JOHN DELANEY: (1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)

STEPHEN SAUTNER: (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)

Central American Megaflyover to Measure Impacts of Humans & Cows in Largest Remaining Rainforests

Overflight will analyze widespread changes across Central American isthmus and examine status of largest five forests

New project initiates 5-year cooperative agreement between WCS and USFWS on conservation work in Central America

New York (March 3, 2016)—With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have embarked on an ambitious plane-based survey to gauge the influence of humans and their livestock on the largest remaining forests in Central America.

Dubbed the “Central American Megaflyover,” the project is gathering detailed images of the largest five remaining forest blocks in Mesoamerica in flights across six countries (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). The findings will inform, guide, and inspire conservation action on the ground to protect these natural treasures.

The 5,000-kilometer (3,100 miles) flight started on February 26th and will continue into the middle of March. An additional 3,000 kilometers (1900 miles) will be traveled overland.

“What was once an unbroken corridor of biological wonders has become threatened by rapid deforestation and fragmentation– especially due to uncontrolled cattle ranching,” said Dr. Jeremy Radachowsky, Director for WCS’s Mesoamerica and Western Caribbean Program and a participant in the flyover. “However, each of Mesoamerica’s five largest forests are still larger than several U.S. states. We hope to gather vital data on the region’s last wild places and gain insights on how to conserve these remaining landscapes, the irreplaceable wildlife they contain, and the services they provide to local people and all of humanity.”

Specifically, the Central American Megaflyover participants are taking high-resolution pictures for comparison with satellite imagery used to produce “The Human Footprint,” an analysis conducted by WCS in 2002 that measured the extent of human influence across the earth’s land surface. The flyover team will both verify the original conclusions of that analysis while documenting and analyzing how human influence has expanded over the past 15 years.

More than seven percent of the earth’s biodiversity exists in Central America, a region home to charismatic species such as the jaguar, white-lipped peccary, Baird’s tapir, and scarlet macaw. The region’s forests provide migratory birds with wintering grounds and flyways, protect vital ecosystem services and watersheds, and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Megaflyover will focus on the five largest remaining forest blocks in Central America:

·         Maya Forest: Located on the borders of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, this largest forest block in Central America (larger than Belgium or Massachusetts) contains thousands of archeological treasures as well as a diverse assemblage of plant and animal species, including the critically endangered Central American river turtle.

·         Moskitia: As the second largest forest block in the Central American isthmus—about the size of New Jersey—the Moskitia is located in both Honduras and Nicaragua and is home to jaguars, macaws, giant anteaters, and more than 100,000 human inhabitants, including several indigenous groups.

·         Indio Maiz-Tortuguero: This Delaware-sized group of reserves and indigenous territories includes some of the most intact forest remaining in Nicaragua, as well as Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park. The Indio Maiz-Tortuguero forest contains a mosaic of upland forests, swamps, mangroves and beaches famous for their sea turtle nesting sites. 

·         La Amistad: La Amistad International Park straddles Costa Rica and Panama and is listed as a World Heritage Site. It is located in a rugged mountainous region that stands as a model for transboundary conservation and multiple-use forest management by local communities. La Amistad forms the core of a forest larger than the state of Connecticut.

·         Darien Gap: This long stretch of undeveloped wetlands and forest connects the Central American wilderness with the vast forests of South America’s Colombia. The Darien is home to the bush dog and harpy eagle.

"Protecting Central America's five largest wild places is a strategy that will provide a huge benefit to Central American people by sustaining the treasured and unique biodiversity their countries possess and the important ecological services they provide," said Bryan Arroyo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for International Affairs. "Working together with WCS to accomplish this goal will result in the powerful momentum we need to collect data and implement tangible solutions to protect these incredible places in collaboration with Central American governments, conservation partners, and equally importantly, local communities."

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.