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February 5, 2016

With Citizen Participation, Costa Rica Documents Biodiversity Nationwide

photoResidents observe wildlife using binoculars. Photo by Kenshiro Imamura, JICA

In the biodiversity hot spot of Costa Rica, JICA is leading a nationwide citizen-participatory wildlife survey, and it is helping to share the country's biodiversity conservation expertise internationally.

Costa Rica in Central America has only 0.03% of the land on the planet but about 5 percent of confirmed species, numbering 95,000. Because they include many endangered species and other precious species, Costa Rica is garnering attention from the rest of the world.

For Costa Rica to continue protecting its abundant ecosystem, it is essential for people living around wildlife sanctuaries to understand their importance. JICA started the participatory biological research project throughout Costa Rica as part of the Project for Promoting Participatory Biodiversity Conservation (MAPCOBIO), which the agency has been engaged in since April 2013.

Costa Rica, which feels a sense of crisis about deforestation from agricultural expansion policies that began in the 1950s, since the latter 1980s has been implementing policies to preserve biodiversity, such as proactively establishing nature preserves including national parks. As a result, its forest cover of 21 percent in 1987 had been restored to about 52 percent by 2010.

On the other hand, there has been friction between residents in the areas surrounding nature preserves and the government agencies in charge of managing them. This is because some sanctuaries include privately owned land, and though the land had been used for multiple purposes including agriculture, forest, fisheries and tourism, the management model has emphasized cracking down on illegal activity. This has included requiring government approval even for cutting down trees on one’s own land.

photoLocal high school students learn how to set a camera trap.
photoThe animal in the bottom center of the screen with the white speckles is a lowland paca.
photoA jaguar was captured by a camera set up in the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge Project.

So JICA, for three years beginning in October 2008, carried out the Participatory Management of Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge Project, with the aim of achieving cooperative management with mutual participation by the interest holders in the sanctuary. As a result, the sanctuary, which was said to be a storehouse of genetic material inhabited by many of Costa Rica’s endemic species, began to be viewed as a model of participatory management in practice.

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy is working to share the knowledge and experience in biodiversity conservation Costa Rica has gained with the rest of the world. However, there has been no systematic organization and verification, so in April 2013 JICA launched MAPCOBIO. As part of that project, the scope of the biological research was expanded from the Barra del Colorado region to all of Costa Rica. It was the first time government agencies took the lead in carrying out biological research across the entire country.

Data reliability is important when carrying out participatory biological research. Because there can be incorrect reports among large amounts of data, a lot of time and the cooperation of experts are needed to work in a highly reliable way. However, it is currently difficult to get that cooperation in Cost Rica.

Camera traps were adopted to solve this problem. A camera trap is a camera set outdoors that automatically begins filming when an animal passes in front of it. With camera traps, there is no need for cooperation from experts with advanced specialized knowledge and it becomes possible for project staff and citizen participants to determine the species of an animal.

First, to give training in how to use camera traps, they were set up in a field for a night in the village of Rancho Quemado on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. The next day, when participants checked the camera, a dog-sized rodent known as a lowland paca was seen walking from left to right at the bottom-center of the screen. The research participants all cheered and clapped.

The plan was to set up 77 of the cameras throughout Cost Rica for at least 30 days, and most had been placed as of December 2015. The cameras' locations will be changed and filming will continue through April 2016, during the dry season. This will allow the distribution of rare species such as the jaguar to be determined. In addition, there is a growing expectation that if a giant anteater, which is thought to be extinct in Costa Rica, should be filmed, it will be a great achievement for the project.

As the project continues this activity, it will not only take photos and video, but will share the results of research while putting them to work to preserve biodiversity. The project will also aim to establish these new activities as national programs. And there are plans to spread the experiences and expertise gained by Costa Rica to the rest of the world.

photoUpper left: Ringed kingfisher. Bottom left: Strawberry poison-dart frog. Center left: A bunch of bananas and a black-cheeked woodpecker. (Aforementioned photos by Kenshiro Imamura.) Center-right top: Agouti. Center-right bottom: Baird's tapir. Right: Brown-throated tree-toed sloth.

photoThe project logo. (The name is abbreviated as MAPCOBIO.) It has the following meaning: “People are also part of biodiversity, so as Costa Ricans, let’s spread the word about how to preserve biodiversity as a precondition to continued human existence.”


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