A little over two years has passed since the Tierschutz-Stiftung Wolfgang Bösche made its first generous donation to the Wildlife Rescue Center and Clinic at Rescate Animal Zooave. The ultrasound machine that was bought, thanks to that donation, has been used in several different cases on various different animal species, such as for a tumor assessment on a long-tailed weasel,the routine-checks of white faced monkeys that have just arrived,and on a young ocelot that is soon to be released.
The young veterinarian technician Jana Bauer, who volunteered in the wildlife clinic for three months, has been added to the team as an official member and is as such still caring for Costa Rica’swild animals.
At the beginning of April this year the Tierschutz-Sftiftung Wolfgang Bösche once again decided to send a generous donation to Rescate Animal Zooave, which was all the more crucial in this time of global crisis. In this article the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Rescate Animal Zooave will be described; the important role of wildlife rescue centers in the context of zoonotic pandemics will be explained; and of course the sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Tierschutz-Stiftung Wolfgang Bösche for their continued generous support, will be expressed
First of all it has to be explained that Rescate Animal Zooave changed its name to Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center (short: Rescate Wildlife) in order to avoid confusion about the word „zoo“. Since the change of administration in 1990, the former zoo „Zooave“ (spanish for „Zoo Bird“) is no longer a zoo. The new vision is all about the rescue of wild animals in need, and as long as their health and behavioural condition allow it, the goal is to release them into the wild again.
In the first months of 2020 it was already clear that Rescate Widlife would receive more animals than last year. From January to the start of the COVD-19 crisis in mid-March, a little over 500 animals were brought to the Center, and from March to May, another 800. The majority of those admissions have been confiscations from other wildlife facilities, 20% of the animals were injured, 12% were ex-pets, and 11% were orphans.
The reason for the increasing number of animal admissions from other facilities is recently introduced laws and regulations. Many small wildlife rescue centers have been forced to close in order to prioritise animal welfare. Despite Costa Rica being a small country, it has over 300 wildlife rescue centers. However, many of these are not true rescue centres, butprofit-making, tourist attractions. Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is not only the facility with the largest financial capacity and physical space for animals in Costa Rica but also works extremely closely with the official Government institutions to ensure compliance with Conservation-Laws. This is why the majority of confiscations, large and small, are being transfered to Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center for release or lifetime care in the sanctuary.
All the while Rescate Wildlife is receiving more animals and growing with the building of new enclosures, an unforeseen crisis appears, affecting it, and the whole world: COVID-19. No-one would have thought that the sanctuary would have to close to the public for weeks and months, and that Coronavirus would lead Rescate Wildlife to a never before seen emergency situation, as it has done lots of wildlife rescue centers, zoos, and small and big companies. Rescate Wildlife does not receive any financial support from the Government. The care of the animals and the financing of all the projects depends on income from visitors to the sanctuary and donations. This income is now completely gone or at least significantly reduced. Rescate Wildlife has had less than 10% of the normal number of visitors, and at times the park has had to remain closed completely.
In light of this dire situation, Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is even more grateful for the generous donation of the Tierschutz-Sftiftung Wolfgang Bösche; it will be extremely helpful during this challenging time. The money will be spent on food and medical treatment for the animals in the rehabilitation process.
For the care of all the animals being in the rehabilitation and release process, and the 800 animals permanently living in the sanctuary, Rescate Widlife Rescue Center spends around 4.000 dollars on food and 1.400 dollars on medical treatment per month. Then there are further costs such as electricity and salaries.
Next, the importance of wildlife rescue centers, in the context of zoonotic pandemics, will be explained. Through their donation, the Tierschutz-Sftiftung is not only supporting animal welfare and species conservation at Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, it is helping with the Center’s role in the global fight against zoonotic pandemics, like the one the world is experiencing now.
For the transmission of a viral disease from wild animals to humans, repeated close contact between animals and humans is necessary. Close contact at a wildlife market, which could most likely happened in the case of the Coronavirus, is the perfect setting for this type of transmission. However, it is not just the wildlife trade that poses this risk. The keeping of wild animals as pets; contact between domestic and wild animals, where owners have close contact with their pets or livestock; and the consumption of game meat from unknown origins, are also ideal settings for transmission. Too close a contact between humans and wild animals, when they are being used as a tourist attraction, as happens in a lot of countries, also poses a risk of transmission. This is where the important role of wildlife rescue centers becomes clear. During the time of the COVID-19 crisis, we have all become more aware of the urgency of the global war against zoonotic pandemics, and it has become apparent to many that governments and health departments must seek help and advice from credible wildlife rescue centers. This is particularly important in the context of illegal trafficking and ownership of wild animals, where wildlife rescue centers have the needed capacities to receive animals, and above all, the necessary Know-How to care for animals rescued in confiscations. For example, they can decide whether or not a release back into the wild is suitable for an animal based on its health and behaviour; they can carry out those releases, or look after the non-releasable animals in lifetime care sanctuaries.
As already mentioned above, in Costa Rica more and more wildlife facilities are being closed by the authorities because they rescue and mantain wild animals for the sole objective of attracting tourists. Those animals are then confiscated and need to go through a rehabilitation process like the one facilitated by Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center.
Veterinarians working with wild animals, can also report evidence of zoonotic diseases and inform the authorities of their occurrence.
Education about reasonable and ethical contact with our wildlife is the first step in avoiding zoonotic pandemics, such as COVID-19. Rescate Wildlfe educates the public through the promotion of good practice on site in their wildlife sanctuary, as well as nationally and internationally, for example by participating in the Government’s „No-Animal-Selfies“ campaign. Close contact with wild animals should be avoided so as not to disturb the animals, and for the general safety of both animals and humans. Rescate Wildlife also educates about the prohibition of keeping wild animals as pets, and the purpose of these regulations.
For the reasons outlined above, wildlife rescue centers can not only help with damage control from zoonotic pandemics, and the consequent increase in confiscations, but can also have a preventive impact through the promotion of good practice.
It is right to hope therefore, and also to expect, that laws prohibiting wildlife trafficking and general contact with wild animals, will be strengthened. Only then, can we avoid another global pandemic like COVID-19, and the devastating consequences that that entails.
For Rescate Wildlife those consequences most likely mean tendential increases in the number of confiscated animals from the illegal wildlife trade, as well as wild animals kept as pets, or from poorly managed tourist attractions. Already, and particuarly now, the wildlife rescue centers are not only important for the welfare of hundreds of animals and species conservation, but also for the protection of human beings against zoonotic diseases.
Last but not least, the whole team, especially the managers of Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center (Zooave), want to shout out a BIG THANK YOU to the Tierschutz-Sftiftung Wolfgang Bösche for their continued and generous support!