Who says humans and nature can’t peacefully coexist?
One of the biggest questions we face in Belize and the Central American region is how to continue developing and raising the standard of living for people while at the same time protecting our precious natural environment.
It’s tricky, but, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way, and one of the ways recently put in place was the establishment of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). Established in 1998, the MBC is a huge protected habitat corridor that stretches from Mexico all the way through Central America. Originally started as a way to keep some 106 endangered species from going extinct, it has grown in size and purpose over the years, with many groups and individuals joining in.
It’s now one of the most important conservation projects on the planet, protecting a number of eco systems and species from human interference and establishing corridors for wildlife to move through, thus ensuring their survival and genetic health.
Think about it – by allowing wildlife to move around and breed as they did before we started chopping up their habitats and migration paths with farms, fences, roads and towns, we help ensure their continued evolution and survival.
The Central Belize Corridor links the Rio Bravo, Gallon Jug and Yalbac areas with the Maya Mountains in the South, and is part of the bigger link through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and thus the entire Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
Here at Chaa Creek, where harmonising the relationship between people and nature through education has always been one of our goals, we were happy to hear that a special task force met May 9th 2013 at the Belize Zoo to develop a Conservation Action Plan, or CAP, for the Central Belize Corridor, which is part the overall MBC.
The task force is composed of a number of people with different skills and perspectives representing a range of stakeholders from government and private sectors.
Take, as one example, efforts to preserve the numbers and health of Belize’s beautiful big cats, or tigres, in local parlance.
One contributor to the CAP is Doctor Rebecca Foster, Director of the Jaguar Program for Panthera in Belize, who is concerned that, “Fragmented populations in species lead to fertility issues and a general reduction of resistance to diseases along with other problems.” She also said that, “If a small population is very isolated and gets wiped out by natural disaster like a hurricane, a fire or flood or by disease then animals can’t get to repopulate the area so that area is effectively dead now, there are no animals there and no way to re-colonize it…”
Her concern was echoed by Caldia Buth, a Ph. D student from Virginia Tech in the U.S, who is looking at the genetic flow of cat species in Belize and who believes that species from the northern forests of Belize need to continue interbreeding with their southern cousins to stay healthy.
And in addition we have Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, representing the Government of Belize, who in July 2010 contributed to corridor connectivity by declaring the Laboring Creek Jaguar Corridor a Wildlife Sanctuary.
“My Ministry subscribes to ensuring that we have preventative samples of our ecosystem within our protected area system and there is genetic flow of both flora and fauna within… the system we have established,” Minister Alamilla said at the launch.
This is just one example, and on one issue, of the range of individuals and organisations from various sectors working together on the CAP to achieve something important.
And it’s a matter of urgency.
“…All the data that has been collected for Belize recently in terms of forest cover and how fast we are losing forest cover indicates that probably within a decade we are to lose this corridor,” Doctor Elma Kay, the Terrestrial Science Director from the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Belize said.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that something is being done to prevent it.
Doctor Wendel Parham, Chief Executive Officer within the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development praised the activities of the task force and the efforts to bring large land owners, agriculturalists, conservation groups and others together.
“This to me is a great step of trying to bring together a multi-stakeholder group to look at focusing on this corridor so that we can bring some balance to what is happening and to maintain the all-important corridor”, he said.
The CAP team said they hope to have five to eight consultations within the coming months and conduct presentations within various communities to encourage them to select representatives to be part of the national consultations and help in developing strategies and setting targets.
And this is not just a local initiative. The German Corporation Agency GIZ, or the Deutshe Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbelt was instrumental in getting the Conservation Action Plan for the Central Biological Corridor off the ground, joining our friends at the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre, the University of Belize, Belize’s Forest department and others.
Here at Chaa Creek and within our Belize Natural History Centre we’re encouraged by these efforts and will continue reporting on the development of the CAP and indeed the entire Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. We’ve always believed that intelligent, sane development is possible – if we all put our minds to it.
At our own Natural History Centre we have seen time and time again what happens when people learn about Belize’s amazingly diverse and varied ecosystems and our rich Maya heritage – they come to appreciate both the beauty and the fragility of what we have been blessed with, and this leads to an urge to protect it.
Throughout history humankind has made some grievous errors in regards to the environment, but as we see, there have also been tremendous efforts to rectify these mistakes and even go further in preserving the environment. Let’s keep working toward the latter.
If you have any comments about this article or wish to contribute information or ideas, we welcome your input. Feel free to email Mark at [email protected]. While we can’t answer every letter, rest assured that they are all read and appreciated.