By Zach Dyer
Early Tuesday morning, National Police stopped a truck carrying eight cows in Guanacaste. After the driver failed to prove the cattle were his, police turned him over to the Prosecutor’s Office for cattle rustling, a crime that takes place every day in Costa Rica.
Gangs of cattle thieves have stolen more than 2,000 animals from January through October of this year, causing more than $1.5 million in damages to cattle ranchers, according to a report from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) released Tuesday. That same day, several law enforcement organizations, along with the National Animal Health Service (SENASA), and the Costa Rican cattle corporation, CORFOGA, announced a national campaign to denounce cattle rustling and encouraged Ticos to report thefts to OIJ.
Authorities noted that there have been 1,113 reports of cattle theft during the first 10 months of 2013. While the loss of a few cows might not seem like much, for small ranchers the theft could cut a herd in half and cause bankruptcy, said OIJ Director Francisco Segura.
The Caribbean canton of Pococí reported the highest number of registered thefts, 86, between January and October. The northern cantons of Upala and San Carlos, as well as Pérez Zeledón in the south, also reported close to 60 thefts during the same period.
The statistics available, however, could dramatically underplay the actual number of stolen cattle, according to CORFOGA.
The damages don’t stop at the theft of the valuable livestock: The beef served alongside rice and beans in the casado served at your favorite lunch spot might be caught up in this chain, too.
Public Security Minister Mario Zamora said that restaurants and small roadside cafés known as “sodas” were also complicit in the heifer heists if they bought beef from stolen cows.
SENASA Director Germán Rojas said that stolen cattle handled by an illegal butcher could be processed under unhygienic conditions and be a health risk for diners.
“We have to break this cycle,” said Segura, encouraging people to report thefts or contraband butchers by calling the OIJ’s anonymous hotline, 800-8000-645.
Watch the campaign video below: Video.