The Cuchumatanes mountain range of Guatemala is a last frontier for conservation—vast swathes of forest in the remote northwest of the country harbor unique and rare amphibians, birds and reptiles. Here, at La Finca San Isidro, Global Wildlife Conservation has worked with FUNDAECO, World Land Trust, Rainforest Trust, the International Conservation Fund of Canada and the Amphibian Survival Alliance to support the protection of the most amphibian diverse region in Guatemala, with the highest number of species that live here and nowhere else, through the establishment of the Yal Unin Yul Witz Natural Reserve in 2015. This marks the first protected area in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
In the local language Q’anjob’al, salamanders are referred to as “sleeping child.” It makes sense, then, that “Yal Unin Yul Witz” means “sleeping child behind mountains.” This consortium of international groups is working to protect some of the last remaining habitat of the Finca Chiblac Salamander (Bradytriton silus) and the Long-limbed Salamander (Nyctanolis pernix). The natural reserve is also home to the recently discovered Cuchumatan Golden Toad (Incilius aurarius) and the beautiful Black-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis moreletii). Ten of the 20 amphibian species that live in or near Finca San Isidro are classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
One of the three properties acquired for the reserve has been named the Sabin Family Salamander Sanctuary in honor of businessman Andrew Sabin’s contributions to amphibian conservation in Guatemala and around the world. Thanks to additional support from Paul Elias, Marie Lossky, Focus on Nature and the Quick Response Biodiversity Fund, which is a 1% For the Planet and Weeden Foundation fund for high-priority habitat acquisitions for the purpose of protecting biodiversity.
(Top photo by Robin Moore)
The remoteness of the Cuchumatanes mountain range has protected much of the forest to date, but increasing pressures from the coffee industry has put these forests at risk. Local and international scientists and conservationists have identified the area as one of the highest priorities for conservation action. The establishment of the reserve was a tremendous success for FUNDAECO and partners, helping to bolster the conservation efforts in this region of the world, but protecting the land is only part of the overall goal. Project partners aim to:
- Continue to carry out more extensive biodiversity surveys for birds, amphibians and reptiles.
- Implement a comprehensive management plan.
- Work with community members, leaders and private land owners to ensure their support and participation in the implementation of sustainable strategies for habitat protection and sustainable development.
- Expand the conservation efforts to the adjacent flooded high mountain area, a magnificent and rare open area that is paradise for amphibians, as well as resident and migratory birds.
- Expand the area of the reserve to the highest elevation in the adjacent Mountain El Quetzal, to protect the Yulwitz River basin that runs through the reserve.
- Evaluate the potential establishment of an agroforestry demonstration plot that combines conservation and productivity and looks for the implementation of the best ecological practices as a technical example to be replicated in the region.
In 2014, GWC Conservation Officer Robin Moore traveled with Carlos Vasquez, coordinator of the amphibian conservation program at FUNDAECO, and the two men, Jeremy Jackson and Paul Elias, who had discovered the Finca Chiblac and Long-limbed Salamanders in the 1970s. Robin captures that trip–and the exciting re-discovery of those salamanders–in this vivid blog post.
Long-limbed Salamander, Finca Chiblac Salamander, Jackson’s Climbing Salamander, Cuchumatan Golden Toad, Black-eyed Leaf Frog