It could be any sleepy Caribbean town, swaying palms over sandy beaches and a strong Jamaican influence, and it is. But is there a dark side to this tranquility? Living off the land/the ocean is something that has been in existence for hundreds of years in Costa Rica, a simple way of life. Unfortunately though it is still a culture that is poaching turtles, iguanas and other outlawed animals. Now we at ICARUS can agree with culture to a certain extent and it certainly isn’t the locals catching the occasional turtle who are the real issue. The real problem lies with the mass industry of fishing trawlers, with poachers who are doing it to more than one turtle in their droves to make an easy buck and also, as it turns out, tourists visiting this country and exploiting its cultures.
Now we are not here to name names or get people in trouble, firstly getting someone thrown in jail for a few weeks for poaching hardly solves the problem, secondly it’s not exactly safe to do that either. Conservationists have often been murdered for standing up for the wildlife here (and the government doing jack all to help their countries animals). One of the most important things we want to do here on our return is education. That is the only way that you can help to change a practice that is only harming rather than doing any good for the community. One of the things we are fundraising for is to start a community outreach program, one that isn’t patronizing as they often are, but helps the community, teaches the children about their wildlife and why it’s so important, and most importantly, helps find solutions.
Recently two ICARUS members went undercover at an illegal food market that happens every Saturday in a town in Costa Rica. We were told that every week there is turtle meat, eggs, iguana meat and others, all highly illegal. This is the story of that day and what we discovered, all names have been changed.
We met Henry outside the house where the meat was cooked every week, we did not have the opportunity to go inside with him but he went for us and purchased us a meal of turtle stew, for $10. We waited in the car while he did this and then drove to a nearby beach to meet with a friend of his, Abigail. Abigail is Dutch and is ironically doing a thesis on ‘ethical tourism’, it is clear she is not doing the same as us and getting information but does this every weekend with Henry, an American. We all sat in a boat and ate our relevant meals, all turtle, except for Henry who, after being berated by ICARUS member Jess about eating turtle, feels guilty now. Wonder how long that will last. Turtle for the record, tastes EXACTLY like beef, we were told Iguana tastes like chicken. The mass farming industry is a travesty but when you are eating endangered animals that have no difference in taste to easily accessible animals, and legally, it does make you wonder. We were eventually joined by ANOTHER American, in her 60’s who came to Costa Rica to do yoga, called Diane. We recorded the entire event and I have scripted below the more pertinent parts of the conversation:
Henry: (opens a box) this is turtle, this is for you.
(passes the box to us)
Henry: I’m sad there are no eggs, that’s like the best part to try
ICARUS 1: This does taste exactly like beef, it’s kind of like a beef stew
Henry: I’m just upset there’s no eggs, I really wanted you to try the egg
ICARUS 1: Well thanks for arranging this Henry
Henry: No worries, it’s a good experience for you to try
ICARUS 2: Have you eaten Iguana before?
Henry: Oh yeah
ICARUS 1: It tastes like chicken right?
Henry: I went hunting with some friends for them, we knocked it out the tree. You just shoot them and they fall out
Abigail: (points to something in her turtle meal) what’s that?
Henry: I think it’s like the tripe, from the turtle’s stomach
Henry: I feel bad I can’t get hold of my friend
ICARUS 1: What did you get her?
Henry: I got her turtle also
ICARUS 2: Do you know what kind of turtle it is?
ICARUS 1: I was going to say that, there are so many different species
Henry: Green turtle
ICARUS 1: (to Diane) have you tried it before, the turtle?
Diane: Yes I have, in Florida. (to Henry) Is this a river turtle?
Henry: No, ocean
Diane: What kind?
Diane: Wow that is good (the food)
ICARUS 1: What was the name of that gerbil thing you said they cooked too?
Diane: They do this every week?
ICARUS 1: I think every Saturday
Henry: But it’s a secret ya know (sic)
Henry: It’s illegal
Henry: I didn’t eat turtle today because I kind of felt bad, I already ate it twice. I’ll let you all do the bad part
(after some more general conversation we all went our separate ways)
All in all we were together with the group for forty minutes, the food is cooked by a local’s mother and although I’m sure that the locals go to get food for lunch etc it was incredible that all of the people we ate with and who go regularly are foreign. As I mentioned previously these recipes have been in Costa Rican culture for a long time, it is not surprising that they still exist. The shocking thing though is the tourists and ‘gringo’s’ who are exploiting those cultures to have a ‘fun experience’ in Costa Rica and they can go home and tell all their friends they ate turtle. Frankly that is pathetic. I am all for experiencing culture. I LOVE immersing myself in the culture of another country. These kind of egotourists though, who are only in it to have a cool activity, and not actually contribute anything to the society that they want to experience are incredibly selfish and ignorant. Not only that but they are causing actual harm, they are funding illegal activities that hurt not just the turtles they are eating but also the country and it’s people. It’s because of these horrendous individuals that our planet is entering the sixth mass extinction, all thanks to the human species. One day we can look back and blame people like the ones we ate with for the reasons the green sea turtle no longer exists. And personally I find that completely unacceptable.
What would you rather out of the two below images?
The green sea turtle, poached into extinction
The green sea turtle, thriving and free
We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…
3 thoughts on “An ICARUS Undercover Investigation: Egotourism – Are we the true poachers?”
I’m glad you wrote this. Too often tourism is described as the end-all-be-all when it comes to conservation. Yes, it can be an excellent way to boost local economies with minimal damage to ecosystems. But it can also be terrible for endangered wildlife, as you’ve found out. It’s also important that the turtle-eaters you encountered were American. It seems to me that many Americans don’t realize how significantly we contribute to wildlife crime, or how our rampant consumerism is driving global deforestation. I’m not trying to be anit-American, but if we’re going to expect people in other countries to protect wildlife then we have to do the same.
It’s so true. Within my first 48 hours in Costa Rica I had to argue with two Americans in opposition of turtle consumption and cock -fighting. It’s disappointing to see a culture of such privilege and education exploit a culture with more limited means.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: True Facts about the Turtle! | Project ICARUS