Hidden away in the very middle of Central America, between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, lies a sparkling green jewel of nature. There are some fantastic ways to help animal conservation in this paradise.
In this article, I look at different ways to help animal conservation in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica makes up only 0.03% of the surface of the Earth but is home to an incredible 6% of its biodiversity. For this reason, it has been named ‘Costa Rica’, which means the ‘rich coast’ in Spanish.
For thousands of years, Costa Rica has acted as the perfect pathway for species migrating between North and South America. The multitude of microclimates in the country has also resulted in many species thriving in this small country.
Sloths: slow and famously lazy, both two- and three-toed sloths live in the treetops of Costa Rica’s rainforests, sleeping for 8-10 hours a day and spending the rest looking for food.
Toucans: six species of these colourful birds live in Costa Rica. With bills sometimes longer than their bodies, toucans feed on fruits and berries.
Monkeys: many different monkeys reside in Costa Rica, including the mischievous capuchins, the noisy howler monkeys, and the peculiar-looking spider monkeys.
Sea turtles: green, hawksbill, leatherback and olive ridley turtles all live around the coast of Costa Rica and come up onto the beaches to lay their eggs.
The Problem: Deforestation and Destruction
Unfortunately, this flourishing wildlife is constantly threatened by several pressures such as global warming, deforestation, and human development projects.
Before 1940, three-quarters of Costa Rica was forest, but by 1987, this was thought to have been halved by loggers clearing land for farming. This heavily affected the habitats of forest-dwelling species like sloths, monkeys, and toucans, reducing their populations and, therefore, the overall wildlife in Costa Rica.
Green turtles have been classified as ‘endangered’ because their eggs are illegally harvested. They are killed and injured by fishing equipment, swallow and ingest plastics, and lose their nesting beaches to human development projects.
Jaguars are now classified as ‘near threatened’ as their population is steadily declining because they are hunted for their pelt and killed due to them hunting farmers’ cattle.
Great green macaws came dangerously close to extinction due to extensive logging of their habitats and food sources. Still, luckily, conservation efforts have been successful, and their numbers are now increasing.
Despite the multitude of threats to wildlife in Costa Rica, there is a glimmer of hope. And that glimmer can be strengthened by you! Read on to see how you can help animal conservation in Costa Rica.
Taking Action: Research and Rescue
Due to the high biodiversity in Costa Rica, it has become an extremely important focus of conservation work:
National parks and reserves now cover 1,342 hectares of Costa Rica, meaning that over one-quarter of the country is protected. Islands, beaches, rainforests, volcanoes, caves, and waterfalls are safeguarded and home to many wild animals.
Mass reforestation projects have taken place across the country. Payments for ecological services mean that local people are paid for helping restore and protect forests so that now approximately 60% of the country has been reforested. This, again, has helped provide habitats to a large number of animals.
Animal rescue centres have been set up across the country to save and care for sick and injured animals (for example, sloths that power lines have electrocuted). These projects aim to release animals back into the wild when possible, so they are crucial to conserving Costa Rican wildlife.
Biological research projects monitor the population sizes of species in certain areas. These are done for a wide range of animals, from turtles to jaguars to dung beetles. These help to see whether populations are increasing, decreasing or staying constant and, therefore, what action needs to be taken to improve the health of populations.
Pay attention to those last two solutions because these are ones that, excitingly enough, you can be directly involved in.
Getting Involved: Eco-tourism
Eco-tourism is an ever-growing branch of the tourism industry that has become extremely popular in Costa Rica and is a vital part of their conservation efforts and their economy. Many projects rely heavily on volunteers’ time and money to continue running.
More than ever before, Costa Rica needs people to volunteer due to the drop in tourism due to world events. Eco-tourism focused on animals is mainly divided into animal rescue centres and biological research projects.
I have listed four of the most exciting projects I’ve found in Costa Rica:
Sloth and Wildlife Rescue Center (GoEco)
With the assistance of the very helpful GoEco team, you will be assigned to one of four animal rescue centres throughout Costa Rica. This will be based on your preference combined with which centre is most in need of help when you apply.
You will be involved in the daily tasks of feeding the animals, monitoring them, cleaning their cages, general maintenance, animal enrichment, gardening, reforesting, and helping the veterinary team if you stay for a long time.
It is an incredible experience which allows you to get up close with many animals, such as sloths and parrots. You also can spend your first week in San José learning Spanish and immersing yourself in Costa Rican culture.
For more information, visit the GoEco page.
Sea Turtle Conservation on the Caribbean Coast (GVI)
This project is located on Tortuguero Beach on the Caribbean coast. It is in a beautiful, wild part of the country –the middle of the rainforest on a coconut plantation. Here, you’ll be monitoring the populations of leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles alongside the governmental body the ‘Sea Turtle Conservancy and the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET)’.
This means the data you’ll be collecting will be used in real scientific and governmental studies. You will carry out nightly patrols, looking for turtles and collecting data on their size, the number of eggs they lay and the depth of nests that they dig. You will also have the chance to release baby turtles from their nests and watch them make their way to the sea.
There is the added chance to do some research on jaguars and birds, for example, by setting up camera traps in the forest. This work is gratifying because you observe animals in their wild state whilst also helping them.
This kind of project is perfect for anyone interested in a career in conservation or just if you’re intrigued by how it all works. You’ll learn real survey techniques and gain hands-on experience in the field.
For more information, visit the sea turtle conservation page.
Wildlife Rescue in Quepos (PodVolunteer)
This is on the Pacific coast and involves the rescue and rehabilitation of more than 50 animals such as sloths, monkeys, anteaters and birds. You will be working to nurse animals back to health for hopeful release back into the wild.
These animals have been injured, orphaned, mistreated or rescued from the illegal pet trade. You’ll be involved in feeding, water and medicine provision, cleaning enclosures and enrichment for the animals.
You’ll work alongside a mix of local and international staff (biologists, veterinarians, and animal keepers) plus other volunteers worldwide. Because the staff are so limited here, volunteers are crucial to keep the place running smoothly as there are so many animals to care for.
Along with this, you can help promote the conservation initiative via education of both locals and tourists – working with them to realise the importance of preserving the rainforest and making a positive long-term impact on wildlife in Costa Rica.
For more information, visit the PodVolunteer page.
Sea Turtle Conservation on the Pacific Coast (GoEco)
This project is set on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, home to olive ridley turtles. Every month, per the moon, a phenomenon called ‘arribada’ (which means arrival by sea) happens, where thousands of olive ridley turtles come to shore to lay their eggs.
This is a unique natural event to witness, and you are involved in all aspects of it, from setting up markers along the beach to spending your night collecting data.
It is recommended that you stay for a minimum of four weeks to maximise your chances of witnessing an arribada. Along with work during the arribada, you will also be carrying out nightly patrols, hatchery care, baby turtle releases into the sea, and beach clean-ups (essential to maintaining the health of the beach).
You will work alongside both conservationists, other volunteers and local rangers. It is truly a rewarding and magical experience.
For more information, visit the sea turtle conservation page.
Helping from a Distance
Of course, not everyone can jet-set off to Costa Rica at a moment’s notice, but don’t fret. There are still several meaningful ways you can help:
Donations: many charities need supportive funding from generous donors. Giving to sanctuaries like ‘The Sloth Institute’, ‘Jaguar Rescue Center’ and the ‘Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center means that you’ll be funding the support of animal conservation in Costa Rica – something incredibly important for the health of the whole planet.
Conscious purchasing: many products have been made or transported in damaging ways to the environment. Ensuring you know where the things you buy come from and choosing less environmentally harmful products is a very effective way to help animal conservation. For instance, avoiding palm oil products is an excellent way to start.
Get political: educate yourself on environmental laws and sign petitions that aim to protect land and stop the destruction of vital habitats for animals. Take a look at https://marineconservationcostarica.org/petitions-for-marine-conservation/
Costa Rica is both an ongoing project and a success story for conservation. Whilst it’s much more biodiverse than anywhere else globally, many species are still at risk of extinction due to human activity and environmental change.
Therefore, we must take action to help out in whichever way we can. There are small and big ways to help animal conservation in Costa Rica, whether you go over there yourself and get stuck in or donate some time or attention to the projects from the comfort of your own home. The most important thing to do is start as soon as possible – there’s no time like the present!