Conservation in Laguna del Tigre National Park


Since 2013 Indigo Expeditions has been monitoring the amphibian and reptile populations of the south east region of Laguna del Tigre National Park. Laguna del Tigre is around 300,000ha, and is the largest core zone within the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. The Mayan Biosphere Reserve takes up most of the northern region of the department of Petén. When combined with neighbouring reserves in Mexico and Belize, it forms the largest protected neotropical forest outside of the Amazon basin.
So on the face of it, things are looking great for the Mayan Biosphere Reserve and Laguna del Tigre National Park. However, in April 2017 events in the national park show a slightly different story. But I need to back up a little to explain about the habitat in Laguna del Tigre.
The forests of Laguna del Tigre National Park are classed as tropical humid forest. While they live up to the humid part of their name, they experience a distinct dry season. During March and April the forest is very dry indeed. Many species of trees shed their leaves, and the forest is at huge risk of fires, both deliberate and natural.
An April 2017, a fire started in the south east region of Laguna del Tigre close to the area of our study. In the first few days of the fire, estimates of around 30,000ha had been lost. Conditions were such that it spread, well, like wildfire!

“Ninety-eight percent of fires are caused by people, by human activity, for various purposes [including] for hunting, for changes in land use,” – National Protected Areas Council (CONAP) executive secretary Elder Figueroa1

Although the fire spread north and away from our study area, the fires burned for several weeks, and destroyed a huge swath of habitat and a critical time for nesting birds, including the rare scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera).

“One of the forest fires of particular concern in the Laguna del Tigre National Park is in the area of El Perú-Waka’, an important Mayan archaeological site. The last remaining scarlet macaw (Ara macao) nesting area in Guatemala is located in that same area. The park is also home to more than 180 other bird species, the endangered Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii), and iconic near-threatened species like the jaguar (Panthera onca)1 “.

Eventually the combined efforts of the Guatemalan Army, and helicopters from Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, along with a heavy downpour of rain, finally put the fires out.

With the emergency finally over, my thoughts turn to the recovery of the forest and the creatures that call it home. We know that the forest will come back, it has before. Much of the region was felled by the ancient Mayan. So if Laguna del Tigre is given a chance, it will recover again.

I believe our job as conservationists is not to “preserve” things as we once remember them to be. But rather to encourage resilience and strength in what natural areas remain. We do this in the hope that that resilience and strength will give Mother Earth the best chance of adapting and recovering from any future sudden or drastic change.

Rowland Griffin

Global Forest Watch shows fires occurring in and around Maya Biosphere Reserve between April 4 11, 2017. Many are concentrated in Laguna del Tigre National Park, where a clusters of fires are burning in forest near Guatemala’s last scarlet macaw breeding site.

Bolitoglossa helmrichi

The Laguna del Tigre National Park has one of the highest deforestation rates of any area in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

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