Sierra De Las Minas World Biosphere Reserve


Green-black horned guans—endangered turkey-sized birds with assertive scarlet face-shields and feet—make homes alongside jaguars and tapirs in this 906-square-mile (2,350-km2) reserve in southeast Guatemala. It is the largest contiguous cloud forest in northern Central America and regarded as one of the most important in the world.

Some 70 percent of the country’s native species are here, including pumas, deer, and endangered, frilly-crested, great curassows. They find ecological niches in habitat ranging from low, moist tropical to higher coniferous forests, at elevations from 492 feet (150 m) to over 9,840 feet (3,015 m) above sea level.

Glittering emerald-feathered magnificent quetzals breed in higher elevations and move downhill later, so the park hopes to protect their migration areas as well.

The reserve is the only place where huge crested harpy eagles, capable of striking and carrying off monkeys and sloths, have been seen in any numbers lately. Recent studies suggest more endangered species and perhaps others as yet unknown will be found as more thorough inventories proceed.

Sierra de las Minas was being rapidly deforested when The Nature Conservancy included it in its “Parks in Peril” program in the 1980s. It is now managed by a non-governmental conservation group—Defensores de la Naturaleza—with buffer zones of sustainable development surrounding the core cloud forest zone.

It is not easy to visit. At least until recently, permits were required (see below). The main cross- Guatemala highway, Route #9, runs through the Motagua Valley with several hotels nearby. But roads into the reserve require 4WD and sometimes long hikes. Visitors sometimes are permitted to stay at rangers’ stations. Low-impact tourist programs have been planned—check before coming.

Vocal yellow-crowned parrots have large, muscular feet that are as useful as their wings. Like all their family of blunt-tailed parrots, they use them to pluck fruit and nuts, to hold food items while they are peeling and consuming them, and above all, to climb well, of prime importance in their forest habitat, which ranges from Guatemala south through northern Brazil.

Vocal yellow-crowned parrots have large, muscular feet that are as useful as their wings. Like all their family of blunt-tailed parrots, they use them to pluck fruit and nuts, to hold food items while they are peeling and consuming them, and above all, to climb well, of prime importance in their forest habitat, which ranges from Guatemala south through northern Brazil.

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