Amigos de los Monos

The Place

Burica Peninsula, Costa Rica

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The Burica Peninsula is shared between the nations of Costa Rica and Panama.  Conservation efforts of Amigos de los Monos are focused in the northern portion of the Costa Rican side, where the spider monkeys still reside, albeit in small numbers. The Conte Burica Ngäbe (Guaymí) Indigenous Reserve comprises 12,000 ha of the Burica Peninsula.  Half of the reserve consists of primary forests and in the year 2000 the population census reported 1,500 people with 700 under the age of 9.  Río Coco is a mountainous watershed located near the northern Pacific border of the reserve and is the principal habitat for the spider monkeys. There are a handful of Guaymí families that call this watershed home, living isolated among the ridges in simple homes without modern conveniences.  Punta Banco, 6 km north of Río Coco, located outside of the reserve, is a small town that marks the end of the road in southwest Costa Rica. There have also been recent and surprising sightings of spider monkeys in the forests surrounding the village.  The area surrounding Pavones, 6 km north of Punta Banco, do not house spider monkeys, however, the town provides much needed logistical support, including public telephones and an internet connection.  Pavones has seen many changes in the last years due to the world-class surf wave that attracts tourists and homeowners from all over the world. 

History and Settlement

Until the early 60s the northern area of the Burica Peninsula was covered with primary rainforest, uninhabited since the decimation of the pre-columbian civilization. 

The Ngäbe people migrated to the area from Panama, where the majority of their people still exist, in the last 40 years.  They left Panama due to increasing pressure on the land, in addition to economic and political instability.  Their large families and traditional form of subsistence; slash and burn agriculture and the rearing of livestock, contributed to them reaching the carrying capacity of their homeland.  The land in Costa Rica offered a new start where they could raise families and have land to work. The Conte Burica Indigenous Reserve was established in 1975 by the Costa Rican government.

Much of the Tico (Costa Rican) population of Pavones and Punta Banco migrated from the more northern Guanacaste province of Costa Rica due to an increase in economic pressures.  The mid 70s saw a free-for-all land grab by the migrating Ticos. In attempts to prevent absentee landlords, the Costa Rican government required people to “work” the land for ten years in order to claim ownership.  Working the land incurs the loss of rainforest so that crops can be cultivated and ultimately, the rearing of livestock. 

The human settlement in this remote region of Costa Rica has resulted in the loss of large tracts of primary rainforest and the species that depend on it, including the jaguar, tapir, and white-lipped peccary, and the near loss of the spider monkey.  However, forests have begun to regrow thanks to the influx of eco-tourism in Punta Banco, based on the conservation efforts of the Tiskita Foundation (reforestation), Amigos de las Aves (reintroducing the scarlet macaw), and PRETOMA (a sea turtle restoration program).

Punta Banco

The tiny village of Punta Banco is the last settlement before the indigenous reserve begins. It is an area of great natural beauty, as yet relatively undeveloped. But development is happening, and more is sure to come soon. The monkeys who still survive need your help. It won't take much money now to establish partnerships and practices that will save them. Education and community conservation are key. After development arrives and land prices soar, the task may become more difficult.

Above: Aerial view of the village of Punta Banco.

Above: Downtown Punta Banco with the soccer field in the foreground.

Above: the MiniSuper in Punta Banco

Above: Sunset in Punta Banco with the Osa Peninsula in the distance


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