The Maya Forest extends through Belize, northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico and represents one of the most important ecological systems globally. It is considered the most extensive tropical forest in Mesoamerica and has a surface of protected areas that exceeds four million hectares. More than 20 ecosystems are distributed in the Maya Forest, from the Petén jungles to the dry jungles north of the Yucatan Peninsula. These ecosystems maintain an important function in terms of water production and maintenance of landscape connectivity, since the multiple ecological corridors allow mobility between organisms and species, as well as the functionality of the ecosystem.
The Maya Forest has a population of approximately 588,000 people of ethnic and cultural diversity, who are located around the protected areas. Although diverse, the peoples that inhabit the Maya Forest depend on the same natural resources. To ensure the existence of the Maya Forest and its population in the long term, it is necessary to establish a sustainable use of its resources and intercultural cooperation.
Being a region of abundant and spectacular representation of marine life, associated with a complex biogeography where numerous ocean currents and winds converge, the OPTO is made up of coastal and ocean habitats, including rich nutrient outcrops, underwater seamount chains , extensive coral reefs, large mangroves, estuaries, rocky coastal cliffs and sandy beaches. Almost 30% of ocean species such as whales, seals, sea lions, sharks, large populations of endangered sea turtles and seabirds depend on the OPTO's ecological integrity and functionality. There are large nesting beaches and sea turtle feeding areas along the coast, including the largest nesting aggregations in Region 5 of Eretmochelys imbricata (critically endangered on the IUCN Red List) in El Salvador (Liles et al., 2011) and Dermochelys coriacea (critically endangered on the IUCN Red List 6) in Playa Grande in Costa Rica. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) (endangered on the IUCN Red List) is quite abundant in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The main nesting beaches are found on the Colola and Maruata beaches in Michoacán (Mexico), Costa Rica and the Galapagos archipelago (Ecuador).
The Maya Forest faces great threats that compromise its viability and functionality in the medium and long term. These threats are related to forest fires, illegal logging and trafficking of flora and fauna species; in most of the area. Degradation and land use change, caused by agricultural activities and the application of pesticides, also have an important impact. On the other hand, the borders between the three countries that share the natural resources of the Maya Forest, accentuate the challenge of implementing joint strategies to mitigate these threats.
Together with other organizations, WWF is supporting the efforts of the countries that make up the Maya Forest. Such is the case in Belize, where the government has declared plans to protect the Maya Forest Corridor, as a critical link in the largest jungle in Central America and a vital corridor for wildlife.
Similarly, together with other partner organizations, WWF has carried out conservation work in areas where the jaguar lives, including the Maya Forest. The WWF Mesoamerica Strategic Plan includes the jaguar as a priority conservation species within this ecoregion. On a higher scale, WWF's Jaguar 2030 Strategy identifies a series of interventions required to conserve the jaguar.
This project is framed within WWF's Jaguar 2030 Strategy and is carried out in two highly threatened strategic landscapes within the distribution range of the jaguar:
• Maya Forest, which covers the territory of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala and
• Atlantic Forest, which includes Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
In the Maya Forest, the project seeks to support and complement conservation actions of the jaguar and its prey in this landscape, in coordination with local partners, within a period of 5 years. Among the topics to be discussed are: management of protected areas, dam conservation, mitigation of human-jaguar conflicts, reduction of jaguar and prey poaching, sustainable management of productive areas, establishment and strengthening of biological corridors for the jaguar, promotion of alternative productive activities for communities, promotion of public policies and biological monitoring, among others.
PROJECT: SAVING THE JAGUAR, AN AMBASSADOR FOR THE AMERICAS