Banned: Costa Rica Says Keeping Zoo Animals is not a ‘Natural Experience’

zoo animals

Costa Rica is freeing the nation’s zoo animals  by next year, seeking a more ‘natural’ experience for its residents and visitors.

One of only four countries in the world that has banned live dolphin performances, Costa Rica recognizes dolphins as non-human persons, and moved away from forcing them to perform in captivity. In 2002, the country also banned circuses that use animals in performances. And now, the Latin American country says it will do the same for all caged zoo animals in the nation’s zoo exhibits.

Costa Rica has no army and spends much of its resources instead on environmental conservation and education. According to the country’s Environment Minister, Rene Castro, capital city San Jose will turn its 97-year-old Simon Bolivar zoo into an educational and environmentally-friendly botanical park next year. The Santa Ana Conservation Center, another zoo west of San Jose, will also close. More than 400 zoo animals from both facilities will be either released into the wild or sent to rescue centers or sanctuaries to live out the rest of their days.

“We’re going to get rid of cages and reinforce the concept of a botanical park so the biodiversity can be shown and interacted with in a natural manner. We don’t want any more captivity, any more caging of animals, unless it’s because they’re being rescued or saved,” said Castro in a bold move that illustrates the inhumane nature of keeping animals in captivity, particularly when so many species are threatened or endangered around the world.

Adding to the emotional decision, Castro shared a memory from his childhood, where his grandmother’s parrot left her porch for good: “One day, we took the parrot out to the patio, and a flock of wild parrots passed, and the parrot went with them,” he told La Nacion. “It made a big impression on me because I thought that we were taking good care of her. We fed her with food and affection. … all these things that we as humans thought she liked. And when she had the chance, she left.”

Zoo animals, while often appear to like their natural-looking exhibits, can experience a number of problems. From zoocosis—a condition that leads to bizarre animal behavior sometimes requiring antidepressant medication—to physical ailments from standing long periods in small enclosures, to diet-related health issues.

The documentary “Blackfish,” which is in theaters now, highlights the terrible tragedy of a SeaWorld trainer killed by Tilikum, the largest orca whale to ever live in captivity. It’s an adept commentary on the archaic practice of keeping animals in cages, or pools, as the case may be.

While considerably more animals each year are imprisoned, tortured and killed for food (tens of billions worldwide), the practice of keeping the planet’s most majestic creatures in cages is no less horrific, and perhaps even less justifiable, particularly in a country like Costa Rica where forests and jungles are naturally abundant in a number of wild animal populations.

Related stories

Ditch the Zoos and Circuses: 7 Animal Friendly Summer Activities (Without the Chains)

Movie Review: ‘Blackfish’–SeaWorld’s Six Ton Killer Secret

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image:  mariusz kluzniak

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.