With the highest concentration of jaguars in the world and an incredibly rich tropical biodiversity, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize is an invaluable area not only for its scientific potential, but also due to the economic advantages of eco-tourism. Unfortunately, the installment of the wildlife sanctuary 25 years ago also meant that the inhabitants of Maya Center—a small Mopan Mayan village with a population of some 300 people located in the Stann Creek District in southern Belize—was subsequently prohibited from entering an area historically sacred to their culture. Does this mean that the new economic and scientific “necessities” prevail over the livelihoods and traditions of populations already living in the area?
In the early 1980’s, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the International Division of the New York Zoological Society began studying jaguar populations in the Cockscomb Basin after citrus farmers and hunting magazines reported sightings of jaguars in the area. Soon after the initial reports, scientific inquiries into the population of jaguars within the area resulted in the highest concentration ever recorded with estimates as high as 11 animals per 100 km². With eastern Belize dominated largely by a few wealthy citrus farmers, the establishment of a reserve was seen as a vital step to impeding and preserving the land from the increasing deforestation spawned by the citrus industry. More commonly known today as the Jaguar Reserve, the original 3,600 acres set aside in 1987 has expanded to encompass over 128,000 acres. Read More »