There are many ways to appreciate a tropical forest; the beauty of the environment and the sheer diversity surrounding you are immediately apparent and remain in the mind long after you’ve returned home. For many people, especially on a first visit, this is enough – long lasting memories of exotic locations and intriguing animals. However if some thought is given to what is actually occurring in countries like Guatemala – massive increase in human population and continued use of natural resources for instance – it becomes apparent that these apparently pristine and thriving environments are under considerable stress.

Just as with reptile and amphibian conservation in the UK, behind the rarity and diversity there lies an immense amount of politics; preserving habitats and species involves far more than counting and cataloguing animals.

Demonstrating this fact very well is Timber, Tourists and Temples: Conservation and Development in the Maya Forest of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, edited by Primack et al.

Yes, I know it’s not as exciting sounding as some of our other book reviews; but it does give some important background to the struggle involved in preserving the amazing habitats we see in the Peten! Published in 1998, so admittedly a little out of date this book sheds some light on the background politics, protected areas policies and human versus wildlife conflicts that take place and the solutions in place to improve and counter them. Subjects tackled include immigration, population growth, sustainable use of forest products, hunting and importantly, integrating the needs of local people into the conservation of the forest. It is an illuminating and thought provoking read, albeit a bit dense at times and heavy with the acronyms!

Also breaking from our previous style of book to review we now look at Conservation of Mesoamerican Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Larry David Wilson, Josiah H.Townsend and Jerry D.Johnson.

This massive brick of a book, running to over 800 pages certainly does not fall into our normal category of ‘relatively cheap and easily available’!

Each country in the region gets its own chapter (Mexico, due to its sheer size gets a few and Baja California and associated islands gets a chapter of its own) which list and categorises according to threat level, all the known herpetofauna as well as discussing habitat types. This is not produced purely to provide lists; the urgency behind the book reflects the increasing habitat destruction and, as mentioned above, increases in human populations that are seriously affecting species across this unique region.

This book is a call to arms, a warning that the diversity we see is not going to remain unless we do something to prevent its decline, and that this affects both amphibians and reptiles.

Conservation assessments are provided (both the authors own, in a consistent way across all the countries, as well as IUCN classifications) and species and habitats of particular concern are brought to our attention; recommendations are given for areas where urgent action and research and collaboration are required (see the closing chapter ‘Looking Ahead’). There are also a number of chapters dealing with either individual species such as Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) or groups of species such as Mesoamerican crocodiles. It’s an exhaustive work, nicely put together and illustrated and a very important book which I only wish more people would be able to read.

Next time, on a lighter note, we’ll look at the more practical side of things – how to get around Guatemala and other parts of Central America armed with useful guidebooks, before we begin a series of reviews looking at some of the books, often biographies of other herpetologists and explorers that inspire us to do what we do!

REVIEW: Gary Powell, 14 September 2014

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