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 country 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, in 2000, Mr. Corado -- the Collections Manager of the WFVZ (a native Guatemalan) -- initiated discussions with directors of the natural resource agencies in Guatemala, 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 their 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.
Saving the Rio Motagua
The Rio Motagua is a 486-km (302 mi) long river in Guatemala that 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.
The amount of hard trash that flows down the river, and ends up in the Caribbean Ocean, and flows to Honduras' beaches
Since 2009, René and Linnea have been working to bring the pollution of the Montagua river to the attention of the Guatemalan government, and in 2017 President Jimmy Morales' administration is started to act.
The President's plans for cleaning the River include:
- The creation of an authority for the management of the Motagua River basin.
- Construction of plants to treat waste water in all the municipalities of the country, in addition to implementing the treatment of solid wastes in rural areas.
- Placing plastic catches, docks, and collection yard networks so that they can remove debris from the Motagua River
In January 2018, René revisited Montagua River where he and Dr. Linnea Hall collected data on bird species' population trends, and amounts of contaminants in birds' eggs, from 2006 to 2012. We are happy that the national and municipality governments are taking the clean-up of the river seriously. Clean-up has been started as a collective action with local school children, residents, and mayors.
However, there's still a lot 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! You can help the WFVZ by contributing to our "Guatemala Fund" which pays for our meeting and public education events in Guatemala to make sure the issue doesn't get dropped by the Guatemalan government. Support our Guatemala project here.