BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

CHIQUIBUL NATIONAL PARK AND CARACOL

WHAT TO SEE
Reached by the Guacamallo bridge, you're heading into the more remote interior of Belize's Maya Mountains. Across one of the most abrupt forest changes you'll ever see, the conifers of Mountain Pine Ridge's granite give way to broadleaf forest of the more forgiving limestone, from one valley side to the other.

Guacamallo is Spanish for macaw parrots, and the Macal River is also an English corruption of the Creole for same bird. Linguistics aside, there's a tantalizing chance of seeing Scarlet Macaws around this area, especially in the dry season when they flock in large noisy groups rather than pairs. Using 3-D computer models of the terrain, ecologists are trying to piece together from all the different sightings, just how many birds there are. Current estimates are a population of about 30 pairs. Another bird that has received a lot of attention at Caracol is the Keel-billed Motmot. Left to its own devises, it nests in river banks but at Caracol it has taken to using the sides of the pyramids. During February and March it's very vocal, and you may hear its nasal ka-waa repeated two or three times. But once nesting has started it keeps quiet so not to give itself away. Belize has the largest surviving population of this very special bird anywhere in the world!

Although the forests around Caracol are extremely high, which can make bird watching from the ground a bit firustrating5. there is a partial solution to hand. By climbing the Mayan Sky Palace, 140 feet high, you're suddenly right up there overlooking the trees to Guatemala, only four miles away. There are often raptors circling the skies overhead, and a good number of parrots. This is the centre piece of the many structures that form Caracol.

GETTING THERE
Caracol is about 30 miles south of D'Silva along a track which is extremely rough in places. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential in the rainy season and even then, conditions may be impassable. Check at D'Silva Forest Station, before setting out. Also make sure you leave plenty of time to drive out before nightfall, around 6 pm. It takes a day to explore Caracol's ruins and wildlife.

WHEN TO GO
Visiting in the dry season gives the best chance of reaching Caracol.

VISITOR FACILITIES
There is a guard station at Caracol, with Department of Archaeology staff to show you around. As well as the areas around the temples that have been opened up, there's an excellent circular walk you can go on through the forest. Head out on the Pajaro-Ramonla Causeway, then turn north onto the Retiro Road which crosses it. This will soon bring you to the Canchito Causeway which will take you south back to the main clearing, or epicentre as it is now being called. The whole thing will take you half a day, and goes through at least two different forest types. If you want something shorter, there's the Short Cut Trail, right off the epicentre. Opening hours are 8am to 4pm, seven days a week. A visitor permit must be obtained on the site from the Department of Archaeology or from the Forest Station at D'Silva. If you go with a tour, they may be able to deal with this formality for you.

Visitors to Caracol pass through the Chiquibul. The park itself does not have any visitor facilities.

ESTABLISHMENT HISTORY
The park was originally part of Chiquibul Forest Reserve, designated in 1956 (SI 55). Then in December 1991, as a result of lobbying from conservationists, the 3/4s of the Forest Reserve free from active logging concessions was re-designated a National Park under the National Parks System Act (SI 166) (see separate entry for Chiquibul Forest Reserve). After an examination of both the resulting park and forest reserve on environmental, biodiversity and umber criteria, the boundaries of both were re-drawn to better reflect the distribution of steep slopes, important watersheds and areas of hugh biodiversity. In May 1995 the park was re-defined (SI 55), with a simultaneous alteration of the forest reserve. The change in boundaries brought Caracol into the National Park. This had been designated as Caracol Crown Reserve in May 1950 (Gazette Notice 319), superseded by the designation in February 1995 (SI 19) under the Ancient Monuments and Antiquities Act. (Note: Most protected area maps only show the extent of the original Caracol designation).

CURRENT AREA
There are certain points to consider when arriving at an accurate area estimate for this reserve:

  • Its southern boundary is defined in its SI as the Maya Mountain Divide, but particularly at its southwestern end, this is not a clearly defined sharp ridge, but a plateau. The original boundary definition revived more recently, e.g. by Bird (1994), in particular, does not match that used in the interim by some sources, and follows a more northwards alignment to include the Rio Machiquita Creek drainage. Apart from this, the park's boundary is relatively unambiguous, defined by Guatemalan border, Macaw River and Vaca Forest Reserve, and specific UTM coordinates.
  • The park excludes the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and care should be taken not to double count these areas.
  • The current boundary of Caracol held on GIS is from its original 1950 designation, and covers 4325 acres. The more recent designation of Caracol is from February 1995 (SI 19) and covers 25000 acres. SI 55 which designated the National Park excludes this, i.e. more than is shown on many protected area maps

    The area estimate given in the park's SI is 285937 acres. When calculated on GIS, excluding the 1950 Caracol boundary, it gives 286289 acres. With the adjustment for the expansion of the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, this leaves a current area of Chiquibul National park as 265262 acres.

    JUSTIFICATION
    To protect the area's high biodiversity, and provide for appropriate tourism access, including to Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

    Chiquibul Forest Reserve entry. There is considerable concern over the possible requirement for header dams for the Molejon hydro-electric project which would flood large parts of the park's important riparian habitats, including the Upper Raspaculo drainage, which has been the subject of ecological surveys by the British Natural History Museum.

    HABITATS
    Broadleaf forest, including riparian forest.

    HOLDRIDGE LIFE ZONE
    Subtropical Moist to the west, Subtropical Lower Montane Wet to the east.

    ZOOGEOGRAPHICAL AFFINITIES
    Peten.

    WILDLIFE
    S. Matola carried out an 11 day reconnaissance of Doyle's Delight, which falls in the reserve. Brief ad hoc notes on vegetation are included, and a tentative hillslope vegetation zonation identified. 34 species of orchid were collected, of which 2 were new records for the country, and for birds, one new addition, the Tawny-throated Leaftosser, was found out of over 70 recorded. This, the Scaly-throated Leaf Gleaner and Spotted Woodcreeper are indicative of montane forests. Incidental notes on reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals were also included. Explorations of the Chiquibul cave system has revealed new invertebrate species . A range of observations of plant, bird, mammal and reptile were made by Matola et al. (1992) during a 7 day study, from the Natural Arch/Rio Ceiba grande area. The assertions that the tree of the Liquidamar genus identified, during fieldwork, had not previously been recorded for Belize is however, incorrect. Part of the area surveyed by Meerman (1995) falls within the reserve. He notes that the frog Rana juhani is endemic to the Maya Mountains and this presumable includes the Chiquibul. Detailed long term studies have also been made within the Caracol Archaeological Reserve which falls within Chiquibul and revealed notable densities of the Keel- billed Motmot. Caracol's vegetation has been examined by Brokaw (1992). The park also includes the Upper Raspaculo River, whose associated habitat corridor shows particularly high dynamism due to regular extreme disturbance from flooding. The combination of this and hurricane damage, which has befallen the area 3 times since 1961, has created a large proportion of essentially secondary forest in the Upper Basin (BCES in prep.). The riparian area also appears to support a high density of Central American Tapir. Faecal analysis shows that here they appear to be extremely dependent on a grass species only found growing in this area. This site has been the subject of repeated studies, including its bird, mammal and plant populations. The fauna of the area's caves are reported by Mychajlowycz (1985).

    LOCAL POPULATION
    Subsequent to the removal of the Guatemalan milperos, there is no permanent population in the reserve. D'Silva (forest station) (population 268) is in the adjacent Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

    PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
    Doyle's Delight, the highest point in Belize (3675 feet), occurs on the southern edge of the park, at its boundary with Bladen Nature Reserve. Its soils were investigated and tentative geological observations made by Baillie in Matola et al. (1989). Typical soil characteristics were found to be their depth, friability, free drainage and thick organic surfaces layers. Underlying rocks are of volcanic origin, part of the Bladen Volcanic Member of the Santa Rosa group. The rainfall pattern of this particular area is unknown, but likely to have a substantial orographic component). Temperature readings taken during this study may allow a cross-correlation to be established using nearby weather stations. The Raspaculo River Basin is approximately 26 miles long, 9 miles wide and covers some 77 square miles ). Under the park runs reportedly 'the longest underground passage in Belize and Central America (BCES 1990, p. 87). The cave system includes three major caverns that measure 3 miles, 8 miles and 9 miles in length (Ibid), and include the largest cave room in the Western Hemisphere, ranking as the fourth largest in the world. Surface features include the Natural Arch, a limestone arch through which the Chiquibul flows. Information on the area's caves is provided by McNatt (nd.) and Mychajlowycz (1985).

    CHIQUIBUL FOREST RESERVE

    ESTABLISHMENT HISTORY
    It was designated in December 1956 (SI 55), originally covering 456960 acres (this excluded the Caracol Crown Reserve already designated by Gazette Notice 319, May 1950). As a result of lobbying by conservationists, in December 1991 the Forest Reserve was redesignated a National Park under the National Parks System Act (SI 166) except for the northeast comer which still had active logging concessions in place. This left a Forest Reserve of 189143 acres. The change was not however, re-designated under the Forest Act to reflect the change. More recently though, the forest reserve and national park boundaries were re-evaluated and subsequently changed according to environmental, biodiversity and timber production characteristics under the auspices of FPMP. The boundaries were re-drawn, the Forest Reserve to encapsulate the core timber production area (the logging concessions mentioned above had become inactive). This area was re-designated in May 1995 (SI 54) under the Forest Act. Simultaneously, the National Park boundaries were altered under the National Parks System Act by SI 55. (see the separate entry for Chiquibul National Park). The Forest Reserve now covers 147810 acres.

    CURRENT AREA
    The reserve's boundary is relatively unambiguous, bounded by the banks of the Macal River and the Chiquibul National Park (Note that in future, legislation needs to be worded so that river boundaries are defined by the median point if the river).

    The area estimate in the current SI is 147810 acres. Using GIS, the area derived is 147880 acres.

    JUSTIFICATION
    The forest reserve was originally established for timber extraction and watershed protection. As contemporary studies into the area's wildlife have progressed, its importance for biodiversity conservation is now an additional justification.

    HABITATS
    Broadleaf, including riparian forest, and large cave systems.

    HOLDRIDGE LIFE ZONE
    Subtropical Moist

    ZOOGEOGRAPHICAL AFFINITIES
    Peten.

    WILDLIFE
    Explorations of the Chiquibul cave system have revealed new invertebrate species. A range of observations of plant, bird, mammal, and reptile were made by S. Matola during a 7 day study, from the Natural Arch/Rio Ceiba Grande area. The assertions that the tree of the Liquidamar genus identified during fieldwork, had not previously been recorded for Belize is however, incorrect. Part of the area surveyed by Meerman (1995) falls within the reserve. He notes that the frog Rana juliani is endemic to the Maya Mountains and this presumably includes the Chiquibul. Detailed long term studies have also been made within the Caracol Archaeological Reserve which falls within Chiquibul and revealed notable densities of the Keel-billed Motmot. Other studies have been undertaken in the surrounding Chiquibul National Park.

    LOCAL POPULATION
    In its present configuration, the site has no resident population. D'Silva (forest station) (population 268) is in the adjacent Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

    PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
    See the entry for Chiquibul National Park.

    VISITOR FACILITIES
    The forest reserve itself does not have any visitor facilities.

    ACCESS
    The site is reached through Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, by crossing the Guacamallo Bridge.

    CULTURAL FEATURES
    The area's caves include evidence of Mayan ceremonial use.

    Designation of Protected Karstlands in Central America: A Regional Assessment

    The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has recognized karst landscapes as important targets for designation as protected areas, and this study is a regional inventory of the Central American karst conservation situation.

    Central America is a significant international carbonate karst landscape, covering ~154,000 km2, rough- ly a quarter of the regional land area. The karstlands exhibit considerable topographic diversity, includ- ing “cockpit” and “tower” styles, together with extensive dry valleys, cave systems, and springs. Some of the karst areas are well known, but others have yet to receive detailed scientific attention. Many of them have archaeological, historical, cultural, biological, aesthetic, and recreational significance, but human impacts have been considerable.

    Conservation and protection legislation is variable in nature and effectiveness, and enforcement is prob- lematic. About 18% of the Central American karst landscape has been afforded nominal protection through designation as protected areas. Regional levels of karstland protection are highly variable, with significant protection in the Yucatan peninsula, Honduras, and Belize; intermediate protection in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama; and, as yet, no protected areas in Nicaragua or El Salvador. The situation remains fluid, and the future of the Central American karstlands is uncertain.

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    BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

    Belize Parks Home / Bacalar Chico / Bird Sanctuaries / Burdon Canal Nature Reserve / Blue Hole National Park / Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef / Chiquibul National Park and Caracol / Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary / Columbia River Forest Reserve / Community Baboon Sanctuary / Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary / Five Blues Lake National Park / Glover's Reef Marine Reserve / Guanacaste National Park / Half Moon Caye Natural Monument / Hol Chan Marine Reserve / Laughing Bird Caye / Marco Gonzales / Mexico Rocks / Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve / Payne's Creek National Park / Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area / Shark Ray Alley / Shipstern Nature Reserve / Turneffe Atoll /

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