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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

No, Costa Rica is not closing its zoos

A friend recently posted this headline on my Facebook timeline: “Costa Rica Is Shutting Down All Zoos And Freeing Every Animal In Captivity.”

Hmm, I thought. Yes, I was taking the weekend off, but I had been monitoring the news all the previous week and didn’t have any inkling that such a radical move was imminent.

I clicked on the headline, from an online publication called Higher Perspective whose tagline is “Connect. Reveal. Transcend.” and whose Twitter handle is @AlteringMinds.

The date was about right, Aug. 19, 2015, but after a quick scan of the story, it was obvious that Higher Perspective had gotten its information from another online publication, True Activist, which had gotten its information from an article published in Treehugger TWO YEARS AGO.

Even worse, the True Activist story (headline: “Costa Rica Plans To Shut Down Its Zoos And Free All Animals In Captivity”) had a link to a 2014 Tico Times story with this headline: “Environment Ministry loses court battle to close Costa Rica’s zoos.”

Suddenly the whole story went “poof!” And yet, the headline has appeared in other media — in English and Spanish — numerous times since.

This kind of terribly reported, recycled-from-last-year, so-called “news” about Costa Rica happens All. The. Time. So, in the spirit of setting the record straight, we at The Tico Times are starting a new occasional column called “For the record.”

Here, we’ll take on false news, false rumors and misguided ideas about the land of pura vida. We’ll also fact check statements and comments made by public figures. Most importantly, we’ll let our readers know what the real story is, backed up by facts, boots-on-the-ground reporting, and good old-fashioned common sense — of the type that drives one to check the sources on a suspicious-looking news report.

We’ll start with the zoo story that’s been recently revived in the social media sphere as if it had happened yesterday. Here we go.

The Environment Ministry did try to close Costa Rica’s two official zoos, but failed

In July 2013, former Environment Minister René Castro announced that the government intended to let its contract run out with the nonprofit that runs Costa Rica’s two urban zoos.

“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” Castro said at the time. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Under the minister’s plan, both zoos would cease operations as such in May 2014. San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo was to become a biological education center and Santa Ana’s Conservation Center was to become a forest reserve. The animals held there, including a jaguar and an African lion, were to be sent to animal rescue centers in other parts of the country.

Then-Minister Castro went even further, telling The Tico Times in an August 2013 interview that he planned to free all animals in captivity in Costa Rica. “It is a gradual process, but eventually we hope that there will no longer be animals in cages anywhere in the country,” Castro said.

If this had all actually happened, we wouldn’t be writing this post. Instead, the nonprofit zoo manager FUNDAZOO took the issue to court alleging breach of contract and won a ruling allowing it to continue managing the zoos for another 10 years.

In fact, FUNDAZOO seems confident enough in its survival that it recently began renovating the Simón Bolívar Zoo in Barrio Amón, the historic neighborhood near the city’s center. The renovations may also be, in part, a response to criticism about some of the cages and enclosures for the zoo’s inhabitants.

After years of lying cramped together in a dingy moat, the zoo’s crocodiles and caimans will soon be relocated to a larger, more natural-looking lagoon. The zoo’s tapir will also join them.

Enclosures for some of the zoo’s big cats, including the jaguar, have already been improved.

At present, the African lion still lazes away his days in a dismally small, concrete pen. But he, too, will soon be getting better digs, according to Fundazoo spokesman Eduardo Bolaños.

When the Environment Ministry lost its court battle with Fundazoo last year, it did say it planned to appeal the decision. Both Bolaños and a spokesperson for the ministry said they had no immediate knowledge about the status of that appeal. A request for further information from the Environment Ministry wasn’t answered by close of business Friday.

Have a Costa Rica myth you want busted or a story you want fact-checked? Let us know at or, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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