five great forests of mesoamerica

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The last five

The last five great forests of Mesoamerica span from Mexico to Colombia and are hotspots for biodiversity and irreplaceable wildlife. These forests contain more than 50% of the region’s carbon stock, making it vital to all wildlife. Jaguars patrol the dense and humid forests. Scarlet and Great Green Macaws fly through the canopies, adding brilliant splashes of color among the green trees. Central American River Turtles live in the rivers and wetlands of the largest remaining of the Five Forests.

The Five Great Forests, which together expand over an area three times the size of Switzerland, contain Key Biodiversity Areas, meaning they are critical to the overall health of the planet and the persistence of biodiversity on Earth. Indigenous peoples and local communities govern more than half of the total area encompassed by the Five Great Forests. They have lived and worked in these forests sustainably for centuries and they have been the true guardians of the Five Great Forests for all of that time. 

Protected Area management planning for Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, Nicaragua. (Photo by: Carrie Stengel/Re:wild)

The Five Great Forests Alliance—which brings together Indigenous leaders, the eight countries of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development and NGOS— is rewilding, restoring and improving the protection of the Maya Forest, Moskitia Forest, Indio Maíz-Tortuguero Forest, Talamanca Forest and Darien Forest. 

The Five Great Forests Alliance is implementing a holistic plan to ensure that within the forests: 

  • no wildlife species go extinct,

  • 10 million hectares of forest are permanently protected

  • 500,000 hectares of forest are rewilded by 2030

  • the livelihoods of Indigenous and local communities are improved

  • all cattle ranching is stopped

The forests provide clean water, clean air, food security and vital natural resources for more than 5 million people in Mesoamerica. But they are being destroyed. Illegal land-grabs that cut and clear forest to grow food for cattle have decimated huge tracts of forests. Since 2004, three of the five great forests have shrunk almost a quarter in size. Ninety percent of that destruction was caused by cattle ranching that sometimes feeds into U.S. markets.

Cattle ranging in an area that was previously intact forest in Mesoamerica. (Photo courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society)
Cattle ranging in an area that was previously intact forest in Mesoamerica. (Photo courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society)

Forests around the world, like the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica, represent 30% of the climate solution by storing and absorbing carbon. Protecting and restoring these forests are nature-based solutions that will help address the human-caused climate and extinction crises. Despite their key role in the climate solution, the Five Great Forests are being ravaged by climate change. Mesoamerica is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to severe weather events caused by climate change. The region is suffering from increasingly severe droughts and fires during the dry season and more frequent and stronger tropical storms during the wet season. As the storms weaken and damage the Five Great Forests, Indigenous and local communities are often left exposed and vulnerable to these extreme weather events.

Jaguar camera trap image from Honduras's Ciudad Blanca in the Moskitia region. Jaguars are a keystone species that stabilize and maintain ecosystem balance by regulating populations of their prey. (Photo courtesy of Conservation International)

Record-breaking hurricane seasons are becoming normal instead of anomalies. From 2000 to 2020, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean were hit by 17 hurricanes annually. The Moskitia Forest, which sits on the border of Nicaragua and Honduras, was hit by two devastating hurricanes within the span of two weeks in 2020. The massive flooding from the back-to-back hurricanes made Moskitia Forest more vulnerable to illegal land-grabs for cattle ranching and logging. The Mesoamerican Alliance for People and Forests (AMPB), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Re:wild, all partners in the Five Great Forests Alliance, formed the Mesoamerica Climate Resilience and Response Fund. They rushed help to Indigneous and local communities to help them recover and rebuild their communities and continue to serve as guardians of Mesoamerica’s Five Great Forests. 

Protecting these forests benefits both wildlife and people and protects irreplaceable carbon that is critical to our efforts to mitigate climate change.

Wild Facts

  • Mesoamerica is home to more than 7.5% of the planet’s biodiversity.

  • The Five Great Forests sequester more than 50% of Mesoamerica’s carbon.

  • Combined, the Five Great Forests are three times larger than Switzerland.

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There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the interrelated crises of wildlife extinctions, climate change and pandemics. Re:wild works with local and Indigenous communities, conservation partners, governments and others to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Our Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica conservation approaches include any combination of the following solutions:

protected area management

We work to improve management of protected and conserved areas to ensure a safe and equitable future for biodiversity and local communities.

Ecosystem Restoration

Supporting extensive native habitat restoration, such as reforestation, that assists in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, but that can rebound and rewild with a little help.

Wildlife crime prevention

Developing community-led and owned prevention strategies that take into account the societal and cultural drivers of wildlife crime, and implementing systems and technology to stop poachers before a crime is even committed.

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Partnering with Indigenous Peoples

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge, practices and values to support Indigenous peoples in protecting and managing their lands and natural resources.

Cultivating Conservation Leaders

Partnering with the next generation, passionate leaders, communities and organizations all over the world to ensure they have the enabling conditions, resources and expertise they need to most effectively protect and manage wildlife and wildlands.

Advocating for Earth

Building a team of engaged global citizens by inspiring changes in daily habits and promoting individual and collective actions that drive real and lasting change. We harness our platforms and reach to generate international attention around imminent threats to wildlife and wildlands and the communities who rely on them, usually from extractive industries, to positively influence decision-makers and other stakeholders.


Exploring some of the most remote corners of our planet to discover how and where we can have the biggest impact on imperiled species and places.

action funds

Re:wild’s funds are designed to address gaps in financing, kickstart careers, and leverage impact — to provide resources of all sizes to where they are most needed. As host to over 15 different funds, our goal is to enable the conservation community to protect and restore the wild in the most powerful ways possible.

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By Lindsay Renick Mayer on December 12, 2019

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