On Tuesday 13th of May, the Guatemalan Congress declared the Sierra Caral mountain chain, an internationally recognized AZE Site (Alliance for Zero Extinction), as a National Protected Area. This is the first protected area to be declared by the Guatemalan Congress in more than nine years. SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, FUNDAECO explains how important this is for the rather unique Sierra Caral.
Located in the Caribbean Region of Guatemala, along the border with Honduras, Sierra Caral goes from sea level to more than 1,000 meters, and is a refuge for endemic species of amphibians, beetles and plants. Located in the border between Guatemala and Honduras, Sierra Caral has been repeatedly identified as the number one conservation priority in the country.
Hence, this declaration is extremely valuable because of Sierra Caral's unique bio-geographic conditions, it is an unparalleled centre of endemism for amphibians, reptiles, and insects in northern Central America. It is also a vital stop-over and wintering site for Neotropical migratory birds along their Caribbean migratory flyway, for over 90 species of migratory birds.
The new protected area, encompassing more than 19,600 hectares of forests, harbours more than 30 species of amphibians of limited distribution, including 7 species of endemic frogs and salamanders. Sierra Caral also provides habitats for rare and endangered species of mammals, such as jaguars (Panthera onca), mountain lions (Puma concolor), margays(Leopardus tigrinus), Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundis (Puma yagouaroundi), anteaters (Tamandua tetradactyla ), and many others.
Sierra Caral also provides important environmental services to local populations, including potable water for 22 communities, the protection of critical watersheds for hydroelectric energy, sustainable timber production, landscapes for ecotourism and globally important carbon sinks.
Unfortunately, Sierra Caral is also one of the most threatened forests in Caribbean Guatemala. Rising encroachment and deforestation for subsistence agriculture, illegal cross-border logging activities and expanding cattle ranching (often linked to illegal activities) are rapidly fragmenting a once continuous forest across the Merendón Mountain Ridge.
So while the declaration as a National Protected Area represents a significant achievement for FUNDAECO and its supporters, local and international, it is clear much remains to be done to consolidate this victory. The SOS funded project which in part focuses on public engagement and the development of eco-tourism opportunities helps communities find ways to coexist with their natural heritage in sustainable ways and we look forward to sharing more news from Sierra Caral soon.