A Tropical Cattle Ranch Turned Into a National Wildlife Refuge
Curu National Wildlife Refuge is situated on the southern Pacific Coast of Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. The refuge park is famous for its thriving and fantastic flora and fauna, and also includes a cluster of splendid white-sand beaches. Nestled near the town of Curu, west from the road of Paquera, the land, which is now the national reserve park, was a coastal village flourishing with wildlife. In 1930s, it was bought from the Pacific Lumber Company. Between 1981 and 1983, the town of rich tropical jungles packed with cattle and grazers turned into a national wildlife refuge.
It spreads over the grounds larger than 208 acres, and carries an incredible plethora of animals, over 232 different species of birds and multifarious kinds of plants. The Curu River flows though the park and a system of Mangroves fringes its borders. The marshy river transforms into a combination of sultry dry and wet jungles, a common feature on the southern inland of Nicoya Peninsula.
The farm was established in 1933 by Frederico Schutt and is still family owned. In 1974 part of the hacienda was occupied by squatters who settled around the present day village of Valle Azul. To prevent further desecration to nature the Schutt family sought governmental intervention, and in 1981 they obtained the status of “Protected Forest” for most of their land. Additionally in 1983 the Curu National Wildlife Refuge was created.
The Wild live Refuge of Curu is the best place in the Nicoya Peninsula to see many different species of animals such as; howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata), white face monkeys (Cebus capucinus), and spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). Curu is the only place in the peninsula where is possible to see spiders monkeys, also there are raccoons (Procyon lotor), coatis (Nasua narica), white tail deers (Odocoileus virginianus), agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata), peccaris (Tayassu pecary), ant eaters (Tamandua mexicana) and armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), and also a lot of different species of birds: There have been identified about 232 different species of birds, 78 species of mamals, 87 reptiles, 25 amphibians and about 500 species of plants and perhaps the most important it is the refuge of the only population of scarlet macaw (Ara macao) in the Nicoya peninsula.
Curu contains Costa Rica’s first private National Wildlife Refuge and is an example of a successful sustainable development program. The hacienda still includes low levels of cattle grazing and produces tropical fruits such as mangos on an annual basis; however, tourism and visitation by school groups and researchers are the focus of Curu today. Curu National Wildlife Refuge and Hacienda is managed sustainably to produce a profit and local employment, while also preserving its threatened and endangered forested habitats such as mangroves, tropical moist and dry forests, and coral reefs.
In 2003, a field research initiative was implemented to study the established population of the Scarlet Macaw. Greg Matuzak, a Conservation Biologist, developed and implemented several studies to document the nesting, foraging ecology, food availability, and movement patterns of the macaws established in Curú. In late 2003 and early 2004, Greg developed and implemented additional studies to document the status and ecology of the entire parrot population in Curu. These include roost counts of the threatened Yellow-naped Parrot (Amazona auropalliata) and point counts to document the abundance of each species of parrot on a month over month basis. This research will provide the necessary information to develop a parrot conservation plan for Curu and protect suitable nesting sites.
The mere 84 hectares of this coastal refuge are effectively enlarged by being part of the 1,214-hectare farm that surrounds the reserve and protects much more forested habitat than the typical farm/ranch found in the region. The ecological-mindedness of the Shutz family, the farm’s proprietors, has maintained natural habitat along the ridges, rivers and beach areas in the refuge and the farm. Several trails traverse the area and permit good wildlife viewing opportunities.
White-throated Capuchin Monkeys tend to be quite easily seen in the refuge, as are White-nosed Coatis, Variegated Squirrels, Nine-banded Armadillos, and White-tailed Deer. The bird life is representative of the tropical dry forest and includes Black-headed Trogons, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Rose-throated Becards, Thicket Tinamous, Lesser Ground-Cuckoos, and Canivet’s Emeralds. Additionally, an area of mangrove swamp and three picturesque beaches are part of the refuge. The largest beach, Curú Beach, is an excellent swimming beach with very little wave action. The crystalline waters off the other two beaches, Poza Colorada and Quesera, offer good snorkeling around some coral formations. On top of Quesera Point a large shell midden can be seen that is evidence of pre-Columbian habitation of this easterly end of the Nicoya Peninsula.
It is a significant place to visit as it is Costa Rica’s first private National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1933 by Federico Schutt de la Croix, the park was initially bought on October 1, 1933 for 12,000 Costa Rican colones. Curu is privately owned and part of a large farm which combines sustainable agriculture and forest management with the protection of wildlife and nature.
Of the 1,496 hectare property only 5 % (75 hectares) are protected under the terms of a “wildlife reserve”. This zone encompasses the 200 meter wide beach area, together with the mangrove estuaries and rivers. The reserve however mingles with the rest of the property, of which 75% are declared protected forest and 20% are dedicated to low-impact agriculture. Curu also connects to the Biological Wildlife Corridor of the Nicoya Peninsula. When driving on the road from Paquera to Tambor visitors will pass through a heavily forested part with giant trees. It is the broad strip of forest allowing animals to migrate between Curu and the mountainous interiors of the peninsula. Travellers are advised to drive slowly and watch out for animals on the road.
Curu boasts of a flourishing and varied wildlife in five different habitats ranging from marine zones and mangrove swamps, to tropical dry and moist forest, as well as farmland. 232 species of birds have been counted in Curu. The most common species are motmots, white-fronted amazons, laughing hawks, woodpeckers and herons. Scarlet macaws have successfully been reintroduced in the area and can sometimes be seen in the morning or in the late afternoon. Among the mammals are rare species such as ocelots, pumas, margay cats, collared peccari, coyote, anteaters, and otters.
The most strategic spot to watch howler and capuchin monkeys is around the administration at the beach where they come to pick up food. Sometimes you can also see other orphaned animals which are under the care of the ranger. One of the trails in Curu leads to a big cage where you can spot spider monkeys. Only old or handicapped animals are kept in the cage, the other members of the group live in the wild. Spider monkeys were driven to extinction on the Nicoya Peninsula and a reintroduction program has brought them back into the forests of Curu. On the beach sea turtles like pacific ridley, hawksbill, and green sea turtles lay their eggs. Artificial reefs have been created in the bay of Curu which have helped to increase numbers and diversity of maritime life at the coast.
Of vital importance to the marine ecosystem is the habitat of the mangrove swamps. A large number of small organisms live in the nutrient-rich mud and build the basis of the marine food chain. Here are breeding grounds for many Pacific fish, and lots of water birds feed and nest in the thickets. In Curu all five of Costa Rica’s mangrove species are represented. On some higher elevations of Curu there are still small patches of primary forest left but there are no trails and access is strictly allowed to scientists only. However, the trail system of Curu provides ample opportunity to the regular explorer to explore different habitats with abundant wildlife.
On the park’s white-sand beaches, Leatherback Turtles and Olive Ridley turtles, that have long since depleted in population, can be found during the nesting season to lay eggs. By Curu Bay, Turismo Curu is present from where visitors can request for a horseback ride, hiking tours and other guided trips. There are boats available that can take you to traverse the water or indulge in enjoyable trips to Tortuga Island, which is 3 miles away from the bay, and other beaches on the park. In Curu Park, visitors will be amazed by the spectacular underwater treasures . Tortuga Island is known to have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving sites of the Costa Rican Pacific Coast. Gear up and dive in to view the schools of King Angel Fish, Damsel Fish, Cortez Angel Fish and numerous others. Do not forget to bring your swimsuits, the Curu Park offers amazing aquatic condition for swimming.
Wildlife of Curu
Curu National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to watch the floral and faunal wonders of Costa Rica. Tourists can easily sight capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, white-tailed deer, crabs, river otters, coatis, red squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, iguanas, scarlet macaws, collard peccary and more than 232 species of birds. Curu National Wildlife Refuge is now one of the most successful examples of protected ecosystem.
The Curu refuge has an isolated island kind of feeling owing to the coconut-strewn beach, or the mangrove swamp, or the jungled hills mounting at the end of the bay. Walking through the tall forest behind the palm-fringed beach, you sense the wildness of the place. Small islands, one of them Tortuga Island, springs up in the Pacific in front of Curu Beach, one of three sand beaches in the refuge.
Boa constrictors are at home here, as are pacas, agoutis, ocelots, white-faced and howler monkeys, rattlesnakes, iguanas, white-tailed deer, herds of peccaries, mountain lions, and margays (a small, spotted cat with a long tail). Waters along the beach host giant conch, lobsters, and oysters, and offer good snorkeling. Hawksbill and olive ridley turtles come ashore to nest. The magnificent frigate bird soars overhead. Parrots squawk. Hummingbirds, trogons, hawks, swallows, egrets, motmots, tanagers, roseate spoonbills, and fish eagles are among 223 species of birds. There are 78 mammal species, 87 of reptiles (two big crocodiles live in the river), 26 of amphibians, and more than 500 plant species. You’ll see pochote trees and guanacaste trees, which indigenous peoples called curu, hence the name.
For rests and accommodations, families can rent one of the cabins along the beach for 6 dollars a bed per night. Food and horse rentals are also available for a good price. This allows the visitors to tour more comfortably around the park and provides them with enough time to explore its natural splendour. Alternatively, there are plenty of hotels and inns in the town that act as good boarding options for tourists. Some of these hotels also organize a guided trip to the park. Additionally, there are bucolic lodges in the Curu Park.
Despite its relative smallness, the refuge has three varieties of habitats – semicacifolious forest, mengrove swamp and beach vegetation. The refuge has three beautifully scenic beaches which are perfect for swimming and diving because of their gentle waves.
To get there from Puntarenas, take the Paquera ferry across the gulf. The entrance to the farm is five kilometers south of Paquera. From the farm gate (first one on your left after leaving Paquera) to the refuge it is another 1.5 km. Although located on the Pacific coast, this area is not known as one of the deep-sea fishing hot spots, perhaps because it is too far into the Gulf of Nicoya.