The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ) has been conducting inventories of eggs, nests, and birds in the tropics since the 1960s in places such as Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Malaysia, Mexico, and Samoa.
In the late 1990s the WFVZ realized that Guatemala possessed some of the least well-known avifauna of any countries in the world. Guatemala is a small about the size of New York State, but its geographical location allows it to have a large diversity of regions and vegetation types, and consequently, to possess a rich avifauna. The countryside ranges from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet at Volcano Tajumulco. This country has temperatures from more than 100 degrees Farenheit in the Motagua River Valley to only 16 degrees F in the higher mountains.
Because of the paucity of information available on Guatemalan birds, Mr. Corado -- the Collections Manager of the WFVZ (a native Guatemalan) -- initiated discussions with directors of the natural resource agencies in Guatemala in 2000, including CONAP (Consejo de Areas Protegidas), the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC), and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (MHN). What resulted was an agreement signed in March 2001 for the WFVZ to conduct a 6-year project on the “Oology of Guatemala”, designed to document the distribution of breeding bird species in the country, including the timing of them breeding and the characteristics of their eggs and nests. A second part of the agreement between the WFVZ and the Guatemalan government was for the WFVZ to provide the MHN with supplies to better curate their own bird collection, as well as to provide training to MHN staff and USAC faculty and students (who would assist or work at the MHN) in curatorial techniques such as specimen preparation, since the MHN lacked trained avian science staff to curate their collection.
Fieldwork on the "Oology of Guatemala" project officially ended in 2009, and the WFVZ presented a seminar on the project to universities, museums, members and other citizens in June 2009 In addition, in 2006 a second phase of the project began, designed to monitor birds by point counts in the thorn-scrub region of central Guatemala, along the largest river in the country, the Rio Motagua. This thorn-scrub region is severely endangered due to the rarity of the vegetation type and the animals associated with it, and to threats including forest burning and conversion for intensive agriculture, overgrazing by cattle, drought, and severe pollution of the river by industrial/agricultural run-off, and raw sewage.
The WFVZ's monitoring project was designed to collect important baseline data documenting possible changes in breeding and wintering neotropical migrant bird numbers and species diversity. Monitoring also included the collection of eggs to assess the impact of water contaminants on the reproduction of thorn-scrub bird species. We hope that this information can be useful to improve not only native wildlife and plant health in the region in the long term, but also the health of the poor Guatemalans who depend on Rio Motagua for their food and water needs.
The monitoring project continued until January 2012, and we are currently analyzing the results. Our plans for the future in Guatemala include: focusing our monitoring efforts on declining species and continuing to document changes in the avifauna of the Montagua region.
If you are interested in supporting our field project, please feel free to donate or to contact us to ask how you can help! You can also support the Guatemala Project by purchasing hand-made Guatemalan items from the WFVZ Gift Store!
Be sure to check the most recent issues of our Newsletter for updates on the project!
Saving the Rio Motagua
The Rio Motagua is a 486-km (302 mi) long river in Guatemala. It rises in the western highlands of Guatemala , and runs in an easterly direction to the Gulf of Honduras. The final few kms of the river form part of the Guatemala/Honduras border. The Motagua River basin covers an area of 12,670 square km (4,890 sq mi) and is the largest in Guatemala.
René Corado, Collections Manager and Linnea Hall, Executive Director of The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ), have been working in Guatemala for 13 years documenting the pollution in the Rio Motagua (which provides water and food for millions of people -- including vegetables and fruit for the US).
Some of the photos on this display show the amount of hard trash that flows down the river, and ends up in the Caribbean Ocean, and flows to Honduras' beaches... What these photos don't show are the results of the bird egg contents and water analysis that the WFVZ conducted and revealed the fecal contamination; high levels of mercury, lead, and other heavy metals; dead fish and other wildlife; DDT and other pesticide contamination; and industrial pollutants.
René and Linnea have been working to bring this issue to the attention of the Guatemalan government, and President Jimmy Morales' administration is starting to act... good news, last week of September 2016 he started the cleaning of the Rio Motagua! We are very happy about this project, he contacted René to give him the good news the same ss the Minister of the Environment Sydeny Samuels contactec him asking for the support of René, Linnea and the WFVZ. We are happy to cooperate with this project.
The president and Minister have a plan:
- The creation of the authority for the management of the basin of the Motagua River.
- In 2years build plants for the treatment of waste water in all the municipalities of the country, in addition to implementing the treatment policy of solid waste in rural areas.
- Actions include the placement of plastic catches and the creation of a dock or collection yard networks so that they can join the Atlantic Ocean debris from the Motagua River.
- In the long term, Guatemala will incorporate eight pilot plants for the management of solid waste and wastewater located that will begin in the Department of El Progreso to Izabal.
- In the long term, would seek solutions in conjunction with the Congress of the Republic, such as the implementation of a program called "My River", which would be responsible to each municipality and Department where the Motagua River passes to take care and cleaning.
- The government has 66.5 million of dollars for the construction of waste water treatment plants.
- The President put Army members to help with the cleaning of the Rio Motagua.
But there's lots of work to be done. If you care about the status of water in developing countries, where poor people bear all the burden of environmental disasters, PLEASE get involved!