The Mirador basin is one of the most biodiverse sanctuaries for wildlife in the Western Hemisphere.
Despite its significant attributes, the future of Mirador-Rio Azul is not secure. There has been and continues to be significant deforestation, fires and uncontrollable pillage of archaeological artifacts. The dangers to Mirador-Rio Azul are even more severe due to the effects of poverty and drug traffic money laundering, with the purchasing of large ranches for raising cattle. Drug trafficking money is fueling a massive ranching industry, which has virtually destroyed the Maya Biosphere within the past five years in northern Guatemala. According to a study by the Guatemalan Foundation for the Environment (FOGUAMA) the territory has lost 64 % of its forest in the last 10 years. It is imperative that FARES continue its work on activities that will establish legal means of income as an alternative to these illegal means.
Mirador’s ancient Maya cities and natural environment together form a sustainable, road-less Archaeological and Wildlife Preserve, and a solid foundation for the economic future of its local communities. If well managed, Mirador’s ancient cities and natural environment have the potential to provide the local inhabitants a sustainable and healthy alternative to the current destructive practices of burning, logging, looting and poaching. FARES, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) in partnership with our local partner, FUNDESA, is working on education and training initiatives, and responsible development of the Mirador Archaeological and Wildlife Preserve.
One of the more positive achievements is the agreement between the United States and Guatemala for technical assistance necessary to preserve and develop the Mirador region. This document, signed by each country’s top representatives, provides a partnership for the execution of tasks and expertise between the Department of Interior of the United States (DOI) and advisers from Guatemala’s Government.
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Regional vegetation Study
Engineer Cesar Castaneda, dean of Tropical Botany at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala is working on an exhaustive flora investigation. He is analyzing the five types of forest located in the Mirador Basin, identifying macro and micro flora and working with the sequence of ecological succession. These studies require numerous trips in varying seasons to collect flowers, fruit and leaves. Students from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala help to identify the macro and micro forest.
Biologist Dr. Jack Schuster, director of Entomology at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala is inventorying the entire population of insects surrounding Mirador. This three-year study will broaden its scope to other areas of the regional ecology. Three new species of moth, unique only to the Mirador Basin were recently discovered.
Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab (CLO) conducted the first of many studies recording 184 species in the Mirador Basin, with 156 species noted and El Mirador and 158 recorded at Tintal. Of the 184 species, 135 were recorded at both sites, while 21 were noted only at El Mirador and 23 only at Tintal.
It is estimated that 325 species will be observed at different times of the year. However, two bird species were discovered which had not been documented previously in Guatemala, the Caribbean Dove and Hooded Oriole, suggesting the biological importance of the Basin as a major reservoir of bird species in Guatemala and Mexico. As well, a pair of Orange Breasted Falcons was seen on the south-west edge of the karstic ridge that surrounds the Basin. The work was conducted by renowned ornithologists Gregory F. Budney, Marshall J. Iliff, Dr. Eduardo E. Inigo-Elias, Dr. Thomas S. Schulenberg, and Christopher L. Wood, who were assisted by Josephine Thompson and Enrique Hernandez of FARES.
Zoologist Hugo Enroque Ortiz from the Museum of Natural History of the Universidad de San Carlos has begun a large scale investigation of skeletal faunal remains found during archaeological excavations. The work by Ortiz has identified the species recovered from El Mirador, Nakbe, Tintal, La Florida, and Wakna, and will provide new insights into diet and animal health and husbandry during the Preclassic and Classic periods. A total of 111 animal individuals were representing 17 species of vertebrates with 14 species of mammals, 3 species of reptiles, and 14 taxonomic families. The study also provided new insights into the ancient environment.
Studies conducted by the wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the vicinity of La Gloria and Carmelita, with funding provided by Jeff and Valerie Morgan, have found some astonishing data relevant to the jaguar populations in the Mirador Basin. Using infrared, motion detection camera trap images, the density fo the jaguar population was determined; WCS reports that in the La Gloria Concession / Lechugal (southern part of the Mirador Basin) a critically low density of jaguars was revealed with a a concentration of 1.5+/-.85 jaguars per 100km2. The low numbers of cats in this area is most likely due to presence if a logging road and the incursion of loggers, as well as hunters and poachers. It appears that human intrusion reduces the numbers of cats as well as their prey. The low density of jaguars in the La Gloria concessions correlates to a marked decrease in fauna, particularly peccary, deer, agouti, monkeys, as noted by the Mirador Basin Project crew in the La Gloria concession in recent years.
Contrary to the La Gloria concessions findings, work done with the same methodology and camera traps in the Carmelita concession area revealed a jaguar concentration of 11.28 +/- 3.51 jaguars per 100kkm2, making it the highest concentration of jaguars in the world, exceeding that of the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve in Belize 8.80 +/- 2.25 per km2). According to the WCS this suggests that the logging concessions” has not permitted the conservation of an extraordinary population of jaguars” However, one of the possibilities for the improved numbers of jaguars is the fact that the are has remained road less until only recently (7) when the concession first began putting logging and hunting roads in the area. It is believed that the relative isolation of this region is one of the factors for the success of the jaguar population in the Mirador area. It si also possible that the concentration of jaguars has been the result of the rampant deforestation to the west of the Mirador basin, which has forced the large cats to evacuate the areas of the onslaught of wholesale slash and burn clearing and depredation. The northern part of the Mirador Basin has an abundance of peccaries, oscillated turkeys, and white tailed deer, which may be able to accommodate the high jaguar populations found within the area. FARES and the Morgan Family Foundation are working to conduct new studies on jaguars in collaboration with University of Colorado and WCS.