Abolishing wildlife captivity gains momentum in Latin America

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

SAN JOSE,  Costa Rica––An appeal to an administrative law court filed by the zoo management foundation Fundazoo is the last hope the 97-year-old Simón Bolívar Zoo in San José and the Santa Ana conservation center have to remain open past 2014.

A year after banning sport hunting,  Costa Rica is poised to becoming the first nation in the western hemisphere to abolish zoos.  But while the sport hunting ban was the first Costa Rican legislation passed by voter initiative,  the end of zookeeping will result from the decision of environment minister René Castro to simply not renew the Fundazoo operating permits.

[pullquote]The supposedly “backward” states of Latin America are now leading humanity in terms of moral ecology.[/pullquote]

“With this move,”  Castro said,  “we are sending a message that the state wishes to show biodiversity in its natural state,  under a modern and holistic integration of space,  society and natural resources.” Castro told the newspaper La Nación that his perspective on zoos was influenced by the escape of his grandmother’s pet parrot.  “That made a big impression on me because I thought we had taken good care of her.  We fed her with food and affection – all the things that we as humans thought she liked,”  Castro remembered.  “Yet when she had the chance, she left.”

“The animal residents of the zoos––300 individuals from 60 species in the case of the Simón Bolívar zoo––will be released into the wild or found new homes in private shelters.  The land will be used for botanical gardens,”  reported Jonathan Watts of The Guardian.

“The Simón Bolívar Zoo attracts more than 130,000 visitors a year,  runs educational programs,  and has its own policy of releasing animals back into the wild whenever possible,”  Watts wrote.  The zoo employs about 35 people to look after a collection including mostly native species:  parrots,  crocodiles,  ocelots,  snakes,  and spider monkeys.  The zoo also has an African lion imported from Cuba.

“We are more a rescue centre than a zoo.  We have never bought or collected animals,”  spokesperson Eduardo Bolanos told Watts.

“The state of Costa Rica’s public zoos has been a point of contention among environmental groups for years,”  recalled International Business Times correspondent Mark Johanson.  “The Association for the Preservation of Wild Flora and Fauna filed a lawsuit against the zoos in 2006 for poor conditions and questionable sanitation,  leading the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to order immediate improvements.  The Environment Ministry has tried unsuccessfully since 2003 to terminate its contract with Fundazoos.  Fundazoo,  however, argues that its contract to run the zoos has already been renewed through 2024.”

Movement away from keeping wildlife in captivity also gained momentum in Uruguay,  with the August 2013 decision of the Montevideo municipal zoo to send two tigers to a sanctuary in the United States.  The zoo could not afford to upgrade the tigers’ housing to comply with recommendations issued in 1993 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums,  reported Stephen Messenger for Treehugger.com. Messenger indicated that zoo director Eduardo Tabares was influenced by the outcome of a raid by a group calling itself “Direct Action” on a zoo at the seaside resort city of Atlantida.  Opening 16 cages,  the raiders declared on Facebook that “we will not stop until all the cages are empty.”

“Within hours,”  wrote Messenger,  “a capybara,  a llama,  a black-headed parrot,  a red parrot,  a rabbit,  three guinea pigs and a Patagonian hare were dead.  Some apparently were struck by cars;  others drowned in ponds or died of stress.  Ten others disappeared, said Juan Carbajal,  who oversees the two zoos.

The legislature of El Salvador on August 9,  2013 voted 54-30 to ban the use of wildlife in circuses.  The national wildlife conservation law now “prohibits the entry,  use or abuse of wildlife in all kinds of shows,”  and states that “It will only be permitted to display wildlife in zoos or animal shelters that provide the specific care that these species need for survival.”

Bolivia,  Colombia,  Ecuador,  Peru,  and Paraguay have also banned wildlife use in circuses since 2007,  at urging of the British-based organization Animal Defenders International.  Similar bans were adopted in Greece in 2012 and Cyprus in June 2013. British agriculture minister David Heath in April 2013 introduced a draft bill which would require circuses to end wild animal acts by the beginning of December 2015,  but it has not advanced.

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