Costa Rica to Close Zoos and Release Captive Animals Back into the Wild (VIDEO)

| by Phyllis M Daugherty
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Costa Rican officials plan to close the country's two public zoos by next year and open the cages where animals have been kept and release them back into the wild. The move is the latest step by Costa Rican officials who say they are aiming to protect animals.

Costa Rica banned circuses with animals in 2002 and has also barred sport hunting.

The country has two public zoos taht hold 400 animals of 60 species, including a lion, crocodiles, monkeys and a tapir, reports The Independent.

The animals housed in the facilities will either be released into the wild or sent to animal sanctuaries, CNN affiliate Teletica reported.

The Simon Bolivar Zoo in the capital of San Jose, which houses hundreds of animals, will be turned into a botanical garden, and the Santa Ana Conservation Center west of the city will be turned into a park, according to the report.

Rene Castro, the environment minister in the country described the new rule as "no cages."

Castro explained to Costa Rica's La Nacion newspaper last week that the action relates to an experience with his grandmother's pet parrot.

"One day, we took the parrot out to the patio, and a flock of wild parrots passed, and the parrot went with them," Castro said. "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."

The zoos of Costa Rica have been widely criticized for their cramped cages and unsanitary conditions. However, veterinarian Randall Arguedas at the Bolivar zoo told CNN that environmentalists and the government are making a mistake and expressed concern for the future of the animals.

"If they close it down, none of the animals here could be released," Arguedas told Teletica. "Most have permanent injuries. Even though they have been treated, these injuries prevent them from flying or seeing well. Some have simply lost their natural instincts. In other words, they will always have to live in captivity."

The foundation that runs the zoos, known as Fundazoo, has attempted to block the closure.

"We're worried about where the ministry is thinking of moving the animals since the Simon Bolivar and the Conservation Center are the only ones that have a veterinarian specialized in forest species and an animal nutritionist," Bolanos said.

The Bolivar zoo was franchised to Fundazoo 20 years ago. Fundazoo officials argue that they can run the zoo until 2024 because the government missed a deadline to cancel the franchise.

"The contract's clause that speaks about the renewal says that it renews automatically if neither party indicates that it doesn't want to extend it within the first quarter of the contract year," Fundazoo Director Yolanda Matamoros told Teletica. "Their deadline expired on Aug. 10 of last year."

Sources: CNN, Independent