where is tortuguero?

Tortuguero National Park is a national park in the Limón Province of Costa Rica. It is situated within the Tortuguero Conservation Area of the northeastern part of the country. Despite its remote location, reachable only by airplane or boat, it is the third-most visited park in Costa Rica. The park has a large variety of biological diversity due to the existence within the reserve of eleven different habitats, including rainforest, mangrove forests, swamps, beaches, and lagoons. Located in a tropical climate, it is very humid, and receives up to 250 inches (6,400 mm) of rain a year. 

why we're going

The overpopulation of free-roaming and unvaccinated cats and dogs, that are not spayed and neutered, are threatening local wildlife populations. With zero access to veterinary services it is impossible to maintain control of domestic animal numbers or keep that population healthy.

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Article by RISE Foundation et al., June 2022

Tortuguero National Park (“National Park”), which is located on the beautiful northeastern Caribbean coast of Limón, Costa Rica – is globally recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the most important nesting beaches for hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and endangered green sea turtles. With over 76,000 hectares of protected wilderness area, only 1% of the total area is designated for site visitation. The remaining 99% of the area is untouched habitat and home to more than 1,800 species of flora and fauna – including crocodiles, jaguars, macaws, manatees, monkeys, otters, and sloths.

However, in the small coastal village of Tortuguero, which borders the National Park, the overpopulation of free-roaming and unvaccinated domesticated cats and dogs that are not spayed and neutered are threatening local wildlife populations. Left unattended, free-roaming dogs are digging up sea turtle nests, eating eggs and hatchlings, and even harassing adult females while they nest. With as few as one in 10,000 eggs reaching adulthood, the disruption of nesting sites is dramatically decreasing the local sea turtle population. Additionally, according to the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, unvaccinated free-roaming dogs throughout Costa Rica are transmitting Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) to several non-domestic felid species, including endangered jaguars. CDV infection in jaguars occurs through the ingestion of canines for food as well as through the direct contact with canine oral fluids and feces, which may be due to poor waste water and septic treatment systems. CDV infection can cause mortality in these immunologically naive populations that until now have had zero contact with domestic animals. With only 15,000 jaguars believed to be living in the wild, the transmission of CDV to these majestic creatures is threatening their population in Tortuguero National Park. Domestic cats are also creating their own set of problems for the local wildlife populations by hunting small mammals and birds. Additionally, unvaccinated cats have the capacity to infect non-domestic felid species, including jaguars, with Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Viruses, which can result in fatalities of non domestic felid species.

Covid-19 restrictions have heavily impacted the local economy, which is substantially dependent on tourism. As a result, people are struggling to financially provide basic necessities for their families, including their beloved pets. Furthermore, the closest veterinarian is over 2 hours away, and can only be accessed by boat and then a bus ride. Gasoline prices are the highest they have ever been in Costa Rica, and a two hour boat ride to a veterinarian to get a pet castrated and vaccinated costs well over $200, which is unattainable for families that have an average monthly income of $450.

Historically, the province of Limón, including Tortuguero, has suffered decades of systemic racism by the Costa Rican government. Limón has the largest indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations in the nation and happens to have the highest illiteracy, infant mortality, unemployment, and poverty rates in the country. It is the most under-engaged and underserved Province in the nation regarding public health, education, economic development, and other professional services. Consequently, Limón also has the least number of practicing veterinarians serving the area.

Poverty, structural inequality, as well as larger systemic inequities create obstacles to affordable pet wellness services for the people of Limón and their pets. The mission of RISE Foundation’s (“Foundation”) Animal Welfare Initiative is to close the animal welfare services gap that exists for people and pets in underserved and under-engaged communities. The Foundation believes that every person should have the opportunity to experience the joy that a pet can bring to one’s life. Our team honors the benefits of the human-animal bond; and therefore believes that pets are not a privilege reserved solely for people who are unchallenged by financial hardship; poverty; discrimination; regulatory backsliding, and transportation and geographical barriers.

Additionally, the mission of the Foundation’s Wildlife Conservation Initiative is to support projects that prevent the decline of wildlife populations in Limón. Due to both of the Foundation’s Animal Welfare and Wildlife Conservations Initiatives, the Foundation is providing access to free castrations and vaccinations in Tortuguero from July 1 – 3, 2022 to improve the wellbeing of people and their pets, as well as to maintain the essential separation between wildlife and domestic animals to prevent the further decline of wildlife populations in the National Park. In order to do this, we have partnered with the Tortuguero Environmental Committee , which is composed of seven tremendous community organizations that have already been working in the region on these urgent issues .

We also teamed up with government agencies, such as the National Animal Health Service (SENASA) and National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), which is part of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and manages enforcement of the protection of Tortuguero National Park. We will continue to engage and collaborate with these government agencies, local organizations, and the community to produce long-standing solutions for the environment, wildlife, and the well-being of people and their pets.