The Balam Na Project was established in northern Belize in 2000 through a partnership between the Tropical Rainforest Coalition and Wildtracks, a Belize-based non-profit conservation organization. The goal was to conserve rainforests and the diverse wildlife that inhabits it. Balam Na is a Maya name meaning “home of the jaguar,” the largest feline of the Neotropics.
As an active participant of the international Meso-American Biological Corridors Program, the Balam Na Project links reserves in northern Belize, as part of a regional network of biological corridors, to enable wildlife to move between reserves to maintain the genetic diversity within this biodiversity hotspot.
A Puma caught on film wandering the trails
The Project encompasses over 400 acres of old growth forest in the Balam Na Reserve, and an additional 1,400 acres of forest and 400 acres of wetlands within the nearby Fireburn Reserve. Common tree species include mahogany, Santa Maria and pigeon plum, with all three species of mangrove lining the lagoon shoreline.
The rainforest is highly diverse, with several hundred species of trees, orchids, bromeliads, aroids and other epiphytic plants. An abundance of wildlife can be found within these rich forests, including tapir, coati mundi, tamandua anteaters, red brocket deer, collared and white-lipped peccaries, pacas, kinkajous, and all five of Belize’s cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarondi. Over 250 species of bird and 85 species of reptile and amphibian have been recorded here to date, including the charismatic red-eyed treefrog.
Balam Na acquisitions were broken into three phases for which the Tropical Rainforest Coalition was instrumental. The first phase in reserve and biological corridor formation was the establishment of the Fireburn Reserve, a joint project between the Fireburn Community and Wildtracks, protecting over 1,800 acres of forests and wetlands.
The second phase established the Balam Na Reserve, a Wildtracks initiative protecting over 400 acres of some of the tallest forests in northern Belize.
The third phase involves the securing of the remainder of the biological corridor through a large privately-owned tract of forest, the Balam Jungle Estate, to complete the north-east biological corridor.
Students learn about the biome
Balam Na has several valuable timber species: mahogany and Santa Maria among them. As national timber stocks have become depleted in recent years, illegal timber rustling has become a major threat to protected areas around the Country. With quick, positive actions Wildtracks has ensured that these illegal incursions are kept from occurring in the Balam Na and Fireburn Reserves, by clearly marking boundaries, and blocking and patrolling potential access routes.
Conservation of acquired lands includes building environmental awareness in local primary and secondary schools through various outdoor educational activities. Building an appreciation and pride of the rich forests and wetlands, and of the environmental services they provide, children gain a respect and understanding of how important these habitats are—not just for the rich biodiversity found there, but also for their own well-being.
Balam Na and the surrounding reserves host several scientific studies every year, with a significant focus on the study of wildlife movement along the biological corridor. Camera-trapping has been used extensively to study the populations of the big cats—jaguars and pumas; the ranges of individual animals, the distribution of prey species, and the way in which they use the biological corridor to range over large areas.
Future funding of Balam Na will insure further acquisition and protection of forest acreage for the corridor, and allow continued building of environmental awareness in nearby communities.