Bird Watch – Ours To Lose

The Chiquibul Forest Reserve – Ours to Lose

The Scarlet Macaw is an important indicator species for the biodiversity of rainforest. The current population is estimated to be about 200 birds, which is not a good number. The macaws in our country are genetically distinct and geographically separated from other populations in Guatemala and Mexico. Despite the destruction of habitat due to the hydroelectric dams that were installed in the macaw territory, they do continue to exist. Partly due to the efforts of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) the Scarlet Six Monitoring Team (Scarlet Six) the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic (BWRC) and many others, some new chicks are fledging safely. But, recently the monitoring team returned with news that two macaw nests were poached this season due to their distant locations.

The plight of the Scarlet Macaws should serve as a giant red flag to all Belizeans because it indicates our rainforest is in trouble. Indeed, the Chiquibul Forest is under siege by poachers taking hardwoods, Xate, Scarlet Macaws, wildlife, and anything else they can possibly take to sell. There are farmers planting milpa, people basically acting as if the forest belongs to them.

Recently, a team crossed the Maya Divide from the Cockscomb Basin into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. They were searching for Scarlet Macaws in order to discover more about their habitat, nesting areas and life patterns. On the Cockscomb side of the Divide, the hardy explorers found untouched pristine areas. One magical place had dozens of Violet Sabrewings; others had hundreds of Morphos, White, Brown and Blue. It was a treacherous and difficult climb to get to the top and excitement built as they anticipated entering the upper branches of the Raspaculo River, known macaw nesting areas. But excitement turned to dismay as they traveled toward the “Raspa.” Sign after sign of incursion: trash and campsites. The poachers have made the Chiquibul their home. Belize has already been invaded. A quick look at the border on Google Earth will show increased milpa clearing in our “protected areas.” Unfortunately, it is very difficult to monitor and control this invasion.

Groups like FCD and Scarlet Six have spent their time taking turns monitoring known nests. It seems that simply the presence of people is a deterrent for poaching. Volunteers are welcome to camp and help protect the Scarlet Macaws, which means they are helping to protect the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Start planning now to go next year, April through August, so you can help protect the Scarlet Macaw nests, just by being there.

FCD, together with the Forest Department, have been co-managing the Chiquibul National Park and documenting illegal activities since 2007. From the FCD website: “FCD’s goal has been an ongoing struggle to reclaim the integrity of the Chiquibul National Park. Yet, the threats including poaching of spectacular wildlife such as the Scarlet Macaws, Great Curassows, Brockett deer and peccaries are ongoing. Extraction of non-timber forest produce and primary hardwoods such as Belize’s national tree, the Mahogany is being illegally smuggled across Belize’s western border. Looting for Maya artifacts is extensive and incursions as a result of the agricultural expansion are dramatic. The loss is in the millions and the problem is rapidly impoverishing the ecological processes and the stability of the Maya forest. The Chiquibul National Park is part of the tri-national bioregion forming the largest remaining contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon. Saving this tropical broadleaf forest is not only crucial to the survival of wildlife species, but also vital to human populations from both Belize and Guatemala that depend on the environmental services and goods derived from this exuberant forest. You can be a part of this ongoing struggle by supporting our programs.”

Led by Rafael Manzanero, these guys have been fighting the good fight for years and for the most part they are making progress but they need our help. The ultimate goal is to gain World Heritage status for the Chiquibul Cave System and Nohoch Chen (Holec) and Puente Natural. The Government of Belize has assigned squads of Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers permanently along the Chiquibul border. Funding is needed for high tech drones, tracking devices and cameras. With these tools and with the help of the BDF along the border, the tide can be stemmed.

You can help by donating time or money, equipment or supplies. Roni Martinez of Scarlet Six says: “More Rangers are needed to cover the large area and further population management strategies for next season. Funding campaigns for future efforts will be announced soon. Scarlet Six and FCD are two separate entities working together for the mutual goal of maintaining a healthy and productive Chiquibul ecosystem. Both entities need your help. Also please consider a donation to the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic. Please think about how you can help save the Chiquibul and the Scarlet Macaw. Scarlet Macaw Protection Belize by Roni Martinez

Friends for Conservation and Development

Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic

We must not let the Chiquibul National Forest, the largest protected area in Belize, be destroyed or stolen. This is Our Jewel. It is ours to lose.