EARTH University’s tropical campus is located along the Ruta 32 Highway, midway between San José and the port city Limón. For over 70 miles, it cuts a path through rainforests, mountains, the Braulio Carrillo National Park and biological corridors, offering beautiful scenic views to more than 13,000 drivers every single day. Set amidst such abundant biodiversity (Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 species of flora and fauna) the busy highway poses a logistical challenge for local wildlife. The situation is scheduled to become even more complicated next year, as there are plans to expand the highway to include four lanes, a concrete divider, bus stops and bike lines. While some might consider these animal fatalities to be inevitable, EARTH graduate Adolfo Artavia (’08, Costa Rica) saw a unique opportunity to make a tangible contribution to biodiversity conservation.
Every two weeks from March 2014 to February 2015, Adolfo spent a day traveling along the Ruta 32 and carefully entering the GPS coordinates of each dead animal found between the crossings of Rio Frio and Moín. With the help of volunteers, he was able to log a total of 1,245 animals and identify 94 different species of amphibians, mammals, reptiles and birds. He found that amphibians (frogs, toads, caecilians) are the most affected group, followed by mammals – especially opossums, armadillos, sloths, anteaters and raccoons. In addition, he conducted over 100 interviews with community members, semi-truck and bus drivers and frequent travelers, citing that “It was essential to take into account all of the different people who contribute to environmental conservation, that’s why I didn’t stop at collecting scientific data. The problem is a lot bigger than most people think, as many animals are injured and manage to escape the highway, making it impossible for us to track them.”
By analyzing the GPS data points along with anecdotal information from the community, Adolfo was able to identify “hot spots” of animal activity along the highway that should be considered priority locations to build wildlife crossings (e.g. subterranean tunnels for ground animals and hanging ropes for monkeys, squirrels and other tree species.) These measures, along with increase signage and awareness, can help to save the lives of both humans and animals. Adolfo worked hard to make sure the results of his study were made available to the public, stating that “I had several meetings with national ministries and CONAVI, the developer, to let them know this study exists and that it addresses very serious concerns about wildlife in the country. This would be the first time that a long-term study has been included in the construction of a highway before the actual project begins.”
The analysis served as Adolfo’s thesis for his degree in Biodiversity Conservation at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education (CATIE), where he graduated in December 2014. The final study was reviewed by a panel of experts that include the Committee of Roads and Wildlife. Adolfo reflects that his choice of a Master’s program with a strong practical component was influenced by the “holistic and experiential approach to education” he encountered at EARTH.
Adolfo reflects, “It was hard to see animals in such a terrible state, but I hope that by studying them we can help avoid their deaths in future and make a safer road for everyone,” and adds that he is satisfied to have “created something that can really be used to support biodiversity conservation in this country.”
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