When Animals Don’t Care About Conservation

For the final stop of my last trip, I brought my group to my old haunt of the Osa Peninsula where we took a daytrip along the coast into Corcovado. There, they were treated to the usual stunning visuals: whitesand beaches, waterfalls, and plenty of animals. Scarlet Macaws were out in force, we got to see three different species of monkey, and were even treated to a good-sized boa constrictor crossing the trail right in front of us.

Parrots on the beach–too cliche?

Later, walking back along the beach, we saw movement just under the treeline. It was a band of coatis–the females and young ones–and they appeared to be rolling and playing together in a big pile in the sand. We approached and saw they were eating something. We crept even closer and saw that they were eating turtle eggs.

Really, coatis? Really?

Sea turtle eggs, to be precise. They had discovered a nest buried just beyond the high-tide mark, and were currently in the process of digging up and devouring the entire thing. I can’t be sure which species of turtle it belong to, but every sea turtle species in Costa Rica is threatened and protected. The very same eggs that were disappearing down sandy snouts were the very same kind that are carefully observed, protected, and even collected and incubated by conservationists elsewhere along the coast.

This? This is why herpetologists are so ornery.

The coatis were loving them. I got within maybe three meters to watch them stick their long noses into the wet sand and emerge with leathery eggs. They snarled and squealed at each other, squabbling over choice spots to dig up their buried treasure. They stuffed themselves until their bellies were full and then lay, bloated, in the shade. I lost count of how many they ate, and they were hard at work already when we got there, but I think it’s safe to say that several dozen potential endangered turtles were lost that morning.

Yeah? Proud of yourself?

It can be frustrating when it seems that an environment is undoing the steps we take to conserve it. People work hard to save the few remaining sea turtles, and the very same conservation laws that protect the turtles were also preventing me from interfering and scaring away the coatis. It can be even more frustrating when the offending animals are just so darn cute and hard to stay angry at.

“What, me furry?”

But this is something to keep in mind: Sea turtles are endangered because of humans, not coatis. Coati egg predation is natural. Coatis have always eaten turtle eggs. People have not. In fact, the conservation laws and efforts exist not only to save the little turtles, but to provide food for the coatis as well, restoring both to their respecting roles in the ecosystem.

It’s just that, I bet if I were a working in turtle conservation right now, I would have sprouted a few gray hairs over all the turtle eggs lost. I mean, come on, coatis. You’re omnivores–you could eat anything else! So I probably would’ve cursed them a little more too. Only, not so much. They really are just too darn cute.


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