The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

It's at the heart of a much larger region, the Maya Forest.


Making a Difference

Watch a video about our work in this area of Mexico.


Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the largest tropical forest reserve in Mexico, is a treasure trove of Mayan history in the heart of the Maya Forest. The ruins in the middle of Calakmul reserve’s 1.8 million acres of forests extend over 10 square miles - the remains of a city that was the powerbase of Tikal’s rival dating back to AD 364.

Calakmul in Maya means “the city of two adjacent pyramids.”  And the spectacular view of the surrounding jungle from the top of one of these massive pyramids extends into Guatemala and includes several archaeologically important ruins from the Mayan era.

The Maya Forest, covers almost 15 percent of Campeche state in Mexico, and extends into Guatemala and Belize. The Calakmul reserve, slightly larger than Delaware, harbors jaguars, crocodiles, Baird's tapir, and more than 230 bird species. 

Ejidos: Working with communities

Ejidos are communities living on communal lands in Mexico. More than 20,000 people live in ejidos in and around Calakmul and depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Over the course of time, the quality of life for these communities has weakened due to threats to the forest such as unsustainable ranching, road construction, illegal hunting and poorly planned tourism development.

The Nature Conservancy is working closely with two ejidos in Calakmul:  20 de Noviembre and Conhuas. Conservancy staff are encouraging sustainable forestry and tourism-based livelihoods such as craft-based activities an dguiding trips to archaeological ruins and bird-watching hotspots.

A few years ago in close collaboration with local partner Tropical Rural Latinoamericana (TRL), the Conservancy started working with ejido 20 de Noviembre as a pilot community for a sustainable forestry program in the Calakmul region.

The ejido consists of 350 families and comprises about 87,000 acres of forestland. The Conservancy helped the ejido get established as a legal entity access loans. In 2007-2008, we helped build a bridge that allows year-round access to the forest, which makes the ejido’s forestry operation more competitive and profitable by permitting the timely sale of soft woods.

Calakmul-Sian Ka'an Corridor

The Conservancy began working in a new site in 2007: the Calakmul Sian Ka'an Corridor. This vast forested area links two biosphere reserves and is important for far-ranging animals such as jaguars and migratory birds.

Here as in the community owned lands in Calakmul, the Conservancy recognizes that effective conservation can only be achieved if the needs and aspirations of local people are met. In this site, we are working with a new partner organization — the Organization of Forestry Ejidos of the Maya Zone (OEPF). Our shared goal is to conserve the forest while improving the income realized from forest activities.
Tapping chicle (a resin from the chico zapote tree native to Central America) and timber extraction have provided the economic rationale for conserving the community-owned forests. Although chicleros continue to tap these trees, there are fewer tappers than in the past. In 2008 the Conservancy funded a workshop bringing together chicle tappers from several communities to share best practices on improving production and marketing possibilities. 

In 2007 Hurricane Dean hit the region hard. Some of the communities reported withstanding the hurricanes better than in previous years thanks to the forest buffer. The Conservancy began working with ejidos affected by the hurricane to find uses of and ways to market their fallen timber and begin restoration efforts.

Protecting Forests

The Conservancy is working with Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatán to halt deforestation on private lands in and around Calakmul. Goals include:

• developing sustainable ecotourism activities
• implementing a forest fire management plan for the reserve
• establishing conservation easements
• acquiring critically threatened private lands

In November 2004, 370,000 acres of threatened tropical forest in Calakmul were permanently protected under a historic land deal between the Mexican federal government, the Campeche state government, Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatán, four local communities and the Conservancy. 

Planning for Conservation

In 2006, the Conservancy completed a management plan to protect the Maya Forest spanning Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. The plan guides long-term protection of Calakmul, including working with communities and managing fire.

Managing Fire

To reduce the threats from uncontrollable fires, the Conservancy has developed a fire management plan for the reserve. The plan outlines key activities in fire prevention, fire control, community outreach and education that will equip reserve staff and local communities to protect their forest resources.

A new command and control center has been established in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve offices and is operated in coordination with municipal, federal and NGO participation. A Conservancy fire expert also has overseen the development of a multi-year training program to build a local fire management team with expertise in wildfire control and ecological fire management.


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