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Why the Mayan Train project threatens the jaguar in Mexico

In the Mayan culture, the jaguar was called Balaam or Chaac, it was believed that throughout the night the large cat fought against the Xilbalbá (underworld), defeating them, and emerging the next day. Today, this protector of the Mayan people is in danger of extinction.

In Mexico, more than 40% of the distribution of the jaguar in the national territory has been lost, and specialists estimate that there are less than 4,000 copies distributed in the country. Its population decreases year by year due to species trafficking, illegal hunting, and the loss of its habitat.

In the Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Chiapas peninsula, there are an estimated 1,800 copies, it is the area where the Maya Train project is underway.

Humans “not only get into their habitats, but we destroy it by cutting down the jungle. We also eat their food, because we like to eat deer and wild boar. Thus, we compete with the jaguar for space and food, and we also put cattle in front of them and say ‘if you touch it, you die’,” explained Rodrigo Medellín in the report of the joint work of the Ecology and Conservation Laboratories of Vertebrates, Terrestrial, and Wildlife from the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“The five regions of Mexico where the jaguar lives face the construction of infrastructure without mitigation measures and the expansion of the agricultural frontier, which destroys the habitats of this and other species, and the loss of connection between the different groups of specimens”, the researcher points out.

“Of the more than 22 million hectares of high jungle that stretched from Veracruz to Chiapas, today less than a million remain, scattered and with little continuity,” he added.

Cats are key to keeping ecosystems in balance.

The concern that the infrastructure of the Mayan Train affects this feline has also been expressed by Gerardo Ceballos, president of the National Alliance for the Conservation of the Jaguar, in a meeting he held in late October with the head of the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR), Rogelio Jiménez Pons.

“There was no pronouncement on compliance with environmental law and so we cared to speak to them. The line must respect the limits of the federal, state, and municipal protected natural areas. This is especially relevant to the Tulum National Park (Quintana Roo), the Yum Balam and Sian Ka’an (Quintana Roo), and Calakmul (Campeche) Biosphere Reserves, and the Balam-Ku and Balam-Kin state-protected natural areas (Campeche), among others. Under no circumstances should the core and buffer zones of protected natural areas be impacted,” Ceballos said in an interview with the Animal Político website.

On November 23, Ceballos sent Jiménez Pons a letter summarizing the points discussed in the conversation at the end of October, and which is released today. In it, he appreciates “the willingness to dialogue” and exposes the Alliance’s willingness to “support the design and evaluation of the project with technical and scientific elements that serve to mitigate its negative environmental impacts.”

“This is essential to consolidate the conservation of the jaguar, the protected natural areas, and the forests of the region, as well as promoting regional sustainable development. We are in the best position to integrate a working group with you to advance on environmental issues related to the conservation of the jaguar and its habitat”.

In the letter, the researcher reiterates that the planning of the Maya Train project “must have all the necessary environmental studies to determine its environmental feasibility, and must fully comply with current environmental legislation in terms of environmental impact, forest, wildlife, and water, among others ”.

“Depending on the characteristics of the train, the number and location of elevated wildlife crossings along the line of the train should be determined for larger fauna such as jaguars and tapirs. In addition, the viaducts, drainage works, and steps must be adapted so that they function as wildlife passes for smaller species such as ocelots and anteaters”, explained Ceballos, also a professor at the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Ceballos abounds that if the project is done well, “it can help reestablish the connectivity of jaguar habitats that are impacted by the existing road system, along which the railroad has been proposed. The steps for fauna, in addition to reducing habitat fragmentation, also serve to reduce the running over of wild animals ”.

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