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Costa Rica Is Going to Close Its Zoos And Release the Animals Into the Wild

But if Costa Rica expects its zoo animals to survive life outside of captivity for long, some very careful planning and preparation is in orde

A toucan in Costa Rica’s La Pumas Zoo – soon to be released? Photo: Donar Reiskoffer

Costa Rica has had it with zoos. The government plans to shut down all of the countries zoos and either release or relocate the zoo animal residents, Global Post reports. Rather than view wildlife behind bars, Costa Rica is encouraging its citizens and tourists alike to take to the protected parks in the hopes of spotting a toucan or tree frog doing their thing in nature. Care2 writes:

The closures will take effect in March 2014, when the government’s contract with the organization that operates its two zoos is set to expire — a move that  Castro says reflects “a change of environmental conscience among Costa Ricans.” The facilities which now house captive animals, Simon Bolivar Zoo and the Santa Ana Conservation Center, will be then transformed into urban parks or gardens where wildlife can visit and live freely if they so choose.

The government plans to release as many animals as possible back into the wild and find rehab centers or sanctuaries for those that likely can’t make it in the real world. Care2 calls the move the beginning of a “paradigm shift” about the nature of zoos and animal captivity.

Releasing formerly captive animals into the wild, however, is a notoriously tricky business. Birds, for example, will imprint on keepers—they develop an attachment to humans. Some may even see themselves as a human. For all but the most primordial insects or reptiles, life in a zoo can soften them and make them complacent around people, two factors that are detrimental to life in the wild. Even in Costa Rica, illegal wildlife trade and poaching are problems, as the recent murder of a sea turtle conservationist demonstrated.

Animals also learn essential behaviors—how to hunt, avoid being eaten, attract a mate, interact with a social group—from their parents and fellow animals. Dedicated wildlife rehabilitation centers often spend months or even years meticulously preparing animals for release back into the wild. On the flip side, animals kept in captivity can transmit novel diseases to those living in the wild. All of this is just to say: if Costa Rica expects its zoo animals to survive life outside of captivity for long, some very careful planning and preparation is in order.

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