Our monkeys live in a very cool part of the world. You see, Santa Rosa National Park is just one of several protected areas in Guanacaste Province that stretches from the Pacific Ocean and into the Caribbean lowlands of northern Costa Rica. Sandwiched in between are beautiful marine coastlines, tropical dry forests, cloud forests, volcanoes, and rainforest habitats – the majority of the major ecosystems in the tropics. Together, these protected ecosystems make up the Area de Conservación in Guanacaste, aka the ACG. The ACG is a pretty big deal as its series of uninterrupted interconnected parks systems and protected land sites is the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It’s even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site . The following is a quote directly from the ACG’s website:
“In this biogeographic block representing approximately 2% of the country and 13% of the province of Guanacaste, there are approximately 335,000 species of terrestrial organisms, equivalent to 2.6% of the world’s biodiversity. In other words, in the ACG there are more terrestrial species than all that exist in northern Mexico, the United States and Canada together”
“In other words, in the ACG there are MORE terrestrial species THAN ALL THAT EXIST in northern Mexico, the United States, and Canada TOGETHER.” I restated this quote with the proper emphasis because that honestly blows my f-n mind. We’re not even talking all of Costa Rica – a section of a province of a small country contains more terrestrial wildlife species than my entire country. That is amazing.
Because Santa Rosa is an integral puzzle piece in this a-maze-ing protected chain of ecosystems, we kinda care about protecting it and it’s wildlife – kind of a lot. Sadly, the park has seen handfuls of visitors every year not really knowing, understanding, or caring about protecting these areas the same way we do. We personally see this attitude manifest most frequently in the campground, where food waste is often thrown into the forest rather than the designated trash bins. This has taught some of our monkeys how and where they can access human food, and is becoming more and more of an issue every year. This past year, our project manager had an idea to start a campaign to do something about it, and in just a few months that small idea has quickly grown into educational programming, fundraising, and on-the-ground awareness tabling events in other areas of the ACG. At this point, the main goal of the campaign is to simply educate visitors on how to properly respect and interact with wildlife in Santa Rosa and other ACG park systems as well as raise money to install animal-proof trash bins and an efficient recycling system within the park. It’s a start-up nonprofit with a very cool mission, and I’m personally excited to watch it grow more and more during my time here this year.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of helping out with the campaign during the anniversary of the Battle of Santa Rosa. Not only is Santa Rosa a cool place biologically, but it posses historical significance as well. In the 1850s, Costa Rica was at war with invading Nicaraguan forces attempting to take over the country under their crazed American president William Walker. After a 4-day unopposed siege of the northern countryside, Walker’s forces arrived at the Casona here in Santa Rosa National Park – a mere 10 minute walk from our house. The Costa Ricans surprised the forces and surrounded them on all sides and, after 14 minutes of fighting, Walker’s forces surrendered and retreated back to Nicaragua. A small battle, but a huge win for the Costa Ricans during this time. Today, this battle is still remembered, and the Casona is consistently one of the most visited sites in the park.
As Monday was the anniversary, a remembrance ceremony was held at the Casona, where the park hosted schools and visitors from all across Guanacaste. A band played the national anthems (apparently there are several), traditional dances were performed, and the history was recounted and remembered. While all this was happening, our team set up a tabling event for the campaign – complete with educational games for the kids and cool merchandise for purchase. My job was to hold the poster with pictures of animals found in the park while the kids matched pictures of forest foods to the correct animal that eats it. This was surprisingly tiring, but a lot of fun. Even if all I could say was “Perfecto!” and “Bien!”, it was great watching the kids realize that our monkeys are more likely to eat parrots and coati babies than bananas (bananas don’t grow in this forest, so you will never see one eating a banana naturally, and yeah they’re little carnivores when they have the chance to be.)
By the end of the day, we had a group of kids who loved chatting with us and were really into practicing their English/learning about where we were from, which was fun, but a little overwhelming considering I’ve been surrounded by more monkeys than people on a daily basis for the past 2 months. All in all it was a good day, and I hope to participate in more campaign events in the future (hopefully with a little more Spanish words to throw around besides “Perfecto!” and “Bien!”).
I love being out in the forest and gathering data that gives some insight on the unique wildlife and this beautiful place we live in, but what I’ve found more joy in day in and day out is sharing these experiences with others. Whether it’s with you, the readers of this blog, the random person commenting on a picture I posted of a monkey/ fact on my insta account, or the kids playing the food match game where all I do is hold up the poster and say “Bien!”, even if one of these things gets you thinking just a few more minutes about our world’s wildlife and its conservation, then I’d say it’s been a pretty good day. Excited for more good days to come!