Paradise restored: how Costa Rica saved its biodiversity

Published 5:34 AM ET, Mon July 27, 2020
02 great green macaw02 great green macaw
1 of 19
Costa Rica's lush rainforests are home to hundreds of rare species. Endangered great green macaws, with wingspans of up to 90 centimeters, raucously fly through the canopies. adrian hepworth/Alamy Photo
But the country has not always been a safe haven for wildlife. During the late 20th century, Costa Rica suffered from rampant deforestation, losing between a half and a third of its forest cover. Fundecor / Danny Cordoba
A huge political and social effort helped to bring it back from the brink. Today almost 60% of Costa Rica's land is once again covered in rich forest. Nell Lewis
Renowned for its wildlife, the country is home to around half a million plant and animal species. Nell Lewis
Of the 300 plus known species of hummingbird worldwide, at least 50 can be found in Costa Rica. The tiny birds hover and dart from flower to flower, drinking nectar through their long, narrow beaks. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images South America/Getty Images
It is also a great place to see sloths -- sluggish mammals that hang out in treetops all day, barely moving and blending into the bark. Nell Lewis
Occasionally their friendly faces can be seen peeking out of the foliage. Nell Lewis
The incredible wildlife has made Costa Rica a hotspot for ecotourism, drawing in at least 3 million visitors a year. Nell Lewis
Tourists flock to some of the country's 29 national parks which, alongside other protected areas, cover more than a quarter of the country's land mass. Manuel Antonio National Park, where this photo is taken, is the most popular destination. Nell Lewis
Here they are likely to see a Central American squirrel monkey, with its distinctive orange markings -- a flash along its back and goggle-like circles around its eyes. Nell Lewis
Or if they're lucky, an apple-green snake slinking off in search of prey. Nell Lewis
The mountainous country, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, has contrasting climates and ecosystems. The forests of Monteverde are so high that they are often among the clouds, creating a rare and rich ecosystem of tropical plants and animals. Nell Lewis
Beneath the sheltered canopies, dragonflies flutter from leaf to leaf. Fundecor / Cristina Weidlich Hidalgo
As do the thousands of butterfly species that can be found in the country. Nell Lewis
Across the rest of the tropics primary forest is being destroyed at a terrifying rate, but in Costa Rica, old, original forest makes up around a quarter of its forested area. Nell Lewis
This is thanks in part to the government's radical action. It banned deforestation in 1996 and introduced a pioneering payment system that rewards farmers for improving nature and replanting trees. Nell Lewis
Farmers are also encouraged to introduce agroforestry to their land, planting crops alongside trees. Organic pineapples can be found beside pepper vines and trailing orchids -- and are just meters away from dense forest. Fundecor / Cristina Weidlich Hidalgo
Trees battle for sunlight, stretching up through thick canopies. Pictured is the trunk of a deciduous Jicaro tree, a species native to Costa Rica. Fundecor / Cristina Weidlich Hidalgo
The strawberry poison dart frog is bright red with blue limbs, giving it the nickname "blue jeans" frog. It can be found throughout Costa Rica and is one of the country's most iconic amphibians. Arterra/Universal Images Group/Getty Images