Costa Rica is known for its lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and magnificent array of wildlife species. As one of the people fortunate enough to be able to travel to this gorgeous Central American country this coming July, it is important for me to know the context of my visit, for without the well-rounded perspective that comes from context one cannot fully understand nor appreciate their circumstance.
Therefore, when I visit the incredible Manuel Antonio National Park with my fellow travelers, awed by the pure majesty of the monkeys, geckos, sloths, frogs, and parrots all living together in harmony, I will know that this breathtaking display of peaceful coexistence did not come by chance, but by the efforts of the Costa Rican people to conserve.
In December of 2012, Costa Rica became the first nation in Latin America to take a stand for animal conservation when their Congress voted unanimously in favor of a law banning hunting as a sport. A grassroots initiative collected 177,000 signatures calling for this ban on hunting, proposing it to Congress back in 2010.
Under the law, hunters face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000, and penalties are also included for those caught trapping wild animals such as jaguars or parrots to sell as exotic pets on the black market.
Many people have responded in support of the ban, taking to Twitter to applaud Costa Rica with words such as, “Bravo, Costa Rica!” and “I hope the rest of the world will follow suit…” These people see the law as a necessary move to preserve the nature that man seems to constantly overpower, one woman’s comment on Facebook saying, “The animals were here first.”
Not all, however, have been so glad to see this ban. Ricardo Guardia, president of the Costa Rican Hunters Association and an attorney who wrote the national gun law, argues that “hunting is a reasonable use of natural resources that doesn’t harm the general public”.
The law does allow hunting in two special circumstances—subsistence hunting by indigenous groups and culls to control overpopulation. But Guardia says that “people will not respect [the law]”. Another Facebook user commented in agreement to Guardia’s claims, saying, “…just like prohibition, making something illegal will not stop poachers and criminals”.
Unfortunately, these men are not entirely incorrect. In June of 2013, photos taken near Santa Rosa National Park circulated the internet, showing a slain jaguar’s limp body held up by two of its hunters as they beamed in pride. Again in October of 2013, animal conservationists were appalled when pictures of a dead doe and fawn near Carara National Park went viral. Despite the fact that the law cannot prevent all tragedies such as these, Alonso Villalobos, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica, says 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,” says Villalobos. “And in that way, we have made a lot of progress. We have a stronger environmental consciousness.”
Context. I can never truly know all of it before I go to Costa Rica, but to know of something that is so important to them now–a passion for conservation that seems to help define Costa Rica’s patriotism– helps me to be able to visit them more respectfully.
Socrates once said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.” And the more fantastic things I learn about Costa Rica, the more I feel completely ignorant–yet, in the best way possible, for this marks the opportunity for new growth and wisdom. It is as if my hands are outreached, ready to pick the delectable fruit of experience from the tree of new beginnings. I am going to Costa Rica in exactly two weeks from today, and I am not even close to knowing everything about that faraway land. And I could not be more thrilled.