Belize has one of the healthiest populations of jaguars. They are found in lowland forests and along the coast. The jaguar, considered the largest and most powerful cat in the Western Hemisphere, needs about one hundred and fifty square miles to roam. They rely on connectivity across large areas for survival but habitat destruction and human development are increasing threats. Chairwoman of the Maya Forest Corridor Trust, Doctor Elma Kay explained why it is important to stop deforestation in this area.
Dr. Elma Kay, Chairwoman, Maya Forest Corridor Trust: “It is a very critical moment as a country in terms of, in terms of what we call connectivity, right? The ultimate reason, you want your populations of wide ranging mammals, the animals that need space, that move across big spaces, the reason you need that connectivity is for resilience. A connected population is able to interbreed, is able to exchange genetic material. Diversity in genetic material is what makes an individual organism strong and resilient to things like diseases, impacts of climate change, you know extinction, that kind of thing and so that is the important piece with connectivity and so we have had some excellent wins in terms of staving off deforestation. So the Belize Maya Forests, right, that was purchased by TMC and partners and is now being managed by my organisation, The Belize Maya Forest Trust, that’s a huge win because we basically saved the last remaining forest in the country.”
Doctor Kay says one critical area is the Maya Forest Corridor, which connects the country’s two largest wilderness areas. More than sixty-five percent of the corridor has been cleared in the last decade, threatening the survival of the jaguars.
Dr. Elma Kay, Chairwoman, Maya Forest Corridor Trust: “We have many challenges but in terms of the major challenges, the ones that, the one that remains is the Maya Forest Corridor because we do not have the luxury of choosing a different corridor. So, you know, a lot of people think that maybe conservationists are just going out there and trying to buy any land that is available but that is very far from the reality. This is, the reason for wanting to protect certain areas is because of the strategic location and in terms of connecting our two forest blocks and having populations of animals that are fully connected and resilient. The Maya Forest Corridor remains the last challenge because you are down to basically a few miles of highway where a crossing is still possible. A couple of years ago there was a large clearing that happened before you get to the Franks Eddie junction around mile 35. That used to be the best corridor based on knowledge of jaguar crossings and research that had been done before. Unfortunately that is now all been converted to sugar cane so there is no ability anymore for those animals to move though that landscape easily. So we are basically at a bottleneck in the Maya Forest Corridor which comprises the entire area by the zoo and so that is our biggest challenge.”