With Help of Facebook, Costa Rica Bans Hunting of Wildlife

This week in Bangkok, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meeting to discuss regulations that aim to prevent the extinction of many of the world’s most threatened species. Today, CI’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez highlights a recent victory for some of these species in his home country of Costa Rica.

capuchin monkey in Costa Rica

Capuchin monkeys are one of many species that international tourists travel to Costa Rica to see. The role of ecotourism in the country’s economy may have played a role in the recent ban on sports hunting. (© CI/photo by Ashton Jones)

The Costa Rican Congress recently made a historic decision: with support of eight out of nine political parties, they approved a bill that bans the hunting of wildlife for recreational purposes. It is the first country in Latin America to do so.

This political decision was possible due to a new legal mechanism called the popular initiative, which allows citizens to formally present new legislation in Congress. Its main requirement is that all proposed bills must have the signatures of 5% of the country’s registered voters. So after two years of hard work, conservation organizations presented a reform to the Wildlife Law with the support of 177,000 Costa Ricans.

The prohibition bans sport hunting of all terrestrial animals. Previously, hunting had been permitted outside of protected areas — which make up nearly a quarter of the country’s land — and put pressure on wildlife populations. Popular as hunting may be, this new bill reflects an even more popular sentiment that rejects this practice.

One likely reason for this shift in attitude is that Costa Rica makes a high profit from ecotourism. The country annually receives more than 2 million tourists, who contribute up to US$ 2.2 billion to the local economy. About 80% of tourists visit a protected area during their stay, hoping to spot monkeys, parrots, reptiles and other tropical species that have made Costa Rica a world-renowned tourist destination. (Check out the video below to see some of these animals in action.)

While in discussion in Congress, this bill generated much public debate until something unexpected happened that tipped the balance toward the conservationists’ proposal. Last September, a hunter published a set of photos on his Facebook page of a recently shot black jaguar in the Caribbean lowlands.

The next day police were knocking at his door; he was immediately prosecuted. But the public uproar took place on Facebook, where thousands of Costa Ricans expressed their opinions — most condemning the jaguar kill — and some even threatened the hunters. (You can see the Facebook post and comments here, but be warned, the photo is pretty graphic.)

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 event definitely helped influence the later approval of the bill in Congress. Many people may 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’ decision to support the citizen’s proposal was made despite strong lobbying and public debate by hunting associations. These groups argued that since most hunting in the country is done illegally, a ban won’t impact those hunting activities. Additionally, they emphasized that law enforcement capacities have previously proven to be poor and limited.

In response to these legitimate points, lawmakers responded by assigning a new financial mechanism in the new law that will add $2 million to the government budget exclusively for enforcement efforts. Subsistence hunting by indigenous communities is still allowed, as is using hunting as a strategy to manage introduced or problematic species.

Implementing this prohibition will become a major challenge for Costa Rica. New regulations are needed regarding arms possession and trade, monitoring and compliance needs to be radically prioritized and much should be invested in education and awareness, particularly in rural communities.

Still, I have no doubt that this law marks a big step for Costa Rica and the wider world: further proof that people are beginning to value wild animals more alive than dead.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is vice president and senior advisor for global policy in CI’s Center for Environment and Peace. He was formerly the environment and energy minister for Costa Rica.


  1. Alfredo Begazo says

    Iremember seeing the photos of the jaguar hunted in Costa Rica. It made me so angry. Kudos to the Costa Rican government and Ticos for supporting such a monumnental decision. I wonder in the ban applies to subsistence hunting. Although I am not sure if Costa Rica has indigenous human populations that still hunt animals for subsistence.

    1. carlos manuel rodriguez says

      Hi Alfredo, thanks for your comments, yes we have indigenous communities in Costa Rica, they are just 1% of the population. They live in remote forested areas and the ban does not applies to subsistance hunting. Saludes.

  2. The conservationist says

    As much as I applaud this, it’s important to note that this is probably just a small step towards actual conservation. Although seeing the dead jaguar is really touching, recreational hunting is probably the least problem we should be concerned about. Kuddos for going to a total ban instead of just a bland regulation. But what’s really good news about it is to see the popular sentiment in favor of the law. Fortunately idiots like the guy who killed the jaguar are rarer than ever.

  3. Turnkey Websites says

    Everytime I hear of wildlife numbers declining due to unregulated hunting practices or black-market poaching, I feel paralyzed with fear. What if we were truly looking at the very last wild species? And what if there was no way to replenish that particular species. Once a species is gone, it’s gone forever — and it forever changes the ecosystem as we know it for eternity.

  4. JG says

    Let me first say that I am impressed with the decision the Costa Rican government has made here, but an editorial in the New York Times published a few days ago brings up an interesting point that I would like to mention.

    Alexander Songorwa, Tanzania’s director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (Tanzania’s highest ranking wildlife official) wrote the piece and in it asks the US government to hold off on designating the African lion as an endangered species. He mentions that on average 200 lions are killed via the hunting industry per year, and from 2009 – 2011, revenue from this hunting brought in roughly $75 million to Tanzania, a large portion of which came from American hunters. This money is used to support game reserves, wildlife management areas, and the building of roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure. Certain safeguards are in place to ensure continued reproduction in the species, such as prohibiting the hunting of female and younger lions and males under 6 years old. If the African lion were to be designated an endangered species by the US government, Americans would no longer be able to bring home their ‘trophies’ and would thus take their hunting business elsewhere, perhaps jeopardizing current management practices and a source of income for a nation.

    Similarly, in the United States Ducks Unlimited was started in the 1930s by ‘sportsmen’ (hunters) concerned about the disappearance of wetland habitat that supports waterfowl, or the game that they were most interested in hunting. Today DU is one of the most successful conservation organizations in the United States, having protected millions of acres of waterfowl habitat and wetlands.

    Is this style of management not possible in Costa Rica?

    1. carlos manuel rodriguez says

      Hi JG, thanks for bringin up the African case on trofy hunting. I believe in managment of wildlife. It has proven to be succesful and has contribute to conservation of species if rules are appropiate and management and enforcement capacities are in place. In the Tropics conditions are way different, from not having the big game of the savanas to high poaching for trade and local consuption. Bush meat is a big problem in all of the tropics, particulary in West Africa. So countries with this problem plus lack of political will for good governance and trasparancy and no resources makes it almost imposible for good protection of widlife. Banning sport hunting won’t stop all hunting in Costa Rica, we will still have a great challenge on all ilegal forms of hunting. What we can see out of this dicision is a nation willing to think and act diferently from a moral perspective but also because in Costa Rica, due to tourism, a live animal is worth much more than a hunted animal.


    2. Michael says

      I am a wildlife photographer , former hunter from a hunting family, and also a protector of wildlife. Your Tanzanian interjection is important as these countries should be given the right to conserve their wildlife, if that fails, then protection or embargos should be imposed. Asian demands for body parts is a far worse problem to come to grips with. Massive amounts of protected as well as endangered species are at risk from “old school” Asian traditions((((((

      Habitat destruction in Costa Rica is doing far more damage than a few rogue hunters!!!! I am pleased with the steps they are taking to preserve wildlife, but two million tourists is more than the country can control. Also the tremendous increase of American, Canadian , and Europeans in the last ten years is strangling what little wildlife is left. The habitat destruction of Costa Rica is at an alarming rate!!!

      As for Ducks Unlimited,,, I am sorry but I do not buy into it((((.. I live in Los Banos California, huge duck hunting community. I get to see them in action, hear their stories, know the true DIRT of duck hunting. I have no problem with meat hunters, we have more deer in most states than can be supported. The income for licenses is well used and needed for conservation. TRUE duck hunting I also have no problem with, there is no shortage of ducks or geese. Yet duck hunters are a plague,,,, they kill beavers, because they block their waterways!!! They kill skunks, raccoons, coyotes, hawks, and eagles because they eat ducks,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,duck hunters are the most harmful, destructive, and wasteful hunters of any known to exist!!!!

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  7. Vacation Rentals Costa Rica says

    Thinking about the superiority of man over the other species is one of the most common errors in global societies. Costa Rica is a country with a good ecological conscience , which allows sustainable tourism sectors to be the future of a country. The prohibition of wild hunting must be one of the rules basic of society as a whole.

  8. LW says

    Why is there no distinction made between ‘hunting’ – following legal rules, seasons, and limits; versus ‘poaching’ – the unrestricted killing of animals for profit. With regard to the jaguar, it was clearly poached, not hunted. A ‘hunter’ would not be hunting an animal that was protected. This ban will only stop those that were following game laws to begin with. The jaguar would have been dead wither way. If prosecutors were at his door the next day, he was committing a crime (poaching), not hunting. Banning ‘hunting’ as this article characterizes such illegal killing, does nothing to directly protecting wildlife, only banning something that was likely illegal to start with.

    Wildlife would have much greater protection if the ‘anti’s’ and conservation-minded hunters work together, rather than an all or nothing fight where criminals who care nothing for wildlife are openly, and wantonly slaughtering animals without regard for their gender, age, reproductive cycle or population . Again, killing animals to sell or export without licenses, limits, or rules IS NOT HUNTING – IT IS POACHING – AND CRIMINAL. The distinction here is to enforce laws to stop criminal behavior, for which ‘bans’ are popular but empty in a real and practical sense. Sorry Costa Rica, your ban does nothing to stop people who don’t mind breaking the law.

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  12. Cristina Mendonca says

    While this is an extraordinary accomplishment, I am choked visiting Costa Rica with the disrespectful behavior of both tourists and hotels employees/ administrators regarding the relationship with the nature/ biodiversity. It is not uncommon to see tourists as well as employees from hotels and restaurants feeding animals despite the enforcement of LAW OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION.

    I was also chocked to hear after informal interviewing process ith various stakeholders in Manuel Antonio and found that fireworks is a common practice (in the beach, in restaurants and hotels). How can CI support banning this type of practice in areas that are close to environmental protected areas?

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