Bosawas Centre for Mesoamerican Conservation

To study and promote the survival of wildlife in Nicaragua


Founded by presidential decree in 1991, the "BOSAWAS Natural Resources Nature Reserve" was declared a "Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage" by UNESCO in 1998. The reserve is located on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, at the border with Honduras. Together with three neighbouring protected areas of Honduras (Río Patuca National Park, Tawhaka Anthropological Reserve, and Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve), it constitutes the so called 'Heart of the Mesoamerican Biocorridor', representing with its 40,000 km² the largest protected area complex of tropical mountain moist forest north of the Amazon basin. Bosawas alone, including a core area still maintained as untouched tropical rainforest and a conflict zone in agricultural use, has an extension of about 20,000 km². Its different ecosystems have an extraordinarily rich biodiversity, including many endemic species, and have been little explored. The reserve is known to harbour large populations of endangered species such as spider and howler monkeys, giant anteater, Baird's tapir , jaguar, ocelot, margay cat, harpy eagle, military and scarlet macaws as well as some 215 other known bird species, including many North American migrants such as wood thrushes, cerulean warblers, and Canada warblers. The highest mountain 'Saslaya' of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve is also part of Nicaragua's first National Park. Many of the animal and plant species present in the reserve are extinct in other parts of the isthmus and have awakened scientific interest around the world.

At the same time, Bosawas provides a living for as many as 15,000 people. Most of the core area of Bosawas (about 8,000 km²) is the traditional home to the indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna people. Since the end of the war in 1990, poor farmers, the 'mestizos', coming from different parts of the country, have migrated to the region and are encroaching on the boundaries of the reserve. This induces a conversion from natural forest to grazing lands, leading to irreversible land degradation. Livelihoods based on natural resources are getting more and more uncertain, and the integrity of indigenous territories is threatened as is the biodiversity in the area. The indigenous people are opposed to the invading colonists and want to maintain the integrity of the reserve.


The Saint Louis Zoo's programme in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve focuses not so much on animals as on the interaction between indigenous people and animals. One component of the study employs land-use patterns, e.g., locations of villages, agriculture, and hunting, to assess the spatial impact human disturbance has on animal distribution and density. Another component evaluates direct human pressure on hunted species and assesses sustainability of hunting rates. Censuses of birds have been completed, are in progress for terrestrial mammals and bats, and are envisaged for other groups of animals. Indigenous people are involved in all aspects of the project and will use the results to develop a wildlife management plan, plus the experience they gain will prepare them for continued wildlife monitoring and evaluation.

WAZA Conservation Project 04018 is operated by the Saint Louis Zoo (Project Manager Cheryl Asa) in collaboration with Saint Louis University, Missouri Botanical Garden, University of Missouri-St. Louis, The Nature Conservancy, Idaho State University, and Penn State University.


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