APR 25, 2016 3:04 PM PDT

The cost of conservation


Wildlife crimes around the world have caused countless unnecessary deaths - both of animals and humans. Latin America in particular is one of the most dangerous regions for environmental activists protesting logging, damming, and illegal wildlife trafficking. Although Costa Rica is known for its unparalleled commitment to conservation and eco-friendly mindset, several unlucky and suspicious events may be tarring this reputation.

The brutal murder of 26 year old Jairo Mora in May, 2013, a sea turtle conservationist who worked for an organization that attempts to keep poachers away from  endangered turtle eggs, made Costa Rica’s environmental crime history public. According to The Guardian, Mora was “kidnapped while collecting turtle eggs, beaten and dragged behind a car until he died of asphyxiation in the sand.” Mora had been working to protect leatherback turtle eggs, which poachers take from the beaches along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast during the months from March to July. Although each female turtle has the capacity to lay up to 80 eggs in her nest, few offspring make it to the sea. Poachers like those who killed Mora take the eggs to sell as aphrodisiacs on the black market.
 
Conservationist on a beach with leatherback turtles
Although seven poachers were accused of Mora’s murder, on January 26 of 2014 all were acquitted. This was partly due to the court’s refusal to use almost all of the evidence (and there was a lot of it) presented by the prosecutors on the case. Only this past month, almost three years after Mora’s death, were four of the poachers finally charged with his murder. The court even went to far as to say that Mora’s role as a conservationist was the key reason for his murder. The men, Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada and Donald Salmó, may serve up to 70 years in court.

Although this may seem too little too later, the charge puts an enormously important precedent on environmental crimes - a precedent that has been needed for decades. A 2014 study by NGO Global Witness reported that between 2002 and 2013, 908 environmentalists were killed. At the report’s publication only 32 of the cases had a prime suspect, and only six resulted in convictions. Furthermore, The Washington Post states that from 2010 to 2014, 450 activists were killed in Latin America. But almost none are ever even brought to court. In Costa Rica alone the murders of 10 environmentalists have gone unsolved since 1989.
 
Jairo Mora at the center for turtle conservation where he worked
Alvaro Sagót, a Costa Rican environmental attorney stated, “I often get asked: ‘In Costa Rica, who protects the people who protect the environment?’ The answer is: no one.” The conviction provides the necessary example that recognizes the pattern between environmentalism and crime, and adds protection for those working to better the earth for all.


*This video was produced before the latest news regarding the conviction. 

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post, Global Witness
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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