as a wildlife protected zone, a step below a national park.

Environment Minister René Castro denounced the case during a press conference on Monday and said that the ministry has “zero tolerance” for aggression against environmentalists.

“There will not be any tolerance for future aggression against our employees or environmentalists,” Castro told the daily La Nación. 

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