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Conserving the Maya Forest

February 26, 2009

The 13.3 million-acre Maya forest that spans Belize, the northern Petén in Guatemala, and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is the second largest rainforest in the western hemisphere. With over 400 species of birds it offers critical habitat for winter migrants and its diverse ecosystems provide protected havens for rare and endangered species.

In Belize the 260,000 acre Rio Bravo Conservation area, the 1.2 million acre Maya Mountain Massif and the ridge to reef Maya Mountain Marine Corridor play an important role in the overall integrity of the Maya Forest.

Five species of cats thrive here – the Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay, with jaguar density studies showing that Belize is one of the most important ‘hot spots’ for the jaguar in the whole of the Americas.

Throughout the region there is pressure to clear the jungle for agriculture, urban development, and large-scale hydro-electric schemes. The Nature Conservancy has created a coordinated tri-national plan to help protect the Maya Forest by working with governments, landowners, local NGOs and the scientific community. Many other NGOs, large and small, local and international are contributing towards the same goals. Landowners, communities, commercial enterprises and government departments all have an important role to play.

Deep in the jungles of Belize lie many Maya ruins. The jungle helps protect the ruins and in turn the land surrounding Maya sites is often still traditionally tended by small bands of Maya Forest gardeners. Dr. Anabel Ford of the University of California, Santa Barbara is working at El Pilar and the surrounding region where she is combining archaeological and ethnographic data on the Maya and the long history of their relationship with the forest.

Francis Ford Coppola Blancaneaux Resorts believes in playing an active role in protecting and conserving the region’s biodiversity and cultural heritage. We are thus helping to support a small number of conservation and research projects in our regions of operation. Through a range of learning experiences, workshops and guest activities Blancaneaux Resorts can help expose guests to a range of critical issues facing the Maya Forest and the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef System.

Guests staying at the resorts can enjoy a range of natural history activities second to none. Natural History treks from Blancaneaux Lodge through the borderlands of the 300-square mile Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and into the rainforest of the 13,600 acre Noj Kaax Meen Elijio Panti National Park provide superb wildlife and botany opportunities. This is the realm of the jaguar, tapir, howler monkey, brocket deer and puma. Raptors such as the Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon, Great-Black Hawk and King Vulture thrive and nest here. There are over 150 orchid species growing within a 10-mile radius of the lodge. At Turtle Inn between March and June the Whale Sharks come to Gladden Spit to feed off the mass spawning of snapper and grouper. During the months of May through October (with a peak in August and September) the endangered Hawksbill Turtle nests among the cabanas at Turtle Inn and behind the inn in Placencia Lagoon is one of Belize’s highest concentrations of the West Indian Manatee. Tikal is known to be one of Central America’s best birding sites and the wetlands habitat around La Lancha Resort adds to the biodiversity and birding opportunities.

Currently, Blancaneaux Lodge is focusing on supporting 2 main research projects and we work closely with 2 local NGOs:

• Dr. Marcella Kelly of the Department of Fisheries & Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Tech and her research work with     Jaguar Conservation & Management in Belize. Her research work contributes data to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Jaguar Conservation Program in the Neotropics. Dr. Kelly is a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. Some of the colour jaguar images are c/o Marcella and her project.

• The Belize Raptor Research Institute’s work with a focus on their new Solitary Eagle Program launched in 2008. Images of raptors used in this manual are c/o Ryan Phillips and BRRI.

• Support for San Jose Succotz based NGO Friends of Conservation and Development co-managers of the Chiquibul National Park, the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and the Chiquibul Cave System. . All B & W camera trap images used in this manual c/o FCD. FCD are also actively involved in protecting and conserving the vast heart of Belize – the Chiquibul-Maya Mountain Massif.

• Support for Placencia based SEA Belize, the NGO that with the Department of Fisheries co-manages the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve and Laughing Bird Caye National Park with the Belize Forestry Department.

We are also currently in a dialogue with Dr. Anabel Ford’s of the University of California, Santa Barbara exploring ways to help with her research work focused on exploring the Legacy of the Maya Forest primarily focusing on the Maya site and Peace Park of El Pilar in Cayo District. Anabel Ford is also President of the Maya Forest Alliance.

Learn more about the Maya Forest Alliance at

Read about, and watch video of the El Pilar archaeological project at the link below: