Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve


This outstanding nature set-aside has superb wildlife—jaguars, pumas, tapirs, manatees, scarlet macaws—also 200 sites of archeological importance covering almost 2,000 square miles (5,250 km2).

Great weeping sea turtles scour out nests on sandy beaches unchanged, like much else here, since Christopher Columbus landed 500 years ago.

Giant anteaters, jaguars, and powerful monkey-eating harpy eagles are at home in virgin tropical rain forest.

Indigenous populations of Amerindian and Afro-Caribbean descent follow native ways with little or no negative impact on natural ecosystems—miniscule compared with more recent human encroachment. (Under the U.N. Biosphere Reserve concept, not only biotic and archeological resources are protected but also indigenous cultures.)

Great flocks of waterfowl feed in lily-choked canals. Raucous parrots, including flocks of scarlet and military macaws, fly over. Small, dark, solitary jaguarundis prey on rodents including, when they can, fat young capybaras. Kingfishers dive from riverside branches. Otters slide down slippery mud banks. Jabiru storks forage in shallows. Spider monkeys chatter and whitefaced monkeys scold visitors.

Toucans delicately manipulate colorful outsize bills to pluck small berries, tossing their heads back to send the fruits down their throats. Aplomado falcons hover over forest clearings. Small, swift bat falcons swoop after nocturnal prey in the twilight.

 Howls of howler monkeys are believed to be the loudest sound of any land animal—achieved by enlarged hyoid throat bones which greatly amplify it—exceeded only by that of blue whales at sea. It’s audible three miles (5 km) away in the open, almost two miles (3 km) in dense vegetation. Howlers call on arising in the morning, at intervals through the day, and just before retiring. One howler sets off another, so when a large troop gets going together, it can seem deafening.

Howls of howler monkeys are believed to be the loudest sound of any land animal—achieved by enlarged hyoid throat bones which greatly amplify it—exceeded only by that of blue whales at sea. It’s audible three miles (5 km) away in the open, almost two miles (3 km) in dense vegetation. Howlers call on arising in the morning, at intervals through the day, and just before retiring. One howler sets off another, so when a large troop gets going together, it can seem deafening.

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Over 2,000 vascular plant species have been identified, with more added as scientific inquiry continues. A rich, colorful array of epiphytes, including hundreds of kinds of orchids, clings to cloud forest trees. In concert with mosses and bright green ferns, they sometimes cover gnarled tree trunks to create their own multispecies ecosystems.

Giant manatees graze in mangrove-fringed coastal lagoons protected by coral reefs.

Best times to visit are January–May dry season, but rain gear can be useful anytime (two dominant life zones are described as “humid tropical forest” and “very humid subtropical forest”). International flights available to Tegucigalpa, where lodging, also transport, is available.

 Jaguarundis move like shadows in scrubland and forest they inhabit from Texas south through most of South America, their low, slender bodies slipping through vegetation without a leaf stirring. They’re known also as otter cats but more for their appearance—otter-sized, weasel-like, with long, slender bodies and short legs—than for any liking for water, or for their color, which can be gray, reddish brown, or black, sometimes all in the same litter (though they’re born spotted).

Jaguarundis move like shadows in scrubland and forest they inhabit from Texas south through most of South America, their low, slender bodies slipping through vegetation without a leaf stirring. They’re known also as otter cats but more for their appearance—otter-sized, weasel-like, with long, slender bodies and short legs—than for any liking for water, or for their color, which can be gray, reddish brown, or black, sometimes all in the same litter (though they’re born spotted).

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Threats include deforestation, poaching, unscrupulous coastal commercial fishing, mineral exploration, lack of management plan, and lack of funding to enforce environmental restraints. (Commercial hunting is sometimes masked as ecotourism.)

ALSO OF INTEREST

Cusuco National Park has cloud forest with large quetzal population.

Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest protection zones along the Caribbean for endangered manatees.

Pico Bonito National Park with six life zones ranging from cloud forest to moist lowland tropical jungle, with many waterfalls and great biodiversity.

Punta Sal National Park has tropical rain forest, wetlands, and mangrove forest, with coral reefs protecting manatees and coastal birds plus many migrant stopovers.

La Tigra National Park was Honduras’ first national park, protecting beautiful cloud forest; also water supply source for Tegucigalpa.

Cayos Cochinos Marine Reserve has 13 cays with coral reefs, well-preserved forests, a species of pink boa.

 Scarlet macaws are one of the most stunning of the beautiful parrot family, and one of the most dexterous, with zygodactyl feet—two toes in front and two behind—that they use like hands in holding and manipulating objects. Bills are attached to their skulls with special hinges that give them powerful leverage and mobility in performing delicate tasks like preening feathers but also crushing the hardest nuts, and act as third feet in grasping perches so they are excellent climbers as well. These dazzling birds are increasingly endangered by demand for the pet trade through Central and northern South America.

Scarlet macaws are one of the most stunning of the beautiful parrot family, and one of the most dexterous, with zygodactyl feet—two toes in front and two behind—that they use like hands in holding and manipulating objects. Bills are attached to their skulls with special hinges that give them powerful leverage and mobility in performing delicate tasks like preening feathers but also crushing the hardest nuts, and act as third feet in grasping perches so they are excellent climbers as well. These dazzling birds are increasingly endangered by demand for the pet trade through Central and northern South America.

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RÍO PLÁTANO BIOSPHERE RESERVE as well as...

Cusuco National Park

Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge

Pico Bonito National Park

Punta Sal National Park

La Tigra National Park

Cayos Cochinos Marine Reserve

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