Zoos in Colombia are very important, especially for animals that were victim of illegal trafficking.
The colombian zoos function as sanctuaries and shelters, since animals they receive mainly arrive through confiscations made by the environmental authorities.
In parallel, zoos in Colombia have been important by their education, research and conservation programs. These programs had an effect on reducing illegal trafficking, raised awareness of environmental problems and helped by recovering populations of some endangered animals.
Animals are Property of the Colombian State
According to the National Code of Natural Resources, animals are property of the State. Then, the slaughter of animals in zoos is not allowed by the State, or in any other condition.
Colombian law regulates zoos by decree 1608 of 1978. In the Article 180 it is defined a zoo as:
A zoo is understood to be a set of facilities, whether publicly or privately owned, where individuals of wild fauna are kept in confinement or semi-confinement for exhibition and educational purposes and where biological research on the species in captivity is carried out. These activities are carried out without commercial purposes, although fees are charged to the public for admission to the zoo.Decree 1608 of 1978. Chapter II. Zoos. Article 180.
History of Zoos in Colombia
Tha Barranquilla zoo opened in 1953, and it was the first in country. Then came the Matecaña Zoo in Pereira in 1959, and the Santafé Zoo in Medellín in 1960. The Society of Public Improvements of the each city was the pioneer in opening these zoos.
People with private collections were the main donors of the first animals in these parks.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, zoos in Washington, New York, Chapultépec de México, Lisbon, Zurich, Miami, among others, helped to expand their collections.
Also, the zoos of Cali, in Valle del Cauca, and Santacruz, in Cundinamarca, were founded during that time.
In 1978 the Colombian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (ACOPAZOA) was founded by the directors of some of these zoos.
Read our entry Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations? to know more about.
Modern Zoos in Colombia
Recently, in the last decade (2010 – Today), zoos in Colombia are making profound readjustments, despite several difficulties, mainly economic. The zoos that already existed are making structural changes. The main improvement has been to make the spaces more and more similar to natural ecosystems and maintain animals in semi-captivity.
Additionally, there is a greater focus on education and conservation programs. At the end of the 1990s, many Colombian zoos created environmental education departments. In them, several generations of children and youth have been trained as environmental educators.
Those changes in Colombian zoos led to the more frequent use of the term “biopark” instead of “zoo”.
Examples of these bioparks are: Bioparque La Reserva in Cota, Cundinamarca, created in 2005, Bioparque Ukumarí, inaugurated in 2015 in Pereira, or Bioparque Los Ocarros and Tiuma Park in Villavicencio.
Where do Colombian Zoo Animals come from?
Confiscations are the main source of animals in Colombian zoos, so most of the animals are native. Zoos also obtain animals through exchanges between zoos, voluntary donations, and births.
Exotic animals present in zoos are mainly obtained from circuses, or from seizures. They also come from donations from foreign zoos, and their progeny.
A famous confiscation was to the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. He had elephants, rhinos, camels, and hippopotamuses at his famous Hacienda Nápoles.
Nowadays you can go on safari to Hacienda Napoles, for more information about safaris in Colombia visit our post Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options!
Many conservation programs in different zoos in the country have breeding programs to maintain populations or individuals of endangered species such as the Andean condor, some marmosets, the endangered Blue-billed Curassow, among others. They also have them to maintain the collection.
Zoos in Colombia are Shelters
It is of vital importance to keep in mind that Colombia’s zoos are places of refuge where wild animals arrive from the illegal traffic of fauna. In general, many of these animals cannot be reintegrated into the wild, and in the zoo, they receive a good quality of life.
On the other hand, environmental education programs in zoos have helped thousands of people understand the problem of illegal trafficking of species and combat it in different ways.
Thus, there are conservation programs in the zoos that aim to rehabilitate confiscated individuals, reproduce them, and release their offspring into their natural habitats.
Despite this, many people still believe that zoos buy animals from hunters and that a dying animal can be easily replaced.
The Future of Zoos in Colombia
There is still a long way to go before all zoos in Colombia become protected areas in natural environments, where animals live in semi-captivity.
In our entry Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations? you will find the Colombian zoos affiliated with WAZA.
Zoos strive to develop adoption programs or memberships through social networks. They also campaign to receive support from individuals and private institutions. Unfortunately, the support of the State is very little to maintain these places.
COVID-19 Crisis for Zoos in Colombia
Many zoos in Colombia do not live in quarantine, they try to survive it.
The nearly 20,000 animals that live in Colombia’s 23 zoos, have not been spared the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
These months of quarantine have put many Colombian zoos in check. There is great uncertainty about their future because maintaining a zoo costs a lot of money, for example, about $50,000 a month just to feed a set of tigers.
The majority of zoos have received money during the quarantine from donations, and many survive with bank loans, but it is not enough. In contrast, State aid has been very short.
Your Visit Can Help
Many zoos in Colombia have as their main income the public entrance fees.
On June 21st the Cali Zoo was the first to receive visitors again in Colombia, with a gradual and controlled reopening.
During October and November, Zoos like Oceanario in the Rosario Islands, and Ukumarí Biopark in Pereira opened to the public. And so, many others are trying to comply with all biosecurity protocols to open up to the public.
I know that for a wildlife tourist, visiting a zoo doesn’t sound very exciting. But the pandemic has given us another perspective.
By visiting a zoo, you will have a taste of the local wildlife. You will also know the main local environmental problems, and you can even help, if you want.
When to Visit
You can visit zoos all year round, as long as they are open. You can make that first day of your arrival, or the day of your departure, a good time to hang out, since many zoos are located near the cities, where your hotel and airport are easy to reach.
With your visit, you will also help to keep these animals that cannot be released into the wild.
If you come to Colombia, do not hesitate to visit one of our zoos and bioparks. We know that for many it is not their moral pleasure to visit animals in captivity, but as long as we have no other way to keep these animals victims of trafficking and abuse, it is good to take a look around, maybe it will change your perspective.
- Zoológicos en Colombia. Por Edwin Hurtado. La cola de rata. 2016
- Zoológicos en Colombia: miles de animales en el limbo. By Carlos Brand. El Tiempo. Nov. 2020
- Big cats and exotic birds: Colombia’s rescued animals – in pictures. By Juancho Torres. The Guardian. 2019.
About the author
Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.