8 Reasons Costa Rica Is The Best Place To Be An Animal

With its lush ecosystem tucked between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in Central America, Costa Rica is home to vast array of life. In fact, although the small country makes up only 0.01 percent of the planet's land area, it contains a whopping 500,000 species -- representing roughly 5 percent of organisms on Earth.

But beyond merely being blessed with rich biodiversity, the Costa Rican people have made incredible strides to ensure that the creatures living there are protected and cherished, making the nation a haven for wildlife and the poster-child for the power of conservation.

Here are 8 remarkable reasons that Costa Rica is the best place in the world to be an animal:

1. The military was abolished to focus on environmental protection

In 1948, Costa Rica's then president Jose Figueres made the virtually unprecedented decision not merely to scale back its army, but to do away with it entirely -- and it's never been back. Instead, funding that was once spent on guns and ammo were diverted to more noble ventures, including improving healthcare, education, and environmental protection.

2. More than 25 percent of its territory is protected

More than a quarter of Costa Rican territory is made up of national parks and protected areas, allowing countless animals to live without fear of losing their fragile habitat. No other country in the world devotes such a large percentage of its land for the preservation of wildlife.

3. Farmers are paid to keep forests intact

Although there was once a time that logging ran rampant in Costa Rica, innovative public policy put in place in the last few decades have managed to stem the tide so that more animals could keep their home. Using a market-oriented plan to pay farmers and ranchers to conserve forests on their lands, the government succeeded in reducing -- and then reversing -- deforestation, becoming the first and only tropical nation to do so.

4. It boasts a massive safe haven for marine life

Costa Rica's forest-dwelling animals aren't the only ones to benefit from the nation's generation policy of preserving the environment. In 2011, a massive, non-fishing ocean sanctuary was established to offer a safe haven for endangered marine species, like hammerhead sharks and leatherback turtles. The Seamounts Marine Management Area, larger in size than even Yellowstone National park, has been called a beacon of hope for ocean-health in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

5. It's leading the charge towards carbon neutrality

Climate change caused by the release of carbon emissions not only threatens to imperil local wildlife, but is a major factor in the ongoing and future decline of species throughout the world. Costa Rica currently stands as a global leader in the use of clean energy sources, generating an amazing 99.2 percent of its power from renewable sources. The nation is also on track to be completely carbon-neutral by 2021, eliminating their contribution to global warming.

6. It's a pioneer in sustainable tourism

With so much to see and explore, Costa Rica has leveraged its natural beauty into a driving economic force through ecotourism. By focusing on an environmentally sustainable international tourism model, the nation adds billions of dollars to its economy every year -- incentivizing its population to consider wildlife and the forests they inhabit far more valuable alive and thriving than lost.

7. It's home to the world's only sloth orphanage

There are a number of animal sanctuaries devoted to rehabilitating wildlife in Costa Rica, but perhaps none are cuter than the famous Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary -- said to be the only sloth orphanage in the world.

8. Zoos are closing so the animals can be free

In a remarkably forward-thinking announcement just last year, the Costa Rican Environment Ministry said that it was planning to phase out keeping animals in captivity at the nation's zoos so that the creatures they contained could return to their natural environment.

"As the state we are setting an example, showing that it can be done," said Minister René Castro. "It is a gradual process, but eventually we hope that there will no longer be animals in cages anywhere in the country."