After 11 years of passing a wildlife protection law created to close state-owned zoos, the Central American country of Costa Rica finally closed the last two remaining — which should have been closed in 2014. However, there are still 18 private-run zoos that operate in the country, as that law does not apply to them.

With the closure of the state-owned Simón Bolívar Zoo and Santa Ana Conservation Centre, nearly 300 animals have been transferred to a sanctuary in the country. Both zoos were managed by the FundaZoo Foundation, which took legal action following the law that ordered them to close, which is what caused the delay. Eventually, the foundation’s state contract expired and the Costa Rican government refused to renew it.

The animals removed include a jaguar, crocodiles, spider monkeys, and a sloth, which have been transferred to Zoo Ave, a supposed Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of the capital of San José. Although officials say the health of each animal is being assessed with the hope that some can be returned to the wild, it remains to be seen if this sanctuary will end up becoming another zoo in disguise, as it is not uncommon practice in the zoo industry to pretend to be sanctuaries or rehabilitation centres

Carlos Peralta, director of the NGO Association for Animal Welfare and Protection, said, “State zoos in Costa Rica make no sense. Each 10-year contract costs CRC1bn (US$1.95m, €1.8m) to Costa Ricans.”  This suggests that the step was not motivated by animal welfare or ethical reasons but by economic reasons. 

In a statement, the authorities said, “MINAE is the owner of the land that housed the zoos and by law, the custodian of the wildlife, which is a public domain asset. For making this work possible in an articulate and professional manner, we appreciate all the collaboration of other institutions such as Public Force, OIJ, San José Municipal Police, Academy and NGOs linked to wildlife, especially professionals in wildlife management, who are collaborating with this process in order to protect the lives of animals and guarantee their well-being from now on.”

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.