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Costa Rica Field Reporting 2017: Muddy Boots, Mettle and the Missouri Method

Documentary journalism senior Liza Anderson recaps the highlights of the 2017 Missouri School of Journalism winter break field-reporting course in Costa Rica.

(Change video setting to HD for best quality).

More information about the Costa Rica field-reporting course can be found at the Missouri School of Journalism’s Global Programs Office.

El Tigre in San Jorge: Seeking a Human-Jaguar Truce

By Kathryn Cawdrey

SAN JORGE DE GUANACASTE, Costa Rica —The jaguar basks in the sun, stretched out on a large boulder, with its tail twitching back and forth like a house cat’s.

In a recent interview, rancher Genaro Romero Carbonero stood near that boulder, describing this scene of his repeated encounters with a jaguar less than 500 feet from his workplace. He likes to refer to the big rock as the jaguar’s “bedroom,” as he often sees it there.

Carbonero is a perfect example of who Ronit Amit, coordinator of Gente y Fauna, aims to team up with to protect and preserve the habitat and well-being of these animals.


A jaguar caught on a camera trap in the Guanacaste Conservation Area. Photo courtesy of Gente y Fauna.

Amit has worked in Guanacaste for 12 years, earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. while studying wildlife management. She works with communities near San Jorge, specifically ranchers and farmers, to help them learn to coexist with jaguars and pumas around the area, even though the big cats sometimes kill their animals.

During her studies, Amit realized the solution to this issue in field conservation lies with people.

“Managing people requires getting into their heads,” Amit said. “When you get a sense of how to influence behavior, then you can start to build projects around that.”

Protected areas are not big enough to provide sufficient prey, which leads jaguars to nearby pastures. Amit and her team gathered community members to teach them that jaguars and people are part of the same world, and must depend on each other, she said.

Amit’s project breaks ranchers into four categories:

  • “Risk-Neutral” ranchers who do not think they have a problem with jaguars.
  • “Helpless” ranchers who suffer high rates of predation and feel there is no way to fix it.
  • “Preventive” ranchers who are ideal, as they work hard to adopt preventive practices to minimize damage to livestock.
  • “Cat-negative” ranchers who are angry and afraid of cats.

Carbonero is considered a “risk-neutral” rancher. He works as a guard and general overseer of cattle and horses for a property while its owners are away. He has regular up-close-and-personal experiences with jaguars but says they are neither a pleasure nor a nuisance.


A large jaguar that Genaro Romero Carbonero often sees lives up in the mountains. The paw prints it leaves behind are twice the size of his hand, he said. Photo by Kathryn Cawdrey.

“To me, it’s nothing.” he said.

Although Carbonero may not dislike the jaguars, he first encountered a “tigre” when his dog was attacked by one. The dog survived the first attempt but was fatally injured by the second. His new dog, Lassie, now sleeps in a pen to stay safe.

The dog has not been the only casualty, though. Two calves were eaten and two horses survived attacks. The horses show serious signs of caution around “spotted things” that look similar to jaguars, Carbonero said. In one incident, he saw a jaguar snacking on a mule near the river. When he passed by later that day, it had dragged the mule up into a nearby tree.

Despite attacks on livestock nearby, Carbonero has no fear. When asked if he is afraid, he simply responded, “no,” with a wave of his hand.

“Because it doesn’t attack,” he said.

He often scares jaguars away by banging his machete on the concrete or even just getting too close. Most times, though, he simply goes about his day.

“Get up,” he yells to the jaguar when it lounges nearby. “You’re wasting the day!”

Carbonero uses this relationship to entice tourists, as they can sometimes catch a glimpse of the cat, too.

“I like to see them with tourists,” he said. “They get really excited if they can see a jaguar.”

Although Carbonero’s attitude isn’t vengeful toward big cats, Amit hopes to establish a relationship with him to aid protection of land and resources.

“[The jaguar is] something he can enjoy and accept,” she said. “But he doesn’t prevent damages.”

Costa Rican culture is generally more reactive than preventative, Amit said. Attacks may be tolerated, but some residents illegally shoot local jaguars. She hopes to promote preventative measures to communities to spare jaguar’s lives. Simple tactics like electric fences or hanging strips of fabric have shown some success.

“All predators have a major role on regulation of biodiversity,” Amit said.


Ronit Amit, far right, poses with a group of volunteers. Photo courtesy of Gente y Fauna.

Predators act as top-down control of biodiversity, meaning that jaguars and pumas are responsible for the upkeep of competition and new survival strategies among other kinds of animals.

An ecosystem without jaguars would be like a tree without leaves. The trunk would simply be excess carbon, without any way to grow or further develop. The trunk needs the leaves — and photosynthesis — to continue growing and thriving, she said.

Although jaguars are more endangered, pumas need protection, too. Many of Amit’s colleagues are focused on jaguars, so pumas are being overlooked, she said.

“Protect both,” Amit said.

Edited by Holly Enowski

Our World’s Most Popular Beverage and Its Other Uses

By Blake Nourie

Coffee drinkers worldwide often reach for their morning cup for increased productivity, but what many don’t realize is that their drink contains 1,500 chemicals in addition to caffeine. Most of these chemicals are in minute concentrations, and when enough are combined, they can be used for medicinal or practical purposes.

One of coffee’s main health benefits is its rich source of antioxidants, most of which are found in the form of phenolics. Antioxidants are a large class of molecules that absorb free radical electrons, which can cause DNA damage. Some scientists suggest that antioxidants can help protect cells from getting cancer.

Although long-term antioxidant studies are inconclusive, coffee drinkers have statistically fewer cases of liver, colon, oral and esophageal cancer, according to The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Not only does coffee correlate with preventing cancer, it aids in the prevention of type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. Recent studies have shown that the many mildly acidic compounds in coffee can help cells increase their glucose intake, decreasing blood glucose levels. Long-term diabetes prevention is correlated with lifelong decreased glucose levels.

But before coffee is deemed a cure-all beverage, the negative health outcomes must also be considered. This morning pick-me-up has hundreds of different acidic species that contribute to acid reflux disease or heartburn, and are associated with tooth enamel decay.

Coffee also contains four known carcinogens, albeit in small quantities, that have been shown to cause cancer in lab mice. The same quantities present in coffee have not suggested increased cancer incidences in mice.

More research is needed to have a conclusive picture of coffee’s full effects, but regardless of medicine, the bean itself has practical and less widely known uses.

In Costa Rica, coffee growers have experimented with coffee beans in ways unbeknownst to most consumers. At La Bella Tica organic coffee farm, Oldemar Salazar Picado uses the most traded food in the world to his advantage.

Instead of roasting his beans for either a medium or dark roast, the Salazars, in partnership with two other families, have been able to turn their harvests into household necessities. Oldemar’s daughter Gloriona has found how to extract oil from the bean to create perfume, soap and an organic lotion containing only honey, sugar and coffee bean extract.

In this way, the coffee tree has many uses for La Bella Tica. Gloriona continues to research the medicinal and cosmetic benefits of coffee, and is confident that further studies will open more doors for coffee drinkers worldwide.

Edited by: Holly Enowski, Liza Anderson and Brianna Stubler

The Arribada

Editor’s note: Liza Anderson, junior in documentary journalism, tells the story of the Dec. 30 arribada, or mass nesting, of olive ridley sea turtles on the beach at Ostional — and the mutually beneficial arrangement the turtles have with the Ostional community.

Out-of-sight cannot be out-of-mind

Story and Photos by Nadav Soroker

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — The sun rose with every upward push on a net, spreading out the fine black webbing, while pre-dawn gloom turned to healthy glow as one at a time, birds started chirping, clicking and singing. The mist nets, nearly invisible unless viewed at an oblique angle, stretched between tall poles scattered throughout the growing secondary forest of the Refugio Ecológico Nacimiento y Vida, part of the Bellbird Biological Corridor.

Researchers from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and a local research coordinator from the Monteverde Institute finished spreading the nets and returned to wait under the low, wide-spread branches of a tree that covered their collection site. With a chirp and flutter of wings, a bird quickly tangled itself in a nearby net before swinging down to hang, trapped. Thus began a busy morning of disentangling, bagging and collection.

The researchers recorded data on the birds that flew into the nets, checking health, age and reproductive state before releasing them. Christy Carello of MSU Denver led the research examining the winter habitat of North American migratory birds.

Carello is studying the status of regrown forests in the birds’ winter habitats and how long a new forest needs to age before it becomes viable habitat, said Vinson Turco, an MSU Denver biology graduate. U.S. conservation efforts need to coordinate with efforts in the birds’ winter habitats, Turco said, or they won’t work.

Edited by Brianna Stubler