La Selva: Science gone wild at pioneering Costa Rica research center


Karl Kahler (The Tico Times) features La Selva, a tropical research center in a lowland Caribbean rain forest north of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Here are excerpts:

The peccary stared me down, seemingly daring me to come closer, but I figured the last thing I needed all alone on a trail in the jungle was a fight with an angry pig.

So I kept my distance, snapping pictures, and the pig kept his. There were several in the herd, rooting in the fields alongside the trail, the air heavy with their musky smell. Not five minutes ago, I was snapping pictures of a mother spider monkey swinging in the trees with a baby on her back. This was starting to feel like “Animal Farm,” Costa Rica-style.

Later I saw peccary strolling the manicured grounds among researchers’ living quarters at La Selva Biological Station as casually as cats or dogs, and I realized they’re about as dangerous as Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web” (unless, of course, you mess with them).

La Selva, a few minutes south of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and a couple of hours from San José, is one of the premier tropical research centers in the world. Located in lowland Caribbean rain forest north of Braulio Carrillo National Park, this private reserve is a marvel of conservation where the biodiversity needle is set to “Extreme.”

And just wait till you try the ziplining, the Tarzan swing and the whitewater rafting — oh, wait, they don’t offer any of those here. This is a place dedicated to research, not to giving tourists thrills. But visitors of all kinds are welcome, and you may find that stumbling on a wild boar is actually more thrilling than a canopy tour.

La Selva is one of three research stations operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a nonprofit consortium of more than 50 universities and other institutions, founded in 1963 to promote research and education in tropical biology and the sustainable use of tropical resources.

The organization offers graduate-level courses in ecology and natural resource management, with close to 10,000 students having taken its courses. Every year upwards of 300 scientists from all over the world work at its research stations, which also include the Palo Verde Biological Station and Las Cruces Biological Station. [. . .]

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