San José (AFP) – Veterinarian Carmen Soto is gently swabbing what is left of Grecia the toucan’s bright beak, preparing to fit him with a prosthesis to replace the part hacked off by vandals.
The images of the bird’s mutilated red-and-yellow beak caused outrage last month in Costa Rica, where donations for a prosthesis came pouring in after his story went viral on social media — a new weapon in the fight against the age-old problem of animal cruelty in Latin America.
Appalled citizens sent in $3,000 to outfit Grecia with a prosthetic beak after a gang of rowdy youths attacked the bird, which activists say is a sort of half-wild, half-tame mascot for the central town of Grecia.
A similar case shook Honduras in January, when a group of young people blew up a stray dog with fireworks and posted a video online.
And in Peru, social media users were repulsed when a man whose children had been bitten by the neighbour’s dog claimed revenge by tying the animal to the back of his car and dragging him through the street.
Such cases usually go unpunished in Latin America, where laws against animal cruelty are mostly weak or non-existent.
The network of organisations fighting the phenomenon is also small and underfunded.
But social media is changing that, said Cynthia Dent, executive director for the Humane Society International in Latin America.
“Twitter and Facebook have increased our awareness of cases of cruelty in Latin America, said Dent from the Costa Rican capital San Jose, the group’s regional headquarters.
“In the past we would only hear about it when there was a case reported in the press. But now we have outraged people who take advantage of social media to highlight these cases of cruelty and join forces against them.”
Those protests are starting to spill over from the Internet to the street, pressuring the authorities to act.
“The visibility that social networks give to animal cruelty puts more pressure to pass laws,” Dent told AFP.