While I am no longer at Paradise Gardens I have been keeping up with the news there. As you may have noticed there have not been any posts recently… that is because Paradise Gardens has been sold and no longer exists as an animal rescue.
As I have mentioned before on this blog the property that Paradise Gardens Wildlife Rescue was located on was not owned by anyone associated with Paradise Gardens itself. The rescue was built by a couple, Paul and Jenny Saban who, in a difficult time during 2008, sold their property and the rescue. They sold it to a man named Roy, an expat living in Boquete. Roy has his own construction business and bought Paradise Gardens as an investment and perhaps also to help out Paul and Jenny. I was not there at the time, and cannot speak to what the arrangements were, but I can say that Roy, though he owned the property, had nothing to do with the maintainance of Paradise Gardens, the animal care, or facility maintainance. Roy very kindly allowed us, the volunteers, to stay on the property and care for the animals (some of whom could not leave the property due to Panamanian regulations).
June 9th we, the volunteers working at Paradise Gardens, were informed that a couple was buying the property to turn it into a spa. The couple came, architect in tow, and told us we would have to leave. Jen and Ryan got in touch with Roy and and he cancelled the deal, saying that the buyers had misled him and that they had not told him that they were planning to scrap the wildlife rescue for a spa. He promised to us that he would only sell the property to someone who would keep it as an animal rescue (the only such rescue in Panama) and who had the animals’ best interests at heart.
On July 16, a month after Roy cancelled the first deal, we were informed that Paradise Gardens would be sold to the same couple. Maybe the buyers had upped the ante, maybe they made Roy an offer he could not refuse (if I found a horse head on my pillow, I too might sell PG), maybe Roy’s financial situation was so bad that he could not keep his pledge to the animals and us. I did not ask Roy, although another volunteer informed me that Roy said he was hurting for the money. The new owners asked everyone to be gone by July 19th so they could start construction. Jen said she would be gone on the 21st, and that was the earliest possible. The new owners said they would take care of the animals that were already on the property but would turn away new rescues. They did not want any of the volunteers to stay to help care for the animals in the transition. Legally, it is now their property (as are the animals) and they can do what they want with it (and them).
On July 20th, the last day volunteers were allowed at PG, some of the volunteers took Arjento, the baby coati, and Athena, the Jaguarundi cub, to Allouatta Lodge, a nearby howler monkey rescue. Since Paradise Gardens will no longer be a rescue center with a release mission it seemed best to take the animals that could be taken off the property (new animals not yet registered with ANAM) to a place they could be prepared for release. The other animal that was not legally tied to the property was Manolo, the baby white-faced capuchin monkey. He, however, was not a likely candidate for release and would be best off if introduced to the other two capuchins, Monty and Billy, who legally had to stay with the property. Thus Manolo stayed. However, Monty and Billy are unrelated to Manolo and adults and would be likely to hurt or kill him if introduced suddenly, so for the time he had been at Paradise Gardens human interaction was Manolo’s replacement for monkey-socializing while we gradually introduced him to Monty and Billy. Hopefully the new owners will live up to their promise and continue the process of integrating Manolo into Monty and Billy’s “troupe.” Manolo needs a lot of interaction (capuchins are very social, leaving a capuchin in isolation for days at a time would be like leaving a 2 year old in a room by himself for days at a time – in other words, abuse – but I have seen monkeys abused like that and worse all over Panama). It would be best if he could get that interaction from other capuchins, but in the meantime interaction with people is a must!
However, like I said, the property and animals now belong to someone else, visitors and volunteers are not welcome, and construction of a spa is underway (or at least that was the word when I left, if anyone is in Boquete, is construction currently going on at PG?). I can only hope that the chaos of construction does not harm any of the animals, and that they are all being well cared for!
The closure of Paradise Gardens is a sad day in the history of Panama. Boquete has lost one of its most beautiful attractions (many people told us that they came to Boquete because they saw photos of PG, one family even told us that after seeing a video of Paradise Gardens they decided that their next family trip was going to be to Panama, and there they were!). The animals of Panama have lost one of the few places they could safely be rehabilitated and released. Unfortunately Panama, a country that is often considered a tropical paradise, is anything but paradise for the animals that live there. Closure of Paradise Gardens was one more step away from protecting what wildlife remains in Panama. If Panamanian wildlife officials were to look at their neighbor, Costa Rica, they would see an abundance of wild macaws, toucans and other birds. These are almost nonexistent in Panama. Sloths and various types of monkeys also roam Costa Rica in seeming abundance and yet, despite Panama’s proximity and ecological similarity to Costa Rica, these unique, amazing and endangered animals are now hardly ever seen in Panama (this is from personal experience – I saw more wildlife in the wild in three days in Costa Rica than in three months in Panama). Because there is no border guard that would stop a troupe of wild monkeys, no checkpoints for sloths and no passport control for free flying macaws or toucans, I can only assume that the poaching and mistreatment of animals and destruction of their habitats that is evident in Panama has reduced and continues to reduce their numbers and viability to a point where the natural migrations and mingling from across the border are meaningless in terms of reestablishing Panamanian wildlife populations.
In Costa Rica I saw a picture of a scarlet macaw on the wall of a shop and asked the woman if there were macaws in the area. She said yes. I asked where, expecting them to be in cages as I has seen in various places in Panama. She pointed to the forest, and that day I saw two pairs of macaws, wild in the forest. Talking with her later she seemed astonished that I would think that there might be macaws in cages around there. According to her it was illegal in Costa Rica to keep these wild and endangered animals as pets. Not in Panama. Costa Rica may fall behind Panama in other standards (Panama’s military is way way ahead of Costa Rica’s… oh, wait, Costa Rica hasn’t had a military since the 1940s), but in wildlife and habitat protection the Ticos are beating their next-door neighbors by a million miles. Panama should take a clue and amp up the protection laws, the enforcement, and, most of all, the education regarding wildlife. If not there will be less and less wildlife left in Panama outside of pet stores and zoos.
Thank you to all the volunteers who, over the past two years, did so much for the animals and kept both the property beautiful and the animals happy and healthy. Thank you to Jen and Ryan who stuck with the animals over the last tumultuous months. And thank you to all of the visitors whose donations kept the animals fed and whose voices got the word spread.