Dr. Tim Caro
Minister Maria Minna
December 7th 2001
Dear Minister Minna,
I am a Professor at the University of California, Davis, USA who has been working out of the Las Cuevas Research Station in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in western Belize for the last 3 years. I have been trying to understand whether so-called “flagship species” and “umbrella species” are useful tools in the conservation of natural ecosystems, specifically subtropical rainforest. These are high-profile species that are used to protect other aspects biodiversity. For this research, I have had to learn about the habitat requirements of a number of Belizean large mammals and, to a lesser extent, birds.
My research has shown that many of these species have enormous home ranges in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve suggesting that disturbance of a portion of the habitat will adversely influence a larger number of individuals of these high profile species than we previously thought. I have seen the report prepared by the Natural History Museum in London on the environmental impact of the proposed dam, and my entirely independent research supports their conclusions.
Specifically, building the Chalillo Dam on the Macal River will not only be detrimental to mammalian species requiring flowing water such as tapirs (the National mammal of Belize) but will also affect movement patterns of wide ranging species such as jaguars, pumas and peccaries. Displaced animals are not be able to squeeze into the ranges of others members of their species; instead population sizes will be reduced by an unknown degree. A key problem here is that many of these species are vulnerable or endangered (e.g., scarlet macaw, tapir etc). Thus it is incorrect to suggest, as some have done, that the dam will have no detrimental effect on wildlife populations.
In passing, I should add that building new roads in the Chiquibul will open up hitherto pristine parts of the area. Although my research does not address the issue of roads, it is now conventional dogma in conservation biology that roads allow illegal hunters and sometimes squatters easy access to areas that they would not otherwise visit. Thus access to the dam site will undoubtedly increase hunting and perhaps other pressures on the area in the long term.
On the basis of this information, I very much hope that the backers of the Chalillo Dam project will pull out and the project be cancelled. It will not only open up one of the last wilderness areas in Central America, and there are precious few left, but it will have a serious and adverse impact on high-profile species in a country noted for its forward thinking views towards conservation.
If I can be of any further assistance, please don’t hesitate to call me, as I know the area and its mammalian fauna reasonably well.
Thank you for your time.
Professor Tim Caro
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