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Wildlife tourism in Costa Rica: Why biodiversity matters

We’ve (Lizzie and Chris) just got back from Costa Rica. Apart from being an absolutely fantastic treat after so long not going on holiday, it was also a really inspirational trip.

In the 1940s Costa Rica was 75% forest. Much of this (by some estimations up to half) was lost over the coming decades to logging and land clearance for agriculture. But in 1996, the Costa Rican government introduced a permit scheme for chopping down any forest and introduced economic incentives for people to actively protect the remaining biodiversity. It recently won the Earthshot Prize for that scheme. Its forest cover is now growing alongside its economic prosperity, showing that growth doesn’t depend on making species extinct and plundering the planet.

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Chris and I in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

On our trip, each person we spoke to was excited about their country’s animals. Each tour we went on had Costa Ricans as well as tourists, proud of their country and its biodiversity. Nobody worried that you would see a big cat, but rather was sad for you if you didn’t. In the taxi on the way back to the airport, as we talked to the taxi driver about how much he loved sloths, there were signs at the side of the road ‘despacio’ (slow) with a picture of a human, a sloth, a hummingbird, a big cat, and a monkey. I can’t wait until we need them in the UK.

Why biodiversity matters

By contrast, the UK is one of the most nature depleted places in the world. Some 40% of our species are in decline, and many species that were once here (from lynx and wolves right down to the common tree frog) are now no longer.

For me, Costa Rica was so inspiring as it shows that all hope is not lost. With the right government interventions and a slight shift in attitude, nature can and does bounce back. And with nature comes beauty and creativitymental health benefitskey ecosystem services to ensure continued economic growth; and also solutions to climate change and other massive societal issues. What is not to like?!

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Puma encounter in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

And there is hope for the UK. At the moment I find it in policy changes that could reward people for sustainable farming, nature, and landscape recovery. I find it in local rewilding efforts, like the successful reintroduction of beavers to many locations in the UK. And I also find it in leaving my garden to go wild and watching the birds pick the heads of dead dandelions for their nests.

I’m still dreaming of being able to go back to Costa Rica. Whilst there I was lucky enough to see a puma on a trip to Corcovado National Park. It was an experience like no other to look into the eye of something so intelligent and so beautiful. And something that would, with another chosen path, have been dead.

Lizzie Hyatt

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