By Ellen Zoe Golden Photos by: Bernard Agosta
Despite a community feeling that the danger of crocodile attacks in the Tamarindo estuary is not being addressed by the appropriate authorities, a solution to the problem remains in the forefront of the organizations of ADI, SINAC and the ICT.
As a matter of fact, ADI have been meeting regularly with SINAC, ICT and the Fuerza Pública to come to a reasonable solution that will ensure the safety of Tamarindo residents and tourists. At the latest meeting in mid-August, it was reported by the controlling group of the national park, which is SINAC, that they are indeed conducting a new, required study of the crocodiles in the estuary. This study is necessary in order to determine the legal actions to be taken about these dangerous animals.
According to Juan Carlos Cerdas, vice president of ADI, who has been in attendance at these meetings, the various crocodile experts have assured both the community organization and ICT—who have been very vocal about coming to a solution that assures the safety of this primary tourist area—that there is a study in place.
“We are being diligent,” reported Cerdas. “We were told that SINAC will have a resolution in 2 or 3 weeks,” which is about the time that this article is being published. “The crocodile experts created a committee to see the best way to proceed legally, what can and can’t be done. They understand the concerns of the community and they want the best for the environment and the town.”
According to the experts from the commission for the Conservation of Crocodiles and the national University (UNA): “To speak of overpopulation we must know the carrying capacity of the habitat, if the number of crocodiles exceeds that capacity we can talk about overpopulation, however nature regulates its overcrowding in a natural way.”
The report further states that there seems to be an overpopulation because the animal behavior is modified by human practices including feeding the crocs for tourism or to dispose of fish remains, crocodiles are no longer an endangered species yet remain “vulnerable”, there are more photos and videos of incidents, and lots more people living close to their habitat.
Currently, the local Fuerza Pública has also become very involved in a resolution to the problem. Along with SINAC, these police are doing regular inspections of the boats in the estuary, making sure operators are not feeding crocodiles, checking permits and overseeing the tours that take place in that location, said Cerdas. “They are trying to get information on boat owners to make sure they know their obligations and responsibilities and the consequences of not doing them.”
With the boat operators under surveillance, the first time they are caught feeding crocs, they will have their permits taken away. Further disobedience is punishable with jail time.
A previous meeting, in July, was attended by Urs Schmid, ADI President; Rotney Piedra, Director of Las Baulas National Park; Ismene Arroyo from CATURGUA; Patrick Macnulty, ADI Lifeguard Committee; Olman López Fuerza Pública; Gerardo Santana, Guide Association that works at the estuary; Cristian Díaz that helps at Las Baulas National Park; and Andrea Díaz, a prominent figure in national surfing and founder of the community group, Surf For Youth, who work with at-risk kids. One takeaway from that meeting was the suggestion that the crocodiles be monitored electronically to determine when they leave the estuary. Piedra, who would be in charge of this program, has had success with radio transmitters on turtles, and as a result made this suggestion. Contrarily, he said, there are no funds available to implement this work.
For her part, Díaz left that meeting feeling very frustrated by SINAC. “When I left the last ADI meeting about the crocodiles, Rotney Pierdra would not even acknowledge that the river mouth had moved,,” she recalled. As a result, she met with a lawyer who found what they believe is a loophole in the law protecting crocodiles in national parks. “We found an article in the law that says if an animal is dangerous than the government is obligated to remove it.”
The document (which is included with this article) says that an animal can be removed if it poses imminent danger to a human. Sources familiar with the law said that in order to determine “imminent” danger, there needs to be proof of it. While SINAC do their study, Diaz and her legal counsel are gathering independent evidence so that she herself can go forward with a legal demand to remove the offending reptiles.
Based on her own experience, when she lived in Playa Hermosa near Jacó, Díaz believes dangerous crocodiles can be moved from populated areas. “I actually saw with my own eyes crocodiles moved in Hermosa. It’s not a national park, but it is a refuge protected by the same laws as a national park,” she explained.
With Surf For Youth, Díaz trains young people many times a week in the ocean at Tamarindo Beach. After the attack on Jon Becker a couple of months ago, 50% of her kids stopped showing up. They have not returned to the water with her. Those that attend, are surfing at Pico Pequeño, which is just on the other side of the new spot where the river mouth disembarks.
Last month, Díaz organized an event on the beach to create awareness of the fact that the community needs to join in on a solution to the problem. Those that attended painted crocodile warning signs, but the true purpose of the gathering, she said, was to start a database of signatures so that she can have them in her legal pursuit with the government.
Asked why she is taking on this crusade, she replied: “I don’t want my children, myself or my friends to be eaten by crocodiles.”
Meanwhile, ADI is in daily communication with SINAC, Fuerza Pública and ICT. The public will soon see new signs warning not to swim in the estuary, as well as indications where the crocodiles reside.
“There’s been a lot of movement,” said Cerdas. “I think everybody involved are all on the same page. Just waiting for the final report from SINAC to see about moving the crocodiles.”
“This is something that must be approached carefully and without confusion about what can and cannot be done. ADI is trying to work with the community, too, so there’s not bad information out there. It’s human life before crocodile life,” he concluded.