Honduras: World Heritage Biosphere Trafficked Toward Destruction

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Deforestation and the ongoing damming of pristine rivers for hydroelectricity threatens the wildest and most biodiverse corner of tropical Central America. The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (RPBR), in Honduras’ remote Moskitia Region, faces non-Indian land invasions from all directions, many government sanctioned and supported by multinational corporations. These incursions directly threaten the economic and environmental sustainability of indigenous communities throughout the region.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras

The government of Honduras, elected under international condemnation after the 2009 coup d’état, stands by while trafficking in hardwoods, wildlife, archaeological artifacts, and drugs generate income for their multinational clients as well as impoverished and desperate peasants. Photo from the film “Paradise in Peril.”

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve: Paradise in Peril

Illegally logging the vast and once-impenetrable ancient forests, poaching endangered wildlife and fish, and slashing and burning jungle to create pastures, the new arrivals are forcing Pech and Miskitu inhabitants off their ancestral lands. The government of Honduras, elected under international condemnation after the 2009 coup d’état, stands by while trafficking in hardwoods, wildlife, archaeological artifacts, and drugs generate income for their multinational clients as well as impoverished and desperate peasants.

Multiple assertions are also made that the post-coup government of Pepe Lobo and their police and military apparatus, elected in a sham process supported by few countries in the world except for the Obama Administration, are working together with the traffickers, making any control impossible given present circumstances.

The winding Río Plátano in the Caribbean lowlands, from C. Wieder

The Biosphere Reserve

Located on the watershed of the Río Plátano on the Caribbean coast, the reserve remains as one of the few functional mountainous tropical rainforest ecosystems in Central America, where over 2,000 indigenous people have preserved their traditional way of life. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it was the first of more than 700 throughout the world.

A “biosphere” reserve seeks to conserve the traditional lifestyles of its human inhabitants, an integral part of the protected ecosystem. The Reserve has a total of 5,250 km² (830,000 hectares) of technically preserved land (seven percent of the country), encompassing tropical lowland swamp-forest, pine savannas, and mountain rainforest. As well, some additional 5,000 Miskitu, Tawahka, Pech, Garífunas and Mestizos live in the valleys and along the Caribbean coast, many of whom continue to survive through their traditional subsistence of farming of rice, beans and plantains along the rivers, supplemented by fishing and hunting.

The interior of the reserve remained wild and untrammeled – until recently. (photo: Tilman Jaeger, IUCN)

Fauna and Flora

According to UNESCO, 39 species of mammal, 377 species of bird and 126 reptiles and amphibians have been identified in the Río Plátano. More than two dozen of these species are endangered–from the the giant anteater, Baird’s (Central American) tapir, jaguar, ocelot, puma, margay and jaguarondi to the Central American otter, Caribbean manatee, American crocodile, brown caiman, red brocket deer, harpy eagle, scarlet macaw, green macaw, military macaw, king vulture, great curassow, green turtle, loggerhead turtle and leatherback turtle.

As well, the RPBR contains the largest virgin broad leaf rain forest in Honduras. Some of the flora species that grow in this area include pine, mahogany, cedar, balsa, ceiba, guayacan, rosewood and sapodilla and rare orchids. According to Boise State University ornithologist David Anderson, the area encompassed by the reserve occupies an evolutionary keystone position in the Central American Isthmus that was central to the divergence of many vertebrate, insect, and plant lineages, facts just now beginning to be understood.

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Jack Eidt

About Jack Eidt

Writer, urban theorist, and environmental advocate, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion - Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com.