National Duel for the Wild Cats Roadkilled on Costa Rican Roads

Written by Daniela Araya

The loss of biodiversity is considered one of the greatest threats to the health of the planet and the main cause of the environmental crisis that we are experiencing today. Costa Rica is a country with high diversity and a leader in biological conservation, where it has six species of wild cats: jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Puma concolor), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi), caucel (Leopardus wiedii) and margay (Leopardus tigrinus). These are species of great importance for the
conservation of ecosystems; since they play a vital role as large predators, mainly the puma and the jaguar; they generally require large areas of forest to survive. By protecting these carnivores, you are not only protecting them, but all of our biodiversity, rivers, indigenous communities, and the health of our ecosystems. Our conservation actions focused on these species have a multiplier effect. All species of wild cats in the country are classified according to their conservation status as threatened
or endangered according to national legislation and are protected by the Wildlife Conservation Law No. 7317. In addition, they appear on the list Red of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Appendix I of CITES. Among the threats that have brought these species to critical conservation status are habitat loss and fragmentation, pressure from direct and indirect hunting (prey) and negative interactions with domestic animals. Highways and vehicular traffic cause road accidents and
isolate populations by becoming a barrier between forested areas. The group Vías Amigables con la Vida Silvestre has been collecting information for ten years about wild
cats that have been roadkilled on Costa Rican highways. These data have been compiled thanks to the effort and contribution of wildlife rescue centers, veterinarians, officials of the National System of Conservation Areas, NGOs and individuals through social networks, WhatsApp messages and the INaturalista CR application, as well as scientific research.
Reports include sightings of wild cats crossing highways and being roadkilled, dead or alive. The database has a total of 539 wild cats of the six species registered in the last ten years, on asphalt and gravel roads. Of these records, 11% correspond to animals observed crossing or on the side of the road, and the remaining 89%, more than 481 individuals, have been victims of vehicle collisions. Of these roadkills, only 16% have survived and have been transferred to rescue centers for proper attention, where
unfortunately only 4% manage to be reintegrated into their natural habitat. The wild cat specie with the highest number of records, 66%, corresponds to the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis). So far this year 2022, 34 felines have lost their lives on our roads (one jaguar, two pumas, 24 ocelots, six jaguarundis and one margay), five of the six species, and there are still six months left to end the year. It should be noted that the effort made by management sites such as the Rescue Centers in the care of
these species is of great importance, since their main objective is to return them to the forest. Since 2012, according to data from various rescue centers such as Las Pumas, Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center (former Zooave), Kids Saving the Rainforest, Proyecto Asís, International Animal Rescue Center and Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary; Nearly 135 wild cats have been received, including margays, ocelots and jaguarundis. Of these admissions, 47 were roadkilled (35%), and 15 of them could be reinserted into their
natural habitat.
The costs of caring for these injured wild cats, varied from USD $600 to USD $10,000. The cost depends on the degree of injury, which can be a simple with brain swelling, or more complex such as loss of incisors and eyes, exposure of organs or bone fractures. In the same way, the recovery time varies, due to the complexity of his recovery to rehabilitate him and that he can be released. In order to reduce and avoid the impacts generated by roads on wild cats and the ecosystems they inhabit, the incorporation of a series of environmental measures should be considered. These measures must be included in the budget and design, in the stages of feasibility, construction, operation and
maintenance of national and rural road networks. Among the environmental measures are: changes in the layout and design of the original work, installation of road signs and speed reducers, dispersal barrier for birds, adaptation of drainages (culverts) and specific fauna crossings, both underpasses and arboreal crossings. All these measures must be based on previous technical-scientific studies to identify the species affected and the greatest incidence in order to define their location and design.
Costa Rica already has experience in the implementation of wildlife crossings, both arboreal crossings and underpasses; Since 2010, underpasses have been installed in different road projects in the country, for a total of 38 underpasses. Route 34 in the Hacienda Barú sector, for example, was one of the first works to implement them, followed by Route 1 (Cañas-Liberia), Route 257 (Moín), Route 4 (Vuelta Kooper-Chilamate), Route 35 (Punta North-San Carlos), and Route 160 (Paquera). Some of these
structures were monitored to show evidence of use by fauna and determine improvements. In addition, another 43 underpasses are under construction, on Route 32 (Río Frío-Moín) and Route 1 (CañasLimonal; Limonal-Chomes; Chomes-Barranca). Although there are wildlife crossings, specific crossings have never been built for large cats such as the jaguar, who have special requirements to use them, especially in terms of size and shape. However, in Mexico it has been possible to observe the jaguar using large fauna crossings (3mx3m) (Gallina et al., 2018), using a medium size underpass in an inner road (ICE-Pailas Geotermia-Costa Rica) and in Costa Rica in a 3mx3m culvert (Pomareda et al. 2018). Regarding the ocelot, there is evidence that it can use smaller culverts, both square and round (Torres, 2011; Venegas, 2018), and that it also takes advantage of dry structures (walkways-sidewalks) under bridges to cross (Pomareda et al. al. 2020).
Costa Rica is considered a hot spot for biodiversity worldwide and a country that protects that biodiversity, however, as previously stated, the data leaves the evidence and requires us to increase our efforts, because this biodiversity is dying on our roads. We have the challenge of improving the roads of our country in order to make them friendly to wildlife, safe for them and for us. To do this, several non-governmental organizations, public institutions and academia, among other actors, this July 4th on the National Day of Wild Cats; want to join forces. An interdisciplinary group will meet in order to initiate the creation of a Reconnection Plan for Ecosystems Fragmented by our highways. In this way, it is intended to minimize the impact of road networks on wild cats in our country.
In the following link you can download a technical sheet, created under the Costa Rica Silvestre Project, in order to inform about the aminal roads with wildlife. For more information: with Daniela Araya-Gamboa (Panthera), Esther PomaredaGarcía (Centro de Rescate y Santuario Las Pumas) y Esmeralda Arévalo-Huezo (Universidad Latina) This initiative has the support of:

González-Gallina A, Hidalgo-Mihart MG, Castelazo-Calva V .2018. Conservation implications for
jaguars and other neotropical mammals using highway underpasses. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0206614.

Pomareda-García, E., Arévalo-Huezo, E. and Araya-Gamboa, D. 2020. Are our roads really friendly with
wildlife?: Application of the Environmental Guide: Friendly Roads with Wildlife: Phase I : Identification
of Fauna Crossings on Routes 140 and 708, bordering the Juan Castro Blanco National Park, San Carlos,
Alajuela. FINAL REPORT. Wildlife Friendly Roads Group, Panthera-Costa Rica and California Fund 49.
Costa Rica. 70 pages

Pomareda-García, E., Arévalo-Huezo, E. and Araya-Gamboa, D. 2018. Sewer Monitoring in the North
Inter-American Highway, Guanacaste. International Conference: Infrastructure & Ecology Network
Europe, Eindhoven. Holland.

Torres-Tamayo, M. L. 2011. Functionality of underground structures as wildlife passageways on the
North Inter-American Highway that crosses the Guanacaste Conservation Area, Costa Rica. CATIE,
Turrialba, Cartago.

Venegas-Vargas, M. 2018. Functionality of underground structures as passageways for wildlife in the
Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Graduation project. A, Heredia.

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