Connecting Landscapes across the Belize Corridor Print E-mail
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Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00

(L-R) Doctor Rebecca Foster and Minister Lisel Alamilla. Doctor Foster is the Director of the Jaguar Program for Panthera in BelizeA Task Force to look at developing the Conservation Action Plan (CAP) for the Central Belize Corridor was launched at the “The Best Little Zoo in the World,” The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, at mile 29 on the George Price Highway on May 9th, 2012.

A biological corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities such as roads and agricultural activity. This allows an exchange of individuals between populations, which may help prevent some negative biological effects.

According to Doctor Rebecca Foster, the Director of the Jaguar Program for Panthera in Belize and who is now contributing to the CAP, some of these negative effects include the lack of genetic variability among species. Fragmented populations in species lead to fertility issues and a general reduction of resistance to diseases along with other problems.

“But beyond that, other problems can happen from wildlife populations being isolated, for example if a small population is very isolated and gets wiped out by natural disaster like a hurricane, a fire or flood or by disease then animals can’t get to repopulate the area so that area is effectively dead now, there are no animals there and no way to re-colonize it…”

The Central Belize Corridor is now an area that represents the largest gap in our terrestrial protected areas system since it links two large forest blocks the Rio Bravo, Gallon Jug and Yalbac Area with the Maya Mountains in the South. Experts now believe that the Central Biological Corridor represents one of the last viable connections linking the entire Selva Maya Forest of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala and thus the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

Being derived from the Central Biological Corridor is a range of benefits to all flora and fauna and the human species. This corridor is the home and means of sustenance for game animals, the tapir, jaguar and the puma. It is also the source of sustenance for residents from some sixteen villages living in and around the corridor that uses the forest to hunt and obtain firewood. Intermixed with all of this is the sense of awe that visiting tourists gain from the rich wildlife and natural beauty within the Central Biological Corridor. But most essentially, the forest along the Belize River keeps the water therein clean, providing ample water for the entire Belize River Valley and Belize City.

All of this could be at risk if current trends continue in the Central Biological Corridor.

“…All the data that has been collected for Belize recently in terms of forest cover and how fast we are losing forest cover indicates that probably within a decade we are to lose this corridor,” states Doctor Elma Kay, who is the Terrestrial Science Director from the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Belize.

The ERI has for the last three years been conducting scientific studies in the Central Biological Corridor on the movement of animals and size of their populations. More studies will be done by the (ERI) on the levels of extraction and what are sustainable levels within regions that also now serve as an agricultural belt. Caldia Buth, a Ph. D student from Virginia Tech in the U.S, has also done some work examining the genetic flow of all cat species within this area and other parts of Belize. All the data collected so far indicates that species from the Northern forest blocks of Belize need to continue interbreeding with the Southern ones.

It is for this and many other reasons that the Government of Belize took a step in July 2010 to recognize the importance of corridor connectivity by declaring the Laboring Creek Jaguar Corridor a Wildlife Sanctuary.

“My Ministry subscribes to ensuring that we have preventative samples of our ecosystem within our protected area system and there is genetic flow of both flora and fauna within and among the units of the system we have established,” stated Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, at the launching of CAP last week Thursday.

For this genetic flow to continue into the future, members of the CAP team will now be visiting various areas of the Central Biological Corridor in an attempt to get multi stakeholder support for the corridor. It is a process whose time has come and Doctor Wendel Parham, Chief Executive Officer within the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development did not hesitate to share his thoughts on the important cross-road.

“This to me is a great step of trying to bring together a multi-stakeholder group to look at focusing on this corridor so that we can bring some balance to what is happening and to maintain the all important corridor”, he says.

That means bringing large land owners, agriculturalists, conservation groups together for a common cause for which Parham tells The Guardian that “…there is a lot of interest to collaborate.”

Thus; the CAP Team hopes to have five to eight consultations within the Central Biological Corridor. In the coming months, the CAP Team intends to make a series of presentations within the various communities so that those communities can be involved in picking or nominating representatives who can then be part of the national consultations. These representatives, will then set the targets for the plan within the Corridor as well as the strategies to be able to conserve those targets.

Both international and national partnerships have now made a first step in an attempt to safeguard Belize’s multiple life forms for future generation to come. The launching of the Conservation Action Plan for the Central Biological Corridor would also not have been possible without the input from the Deutshe Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbelt or the German Corporation Agency GIZ ( working in cooperation with the University of Belize, the Forest Department and the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.