Throughout the world, Costa Rica is known for safeguarding its environment. Costa Rica makes a high profit from ecotourism. Visitors to Costa Rica want to see parrots, monkeys and other exotic wildlife.
Nearly a quarter of Costa Rica is in protected areas such as National Parks. Inside these protected areas, sport hunting and trapping have been banned, but hunting outside of the protected areas has been permitted under the country’s wildlife protection law, which passed in 1992.
A number of environmental groups have been frustrated with that law. Gino Biamonte, president of the Association for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna, or Apreflofas, says his group and others lobbied the Costa Rican legislature to ban hunting.
Eventually citizens tired of waiting for Congress utilized for the first time the Law of Popular Initiative, which basically states that if 135,000 citizens sign a petition, Congress will consider the proposal. This law was proposed by citizens and more than 177,000 people signed The Wildlife Conservation Law.
While the law was being debated, a hunter posted a set of photos on his Facebook page of a recently shot black jaguar. (You can see the link here, but be forewarned it is gruesome.) The next day police visited the hunter and he was prosecuted.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the vice president and senior advisor for global policy in Conservation International’s Center for Environment and Peace and the former environment and energy minister for Costa Rica states, “In decades of working on conservation issues in Costa Rica, I have never seen the public have a reaction like this. The newspaper and TV coverage of this definitely helped influence the later approval of the bill in Congress. Many people think of Facebook as simply a useful social tool, but in this case the use of Facebook was instrumental for this historic decision which I am proud of as a Costa Rican.”
Congress passed the Wildlife Conservation Law by an overwhelming majority with a vote of 41 – 5 and President Chinchilla signed the law supporting the citizen’s proposal over the lobbying of hunting groups.
The new law imposes $3,000 fine or four months jail time and 1,800 for trafficking in wildlife species. President Chinchillla said she regretted that the country had to wait six years for the approval of the bill and that “during all that time some animal species disappeared.”
Assembly President Victor Emilio Grandas stated, “It will allow us to live in peace with other living things that share our planet…. I believe this is a message we give to future generations, that an activity like sport hunting is not a sport, but a cruelty.”
The new law does allow hunting in two special circumstances—subsistence hunting by indigenous groups and culls to control overpopulation. The law does not affect fishing.
There was concern that making hunting illegal outside of the national parks, could increase poaching inside the national parks where more exotic species live. Costa Rica’s Minister of the Environment, René Castro, indicated in an e-mail to PBS NOVA that the government will redouble its efforts to keep poachers out of national parks when the hunting ban takes effect.
Conservation International reports that the Costa Rican government has allocated 2 million dollars to the government budget exclusively for enforcement efforts.
But, given the country’s limited resources, some say enforcement will still be a challenge.
Alonso Villalobos, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica, responds to this charge saying “Even if the hunting ban is not implemented perfectly, the law is symbolically important. Costa Ricans think of themselves as people who are in a very good relation with the environment. And in that way, we have made a lot of progress. We have a stronger environmental consciousness.”
Costa Rica is now the first Latin America country to ban hunting and the first country on this continent to ban hunting.
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