Crocodiles Cause More Legal Heat for Costa Rican Government

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In July, a suit was filed with the Costa Rican Administrative Litigation Tribunal requesting the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC, its initials in Spanish) and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) undertake a scientific study to determine whether or not there is an over-population of crocodiles in the country.

Each year there are at least a few human encounters with crocodiles in Costa Rica, who at different times of the year drift from their estuaries and river mouth habitats into oceans and onto beaches – and the outcomes are never good.

The environmental lawyers leading the legal case say the “country lacks official information about crocodile populations … and there are no management plans to address the conflicts between humans and the reptiles,” according to a statement by Energy Law Firm (ELF) attorney Walter Brenes, an environmental activist.

The firm is requesting an injunction against the Costa Rican government and the SINAC due to a lack of scientific research, biological procedures, and management plans for dealing with the presence of the aggressive Cocodrylus acutus near human habitats.

Brenes accuses SINAC in the suit as having been “negligent” on this matter, and having failed to comply with the recommendations made in 2014 by the Comptroller General’s office on the matter.

After a crocodile attack in Tamarindo last year which led to a partial amputation of an American tourist’s leg, local organizations called in scientists to study the issue and concluded there was not an over-population of crocodiles, but rather a lack of information on the risks in certain areas. Since then, signs have been posted and one crocodile with unusual behavior was relocated. The man sued the Costa Rican government after the incident.

Brenes said that because there is insufficient information on the presence of crocodiles near beaches, “measures can not be taken to protect the safety of beach-goers and river bathers, which is extremely serious because the lives of thousands of people who visit these sites are being put at risk. Also, tourism – which generates thousands of jobs throughout the country – is negatively affected.”

In recent weeks there have been a series of sightings of crocodiles in Bajamar, Tambor, Tamarindo, and Esterillos beaches. In 2017 during a World Surfing League (WSL) tournament, similar sightings occurred. Some blame tour operators and locals who feed the animals in order to impress tourists as being responsible for changing the animals’ behavior and making them more likely to approach humans.

According to Brenes’ legal case, in 2014 the Comptroller General ordered the executive directorate of SINAC “to establish and implement a monitoring system on the status of different animal populations, including Cocodrylus acutus,” a directive which apparently remains unfulfilled.

“So far the State has had a very passive attitude on this issue, nor do they themselves have enough information to proceed to implement management plans of the species with technical criteria,” said Brenes.

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