Komchén de los Pájaros (‘Komchen’ of the Birds) Private Protected Area

Komchén de los Pájaros was the dream of a woman who, as a lover of nature, has for 30 years cared for and protected many hectares of deciduous lowland forest native to the Yucatán peninsula by applying the concept that conservation of biodiversity is a challenge best undertaken with both a global perspective and a local focus.

Context and Importance of the Protected Natural Area 

While the Yucatan Peninsula is not a region that is rich in terms of the number of plant species it harbors, its native flora is very unique because it is considered to comprise one of the 17 floristic regions of Mexico (Rzedowski 1978).

Komchén del los Pájaros is part of the Deciduous Lowland Forest which represents 42% of the world’s tropical ecosystems. It is considered to be one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems due to both anthropogenic and natural causes. This forest grows in the poor and rocky soils of the region’s driest area in the north of Campeche and in the greater part of the Yucatan peninsula, an area where precipitation diminishes drastically by more than half over a stretch of barely 200 kilometers. The drought in this zone is quite severe, lasting up to eight months of the year; it is only slightly relieved by the rains known as the «nortes» («northers») or by winter storms. This is one of the most well-known and familiar of the region’s forests, spreading over the greater part of the state of Yucatan – the most populated portion of the territory of the Great Mayan Jungle. The percentage of endemic species in this region has continually changed as reported by various authors over time. Standley (1936) considered that 17% of the species of the peninsula were endemic. As of the most recent floristic inventories, the percentage of endemism has diminished to only 7.26% including a total of 167 endemic taxa. It is important to note that this calculation is based on the estimated existence of 2300 species of vascular plants in the Mexican portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. (Campos y Duran 1991).

Throughout the year, the dramatic changes of the deciduous lowland forest make it unrecognizable. During the rainy months, it is covered with fresh, green foliage making it cool and lush. Throughout the dry season, it loses 95% of its leaves, giving it a sad, desolate and dusty appearance with many trees appearing as if they were dead. However, suddenly and spectacularly, at the height of the drought, the forest is filled with color as many trees burst into bloom. Their flowering is made even more noticeable because of the lack of leaves on the trees. 

The fauna of the dry forest is abundant. Some of the mammals which inhabit it include: the Anteater (Tamandua mexicana), the Armadillo (Dasypus novemsinctus), the Racoon (Procyon lotor), the Long Tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata), the Badger (Nasua narica), and the White Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Other species that stand out include: the Eyra Cat (Herpailerus yagouaroundi), the Ocelote (Leopardus pardalis), the Puma (Puma concolor), the Jaguar (Panthera onca), the Coyote (Canis latrans), and the Collared Peccary (Tayassu tajacu). Important reptiles of the forest include the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana), the Black Iguana (Ctenosaura pectinata), the Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum), the Mexican Mud Turtle (Kinosternon integrum), as well as vipers and snakes such as the Coral Viper (Micrurus spp.) and the Boa (Boa constrictor).

Mexico ranks 10th in the world in bird biodiversity. In the Yucatan peninsula, there are 555 species of birds officially registered, comprising 50% of the existing bird species in the country (MacKinnon 2013). The region also offers refuge to thousands of continental migratory birds that can be easily observed. There are various parrots and parakeets such as the Yucatan parrot (Amazona xantholora), trogons like the (Trogon citreolus), the Mexican Cacique (Cacicus melanicterus), the West Mexican Chachalaca (Ortalis poliocephala), or the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Other animal orders that have not been as deeply studied as birds also have ample representation. These include many reptiles, amphibians and insects.

In terms of the ecosystem services provided by the deciduous dry forest, lumber production is poor; however, a vitally important ecosystem service provided by the forest is that it is the habitat of the wild relatives of Mexico’s primary agricultural crops (corn, beans, and squash). The forest also functions in capturing carbon, and it assists in soil conservation and maintenance of biodiversity as well as in maintenance of riparian communities. In addition, the forest serves to regulate climate as well as in the maintenance of mineral cycles. It is also the habitat of many wild endemic species and/or species of commercial value.

In the Yucatan, these forests have suffered two notable impacts. The sisal agroindustry, is sustained by the extensive cultivation of sisal, a plant native to the state of Yucatán. Its characteristic fiber allows the weaving of textiles, rendering a spectrum of domestic, commercial, agricultural and industrial products that satisfied important world market needs. This industry was particularly successful during the first 90 years of its existence (1850-1940).

By 1930, its decline became imminent due to the invention of synthetic fiber. Nevertheless, its presence persisted in the national economy with many grand sisal haciendas reaching the height of their grandeur in the beginning of the twentieth century. They finally deteriorated with the majority disappearing by the 1980s.

Since the 1970s, the momentum of agrarian land division and the rise of livestock production led to transformation of millions of hectares into irrigation districts, plantations and land use for extensive cattle production. Over the same period, tourism infrastructure was developed on a grand scale which also contributed to the loss of forests.

Today, climate change threatens to worsen the existing conditions of aridness and desertification in an already dry land. The situation is aggravated by the reality that the remaining Mexican forests continue to be lost and fragmented even though they are under protective legislation as one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country and the world. Articles 101, 101 BIS, 102 of the LEEGEPA include as a priority the preservation and sustainable use of jungle ecosystems.

In 1997, a world initiative leading to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor emerged from an assessment that warned that the current system of designated protected areas has been insufficient in protecting biodiversity. The Yucatan is at the heart of this nature corridor, creating links to the Central American protected areas and proposing low impact development in order to maintain the corridors between these areas. Komchén de los Pájaros Private Conservation Area is part of this corridor.

Conservation proposal and planned actions to achieve the mission and vision of Komchén de los Pájaros.

Her love of nature and her tireless energy have made it possible for the owner of the property, Ana Maria Palos de Foronda to protect the more than 300 hectares of lowland deciduous forest over the last 30 years. Her efforts have prevented agricultural use, the felling of trees and other high impact actions, and today this area, once a sisal producing hacienda, shows signs of visible recovery.

Upon Ana Maria’s arrival to Komchén de los Pájaros, there existed remains of the ruins of old buildings including machinery (shredders), a house and the housing of the industry’s workers. Because of the cultural importance of the sisal production activities which made Merida and the state of Yucatán prosperous in the past, she undertook the recovery of some of these ruins and today these buildings serve as an Investigation and Training Center in this threatened forest. The center facilitates productive and sustainable activities based on contemplation of the beautiful landscape, and on the flora and fauna, which can be a source of employment and income for local inhabitants.

This is the case with ecotourism – encompassing interests of nature photography, scientific tourism and birdwatching, to name a few. It is estimated that 20% of all travel in the world is related to nature tourism (leaving a financial impact of around 20 million U.S. dollars), and although Mexico has had a 25% annual growth in this activity, it is still fairly new in the Yucatan, creating a window of opportunity.

Ana Maria has designated a bequest in her will that grants 300 hectares in perpetuity to conservation, placing it under management, monitoring and oversight. Toward this end, a cooperative is currently being formed which is made up of a group of friends who share the same dream of creating a Private Protected Area. The institution will be managed by a board of directors overseen by a governing board designated by her which will be made up of family members and friends, a structure ensuring vigilance over actions taken by the board of directors and ensuring that her wishes are carried out as expressed in the foundational cooperative document. This private conservation area, has a functional zoning plan that includes:

Core Zone: This is the area representing the highest level of conservation and corresponding to more than 85% of the total area. Its primary objective is the medium and long term preservation of the ecosystems and their components, and in this area, only research and scientific collection are authorized. 

Multi-Use Zone: Not to exceed 2% of the total protected area, where a few productive low impact activities may take place, such as ecotourism for which a basic infrastructure already exists.

Buffer Zone: Includes private lots belonging to nature-friendly owners who will comply with the precepts of the statutes which are in draft stage.

Komchén de lo Pájaros, is not being promoted openly as a tourist destination in order to preserve its essence and exclusivity; however, without a doubt, it does need promotion through word of mouth from friends who visit and create collaborations with scientific institutions, foundations and people willing to support this project intellectually and financially toward the goal of creating a research and reference center for the lowland forest, and  an environmental education program involving local inhabitants and developing a source of productive projects to forge policies of sustainability for the purpose of conserving this important natural patrimony.

Dr. Xiomara Gálvez

Merida, Yuc. Mexico, 2017

Caribbean Coast Conservacy Director

Caribbean Flamingo Conservación Project Coordinator GCF

CKomchen de los Pajaros Protected Private Area Director