Aerial view of the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve of Nicaragua.

Indio Maíz Biological Reserve

In southern Nicaragua, a protected area of more than 2,000 square kilometers of lowland tropical forest and swamps provides critical habitat for rare and threatened creatures including Baird’s Tapirs, Jaguars, Great Green Macaws, and Wild Almond Trees. Called the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, it is one of the last bastions of biodiversity in Nicaragua, and one of the largest lowland tropical forests left in Central America.

The indigenous Rama and Afro-descendant Kriol people share a communal title to more than 80% of the reserve. They, alongside their conservation partners, are working to protect this incredibly beautiful, irreplaceable forest from threats of increasing illegal encroachment and destruction of the reserve by cattle ranchers and land-traffickers.

Partnering With Indigenous Communities to Conserve Indio Maíz

We are working to ensure the survival of the Indio Maíz Biosphere Reserve and two of its most emblematic species, Jaguars and Baird’s Tapirs. We take direct conservation action based on sound scientific research and proven methods.

Indio Maíz was severely damaged by Hurricane Otto in 2016. and ongoing illegal cattle ranching has contributed to devastating rates of forest loss since 2014. The environmental destruction has already increased the vulnerability and food insecurity of Indio Maíz’s indigenous communities.

The Rama community of Indian River and the Kriol communities of Greytown and Corn River have largely subsistence economies that depend upon small-scale mixed crop agriculture, hunting, and fishing. They care deeply about the integrity of Indio Maíz, and we are fighting alongside them to put an end to the increasing illegal encroachment and destruction of the reserve by cattle ranchers and land-traffickers.

We make strong, personal connections and develop mutually beneficial relationships with local people, and then work alongside them to help conserve the biodiversity of the world’s wild places.

Rama children Indio Maiz

Rama children at their home along the Indian River. Photo by: Nick Hawkins

Protected Area Management:
A Visual Action Plan

Most of the world’s major protected areas are managed by government staff, but Indio Maíz is very different. Here, conservation has been led and implemented from the grassroots: by local people, their leaders and representatives, by community rangers, by women organizing themselves to develop new nature-based livelihoods and by micro-entrepreneurs offering services to the growing number of visitors.

Indio Maíz is at the vanguard of a new movement of Indigenous and Community Conserved Territories and Areas. Conservation often works best when empowered and supported local people lead it. In 2017, indigenous Rama and afro-descendant Kriol leaders requested that GWC assist them in a participatory planning process to develop an autonomous management plan for the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve.

Indio Maiz action planning workshop

Indio Maiz action planning workshop

GWC facilitated a three-week series of workshops in which nearly 80 percent of the community participated and discussed their values for, the threats to, and their visions for Indio Maíz. They covered biodiversity protection, tourism, resource use, awareness building, and governance and how to best balance protection with meeting community resource needs.

Conservation Action Plan, Indio Maiz

Communities identified values, threats and actions for Indio Maíz.

We took a novel approach in creating a protected area plan that is entirely visual, transcending language barriers and accessible to anyone. The action plan outlines the Rama and Kriol vision for the protection and sustainable use of their ancestral lands within Indio Maíz. It is an incredibly useful tool for the Rama and Kriol communities of Indio Maíz in negotiations with government, climate projects, NGOs, potential donors and more.

Indio Maiz Action Plan

GWC continues to work with a team of 13 indigenous and Afro-descendant rangers that we have trained and supported since 2015 in conjunction with Panthera, local leaders, and indigenous lawyers to implement this new protected area plan and save the ancestral lands of the Rama and Kriol from destruction.


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Prevent Wildlife Crime

In partnership with the Rama and Kriol people, GWC is helping finance the patrols of 13 trained, professional indigenous and afro-descendant rangers. We are also working to bolster local leaders’ monitoring capability within the park and engaging lawyers to develop protocols for use in responding to and repelling illegal incursion in the park, as well as protecting it from threats including poaching and pesticide use.

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Improve Environmental Education

We actively support outreach and environmental education activities for youth in cattle-ranching communities along the border of Indio Maíz; these communities are the primary sources of illegal poachers and illegal colonists in the forest.

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Conserve Tapirs and Jaguars

We collar tapirs—beginning with 10 individuals—inside the park borders in order to understand how they use the landscape to best be able to protect them. We also work with local farmers and landowners to decrease retaliatory killing of crop-raiding tapirs.

Get The Details

Species Red List StatusPopulationLocation StatusPartners


Key Biodiversity Area, Southeast Nicaragua Biosphere Reserve
  • Rama-Kriol Territorial Government
  • Autonomous Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment (SERENA)

Stay Wild. Stay Connected.