mesoamerica

A jewel of biodiversity

Mesoamerica—which stretches from Mexico to Colombia—covers only 0.5% of the planet, but it accounts for 7% of its biodiversity.  

The world’s third-largest Biodiversity Hotspot, Mesoamerica, is home to mountain ranges, tumbling rivers, and forests of astonishing diversity. Its ecosystems are strongholds for threatened and Endangered species including Jaguars, Baird’s Tapirs, Spider Monkeys, Central American River Turtles and Great Green Macaws. Many of the billions of North American migratory birds fly through Mesoamerica or stop for the winter.

It is also a bastion for Indigenous peoples, such as the Miskitu, Rama, and Emberá. Indigenous peoples are the guardians of Mesoamerica’s forests; keeping forests healthy and protecting their wildlife. 

Protected Area Management Planning Workshops in Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, Nicagragua. (Mike Appleton/Global Wildlife Conservation)

Ensuring the wildlife and wildlands of Mesoamerica thrive along with its people is critical to global efforts to mitigate climate change, stabilize local ecosystems, and protect cultures and languages that are a unique part of our human heritage.

Re:wild works with local and indigenous communities, local NGOs, rangers, governments, as well as impassioned and committed individuals across the region to protect and restore its biodiversity.

The projects we support vary from protecting specific species, to rewilding the largest intact forests, to conducting surveys, to ensuring the wellbeing of forest rangers. Our flexibility allows us to respectfully and effectively engage the right partners at the right scale needed to mitigate the unique set of threats facing a species, ecosystem, protected area, or Indigenous territory. We work toward ensuring a safe future for the cultural, linguistic, and biological diversity that makes Mesoamerica one of the most amazing places on Earth.

Cattle in an area that had been forest. (Photo courtesy of WCS)
Cattle in an area that had been forest. (Photo courtesy of WCS)

Across Mesoamerica, many Indigenous groups struggle with maintaining their rights to their ancestral lands and protecting them from encroaching development, largely driven by cattle ranching. We work with Indigenous communities and groups to support their efforts to secure their land and confront the biggest threats.

In Nicaragua’s Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, we worked with the Rama and Kriol communities to develop an autonomous system of management for the 80% of the reserve that falls within their ancestral lands. We helped establish an autonomous ranger force, helped implement patrols using the best technology in wildlife crime prevention, developed a system for financial administration, and created a comprehensive visual management plan.

Rewilding the Five Great Forests

We work closely with regional partners to implement large-scale programs to protect the five largest intact forests in Mesoamerica: the Maya Forest in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize; the Moskitia in Nicaragua and Honduras; the Indio Maíz-Tortuguero in Nicaragua and Costa Rica; the Talamanca Region in Costa Rica and Panama; and the Darien in Panama and Colombia.

In Honduras’s Moskitia region, we have worked with Wildlife Conservation Society and the Kaha Kamasa Foundation to create an unprecedented consortium of Indigenous, NGO and government partners to protect this irreplaceable landscape and its unique and threatened natural and cultural heritage.

The Moskitia forest, one of the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica. (Braden Gunem)
The Moskitia forest, one of the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica. (Braden Gunem)

Protecting Vulnerable Key Biodiversity Areas and Threatened Species

We work to find strategies to protect Key Biodiversity Areas and Endangered species across Mesoamerica. When appropriate, we work with partner organizations to purchase lands and convert them into protected areas. We also collaborate to design regional approaches to prevent wildlife crime and improve local management of these irreplaceable areas. Together, with these partners, we design and implement strategies to rewild forests and protect wildlife in them. The main areas where we work are: Sierra Caral, Cuchumatanes and the Maya Forest.  

The Cuchumatan Golden Toad, from the Cuchumatanes mountains of Guatemala, found during a search for lost salamanders. This species was only discovered as recently as 2012. (Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation)

Sierra Caral

In Guatemala, Re:wild led an international partnership of NGOs to enable a local group to purchase and protect 6,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Sierra Caral, home to a dozen threatened amphibians and the recently discovered Merendon Palm Pit Viper. Guatemala’s National Congress built on this unprecedented success to create the 47,000 acre Sierra Caral National Protected Area.

Cuchumatanes

In partnership with FUNDAECO, World Land Trust, Rainforest Trust, the International Conservation Fund of Canada, and the Amphibian Survival Alliance, Re:wild helped establish the Yal Unin Yul Witz Natural Reserve in the Cuchumatanes mountain range of Guatemala. This marked the first protected area in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is the first amphibian reserve in the Cuchumatanes Mountains, home to three salamanders rediscovered after being lost to science. Re:wild continues to work to expand this network of protected areas in Guatemala.

A Jackson's Climbing Salamander. The species is found in Guatemala's Cuchumatanes Mountains and in 2017 was the first on Re:wild's "top 25 most wanted" lost species to be rediscovered. (Photo courtesy of Carlos Vasquez Almazan)

Maya Forest Corridor

Re:wild and our partners have identified at least 50,000 acres of forest that need to be protected to keep the Maya Forest Corridor alive. The corridor is a tiny tract of forest that is the last connection between the Maya Mountains in Belize and Selva Maya in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. Of that total, 10,000 acres are protected by private landowners, non-governmental organizations and governments. The other 40,000 acres are privately owned, and Re:wild and our partners are working to acquire and permanently protect these wild places. They will be placed into trust and protected in perpetuity for the people of Belize.

A Jaguar, a species that depends on large tracts of forest, like the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica. (Photo courtesy of Jayro Bardales)

Responding to Climate Change 

After two devastating hurricanes hit Guatemala and Honduras just two weeks apart in November 2020, Re:wild, the Mesoamerican Alliance for People and Forests (AMPB) and Wildlife Conservation Society, created the Mesoamerica Climate Resilience and Response Fund. Central America is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to severe weather events caused by climate change. The region has been affected by increasingly severe droughts and fires during the dry season, and more frequent and stronger tropical storms during the wet season. The Mesoamerica Climate Resilience and Response Fund helps Indigenous communities and local communities recover and protect their forests from illegal land-grabs. 

Top photo: Mountains of the Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. (Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation)

Wild Facts

  • Mesoamerica makes up less than 1% of the land on Earth, but contains 7% of its biodiversity.

  • Central America is home to 80 different Indigenous peoples.

  • 90% of forest loss in Mesoamerica is caused by illegal cattle ranching.

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Solutions

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 Mesoamerica conservation work includes any combination of the following solutions:

Protected Area Creation

Identifying and prioritizing wildlands in need of increased protection status, including establishing new protected and conserved areas, Indigenous-managed territories, and private protected areas in these places.

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.

Partnering with Indigenous Peoples

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

protected area management

Improving the way protected and conserved areas are managed—involving communities, Indigenous peoples, sociology, economics, business management, and wildlife crime prevention—to ensure a safer future for biodiversity and local communities.

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.

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.

Exploration

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

Collaborating on increasing the availability of conservation resources and grantmaking to support partners and guardians across the world in implementing the most transformative nature-based solutions.

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