Critical Protection for Mesoamerican Wildlife

Project Cost: $236,500

Funding Raised: $236,500

$1.66 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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2X The Impact

In a Central American region known for high biodiversity, Guatemala’s wild ecosystems stand apart for their exceptional biological importance.

Thanks to generous support from our donors, we have successfully reached our fundraising goal for this project.

With 13% of its species found nowhere else, the Tennessee-sized nation leads Central America in species endemism. A major source of Guatemala’s impressive biodiversity is its Caribbean region. Although accounting for only a fraction of the nation’s surface area, these lush mountains and coastal plains contain nearly half of Guatemala’s total species.

As threats mount, however, the ecological integrity of this coastal region and the future of its many endemic and threatened species are in jeopardy. Rainforest Trust is working with Guatemala conservation partner FUNDAECO to create a protected area for the Sierra Santa Cruz range, which will provide core habitat for Jaguars, Baird’s Tapir and other endangered wildlife species quickly running out of time and space.

This project is part of Rainforest Trust’s Million Acre Jaguar Initiative.

Fast Facts

Livingston Municipality, Department of Izabal, Guatemala

Key Species
Jaguar (NT), Baird’s Tapir (EN), Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey (EN), and two Critically Endangered and endemic frog species: Craugastor trachydermus and Ptychohyla santaecrucis

Lowland to montane tropical rainforests

Expansion of cattle ranching, oil palm plantations, and mining exploration

Establish legal protection for 142,646 acres in the Sierra Santa Cruz Mountain Range

Local Partner
FUNDAECO (Foundation for EcoDevelopment and Conservation)

Financial Need

Price Per Acre


Although covering less than .05% of the world’s land surface area, Central America possesses 200 distinct ecosystems that together hold 7-10% of all known species. Among Central America’s most important biodiversity hotspots are Guatemala’s Caribbean rainforests. The region contains 56% of Guatemala’s amphibians, 48% of its reptiles, and 67% of its bird species.

The forests of the Sierra Santa Cruz harbor a unique assemblage of biodiversity. Along with Ocelots, Jaguarundis, Pumas and Northern Tamanduas, threatened species such as Baird’s Tapir and the Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey depend on the area for their survival. Rainforests in the Sierra Santa Cruz also act as a critical sanctuary for the Jaguar – the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere – by providing it with core habitat. Initial bird studies in the Sierra Santa Cruz have resulted in the confirmation of 178 bird species, including threatened species such as the Great Currasow and Orange-breasted Falcon. The mountain range also plays an important role as a migratory flyway for over 120 bird species and provides 46 species of Neotropical migrants with wintering habitat. The Sierra Santa Cruz is recognized as an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site, due to the presence of two Critically Endangered endemic frogs (Craugastor trachydermus and Ptychohyla santaecrucis).


Despite the wealth of biodiversity, half of Central America’s natural habitat has been transformed into agriculture and urban areas. Guatemala is no exception; between 2005 and 2010 the nation held the world’s highest deforestation rate and led Central America in forest conversion. In the 1990s and 2000s, Guatemala lost 2,700,000 acres of forest, accounting for nearly a quarter of the nation’s total forest cover.

Forest loss has been driven primarily by the encroachment of subsistence agriculture, the expansion of ranch lands, and growing oil palm plantations. In addition, mining exploration licenses have been extended throughout the country, raising the threat of forest destruction in areas that remain unprotected. In the last 25 years, Guatemala’s Caribbean region has lost 360,000 acres of rainforest, nearly 40% of its forest.


Inhabitants around the proposed reserve are primarily Kekchi Maya, one of Guatemala’s largest indigenous groups. After centuries of migrations, land displacements, and persecutions they are now among the most widespread Mayan groups in Central America.

FUNDAECO is working with three local community associations to build support for the Sierra Santa Cruz protected area. Indigenous and community associations will be fully integrated in the future management of the reserve, through managing agreements and participation on the reserve’s governing council. FUNDAECO has a history of success working with Mayan communities to protect threatened landscapes. Over the past fifteen years, the nonprofit has carried out a region wide conservation effort, successfully designing, promoting, and lobbying for the legal declaration of six new protected areas in Guatemala‘s Caribbean region.


The legal declaration of the Sierra Santa Cruz Protected Area will safeguard the habitat of many rare and endemic species and preserve the largest unprotected rainforest in Guatemala’s Caribbean region. It will also serve as an important component in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and complete a regional system of protected areas along Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. By doing so, the new protected area will improve connectivity between protected areas and help larger mammals, such as Jaguars, to survive.

Once legal declaration occurs, Guatemala’s National Park Service (CONAP) will hire and assign park guards to protect and monitor the new reserve. As a means of providing CONAP with additional support, FUNDAECO plans to become an official co-manager of the protected area. This will allow the organization’s experienced staff to share management responsibilities and supervise the work of the national park guards. In addition to ensuring that key initial protection and management activities are successful, FUNDAECO will bolster the reserve’s long-term sustainability through a series of multi-year conservation actions. FUNDAECO’s comprehensive plan includes biological surveys of the proposed reserve; participatory training in sustainable development for local leaders; and outreach events, including environmental education and agro-forestry classes, for all community members. The 142,646-acre reserve will be composed of three core zones that include: strict protection areas with no access, limited access areas that only allow for sustainable use, and, finally, multiple use areas.