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Lessons in Conservation: Learning from Costa Rica

Following a recent trip to Costa Rica with the University of Exeter, Cerys shares her experiences and lessons learnt on the key efforts being implemented by the communities and the private sector to protect the biodiversity of the country.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Image Credit: Cerys Deakin.

Costa Rica is celebrated as a tropical paradise, and is home to approximately 6% of the world’s total biodiversity, despite only covering approximately 0.3 of the earth’s surface. Within the country there are 4 species of monkey, 137 species of snake and over 918 species of birds, just to mention a few taxa. Other habitats that are also present in Costa Rica – include the cloud forest, mangrove swamps, volcanoes and waterfalls.

Costa Rica is especially known for its progressive conservation policies, with it estimated that over a quarter of the land is protected. Costa Rica is particularly known for its active participation in conservation from both the public and private sectors of the country. This aligns with the abolition of their army following world war 2, to allow for greater focus on the needs of the people of Costa Rica.

Photo of a male Three-wattled Bellbird. Image Credit: Ryan Kozie via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bellbird biological corridor makes connections between pacific-slope habitat fragments – the cloud forest down to the mangroves. The corridor was initially set-up following studies that found there had been a significant decline in numbers of bellbirds. However, once the successes of the corridor were fully realised, it was decided that the corridor should be expanded in 1997. This means that the corridor now includes species from both Costa Rica and Panama.

The success of the corridor has largely been due to the willingness of farmers to get involved. Initially this was incentivised, but now many farmers now chose to become involved purely because of their interests in conservation and preservation of biodiversity.

La Selva biological research station was established in 1968 by Dr Leslie Holdridge. The influence of the research station on tropical ecology has been immense with the private forests housing approximately 2,077 species of plant, 125 species of mammal and 87 species of reptile (amongst others). The station is home to over 40 years of ecological data and research collection, including investigations into forest dynamics and succession and human-nature interactions.

Keel-billed Toucan, La Selva Biological Reserve. Image Credit: Cerys Deakin.

It was here that I was able to see some of the wildlife that were at the top of my list for the trip – Honduran white bats, Keel-billed toucan and Red-eyed tree frog. It was clear that one of the aims of the station is to encourage interest in biodiversity and Costa Rican wildlife, when seeing various groups being toured around the station. The station offers guided tours to allow the public an insight into the essential research being conducted and to encourage greater relationships between human and nature.

The trip also found us stationed at Campanario in the Osa Peninsula. During our stay here, the host Nancy taught us all about the ecological history of Costa Rica and the importance of conservation and research in the area. The Osa Peninsula is a more secluded area of Costa Rica and is home to some species that cannot be found elsewhere in the country. This includes the Squirrel monkey that can only be found in the mangrove swamps.

White-throated Capuchin photographed from the cabins at Campanario, The Osa Peninsula. Image Credit: Cerys Deakin

Areas in the Osa peninsula are particularly prone to legal issues regarding the ownership and uses of land. The Osa campaign aims to reduce these issues and prioritise the protection and conservation of natural environments and the species they harbour. Nancy taught us about this with context to Corcovado National Park, where we were able to snorkel and saw various species of ray, fish and some students even saw sharks!

This trip was an opportunity of a lifetime and has opened my eyes to conservation in one of the biggest biodiversity hotspots in the world!


About the Author: Cerys Deakin is a third year Zoologist at the University of Exeter, with a passion for conservation. Cerys has hopes to have a career in conservation and animal welfare, and has particular interests in mammals. She also has a huge interest in animal and wildlife photography that fits in well with her studies. If you are interested in seeing more of her photos from her trip check out her Instagram at You can also find more about her studies and skills on her LinkedIn page.

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