Costa Rica's 400 captive zoo animals will be released into the wild or sent to rescue centers next year under a plan to close the country's two public zoos.
"We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way," Treehugger quotes Environment Minister René Castro. "We don't want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them."
The country has also banned circuses with animals and sport hunting.
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Other zoos have shifted away from traditional cages in favor of more natural settings, and some have closed exhibits of large animals. Several zoos in the United States have closed elephant exhibits, for example.
"Just as polar bears don't thrive in a hot climate, Asian elephants shouldn't live in small groups without many acres to roam," Detroit Zoo director Ron Kagan said when the Detroit zoo closed its elephant exhibit. "They clearly shouldn't have to suffer the winters of the North."
The Minnesota Zoo recently closed its dolphin exhibit after six dolphins died in as many years. The United State Department of Agriculture regulates zoo exhibits through the Animal Welfare Act.
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Closing the Costa Rica zoos entirely seems to set a new precedent, however. But it's not a done deal: Fundazoo, the organization that runs the zoos, says its contract lasts through 2024.
"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," spokesman Eduardo Bolanos told The Associated Press.
A giraffe is seen at the "Africa Mia" zoo in the Guanacaste province, some 200 kilometers north of San Jose in Costa Rica. Photo: Mayela Lopez/Getty Images