Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge
Location: 22 miles (36 km) e oft 1pala, 14 miles (23 km) SW of Los
The centerpiece of this refuge for about 400 species of resident and migrant birds is Cano Negro Lake, which covers some 2,225 acres (900 ha) with up to 10 feet (3 in) of water in the rainy season. As the dry season progresses, it diminishes to a few pools, streams, and an arm of the river that feeds it. In drier months, January to April, visitors who wait patiently and discreetly in sight of the remaining water holes can watch a variety of animals come to drink.
The country's largest colony of Neotropical olivaceous cormorants is found here, and it's a good place to see roseate spooribills, wood storks, species of ducks you never imagined existed, snowy egrets, five species of kingfisher, and green-backed herons. Jabiru storks sometimes visit. Other animals live at Cano Negro as well: three species of monkeys, sloths, river otters, peccaries, whitetailed deer, silky anteaters, bats, and tayras. Endangered mammal and reptile species include the tapir, jaguar, ocelot, cougar, and crocodile.
During a few magical hours on a boat, I saw some of these birds plus jacanas, two groups of spider monkeys, three of howlers, a red-lored parrot, a black-bellied whistling duck, anhingas with their wings spread to dry, caimans, iguanas, a great egret, and, for the thrill of the day, a common potoo looking for all the world like a part of the branch on which it was perched. How the boatman spotted it is a mystery.
From January to April, less than 4 inches (100 mm) of rain falls; the total averages 138 inches (3,500 mm). South and west of the lake, where the land rises abruptly from the plain to the Guanacaste Mountain Range, rainfall can reach 158 inches (4,000 mm) a year. Elevation of the lake is about 100 feet (30 in).
One aim of this refuge is to help improve the economic well-being of its neighbors by promoting sustainable ways to exploit natural resources. A tree nursery established with area families provides trees to reforest parts of the refuge and the basin of the Rio Frio, with some sold for profit. Freshwater turtles are raised; 30 percent are released and the rest sold. Families are allowed to fish in the lagoons when they are drying up, and the refuge helps find a market for the catch. About 50 species of fish are found at Cano Negro, including an unusual gar. Under an agreement with the local development association, the wildlife department allows cattle to graze here in dry season when the lake recedes, a controversial issue with some who point to the erosion cattle cause along riverbanks and damage to wildlife, such as destruction of caiman eggs.
Protection of these wetlands and remaining forest has received a shot in the arm with creation of a Friends of the Earth biological research center at Cano Negro, near refuge headquarters. Laboratories and accommodations for tropical wetland researchers facilitate study of the fragile ecosystem. Equally important is the focus on sustainable development projects with the 200 families who live within the refuge, to provide economic alternatives and discourage poaching.
Camping is allowed. Limited overnight space in a house at the ranger station in Cano Negro is $5 per person. In dry season, visitors can explore on foot or rent horses; in rainy months, community members take visitors out in their boats for $11 an hour.
There are two main entrances to the refuge: the town of Cafto Negro, site of the
headquarters, and on the Rio Frio from Los Chiles. Many river tours do not go all the
way to headquarters.
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