Waterfall at Las Escobas, Cerro San Gil, Guatemala. Photo © Robin Moore

Guatemala’s National Congress created the Sierra Caral National Protected Area on May 13, making it the nation’s first federally protected area to be established in seven years. The core of the new 47,000-acre protected area is the Sierra Caral Amphibian Conservation Reserve, which local conservation partner FUNDAECO created with the support of Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and Rainforest Trust (RT) in 2012.

Guatemala brook frog, Duellmanohyla soralia, from the Sierra Caral of Guatemala. © Robin Moore

Guatemala brook frog, Duellmanohyla soralia, from the Sierra Caral of Guatemala. © Robin Moore

“This area will fill an important conservation gap in the Guatemalan system of protected areas, and will ensure the conservation of many endemic and endangered amphibians in this globally recognized AZE (Alliance for Zero Extinction) site,” said Marco Cerezo, CEO of FUNDAECO.

“The Sierra Caral National Protected Area was created with the overwhelming support of Guatemala’s National Congress, with eighty-four percent of Congress voting in favor. The new protected area, which is nearly eight times the size of the original reserve, will provide additional legal protection and long-term sustainability for the reserve,” commented Dr. Don Church, GWC’s President and Director of Conservation.

The Sierra Caral is home to unique and threatened plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet, and its forests are an important part of the Mesoamerican corridor that allows jaguars and other animals to migrate between the American continents. Furthermore, these mountains hold the headwaters to rivers that local communities depend on and the forests prevent protection against landslides that pose a great risk to people in the region. The protection of the Sierra Caral by the Government of Guatemala heralds a bright future for the people and wildlife of this region.

“This accomplishment highlights the fact that our work doesn’t end with land purchase, rather it is the beginning of a process to ensure the land is permanently protected” noted Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “Our Guatemalan partner FUNDAECO has achieved an outstanding success that will securely protect one of our planet’s most biodiverse areas.”

The Sierra Caral, an isolated mountain range near Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, is not only home to many endemic species, but is also a natural corridor and meeting place for many North and South American species.

The protected area provides habitat for a dozen globally threatened amphibians – five found nowhere else in the world – and three species of threatened birds. Scientific explorations in the Sierra Caral have resulted in discoveries of new beetle, salamander, frog, and snake species.

Merendon palm-pitviper, Bothriechis thalassinus, from Sierra Caral, Guatemala © Robin Moore

Merendon palm-pitviper, Bothriechis thalassinus, from Sierra Caral, Guatemala © Robin Moore

Over the last 20 years, however, rampant clear-cutting has led to the loss of critical wildlife habitat in the Sierra Caral and reduced populations of local species. The protected area, which contains the last stands of primary forest found in the Sierra Caral, will protect some of the best remaining habitat in eastern Guatemala for jaguars, pumas, and other threatened species.

In a letter to FUNDAECO’s partners, Cerezo wrote, “I sincerely thank you for all the support that you have given us over the past few years, in order to achieve this exciting conservation outcome for Guatemala, Central America, and the whole planet!”

A consortium of more than twenty international conservation groups, led by GWC, partnered with FUNDAECO to raise the funds needed to purchase the original amphibian reserve. Critical support also came from the Amphibian Survival Alliance, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, Rainforest Trust, International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), American Bird Conservancy, and Conservation International, among others.

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