The tropical forest

GlypheThe tropical forest


The Selva Maya, which includes part of the territory of Belize, northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico, is one of the world’s most important ecological systems. It is considered the largest tropical forest in Mesoamerica and has a surface of more than four million hectares of land within protected areas.

The presence of an important ecological and environmental gradient has resulted in more than 20 ecosystems, from the evergreen forests of Peten to the dry forests in the northern Yucatan Peninsula. These ecosystems play an important role in provisioning water and maintaining landscape connectivity since multiple ecological corridors in the region allow mobility between organisms and species as well as ecosystem functioning as a whole.


Around the protected areas, the Selva Maya has a rural population of about 600,000 people with high cultural diversity. The region is inhabited by different ethnic groups, among them Choles, Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Mayans, Garifunas, mestizos, Mennonites and others from the three countries.

This great diversity offers high potential for productive intercultural work. Communities that inhabit the Selva Maya depend on the same natural resources. To ensure the long-term existence of the Selva Maya and its population, it is necessary to propose sustainable alternatives for the use of resources, to establish regional governance mechanisms, to strengthen management capacities of those responsible for the protected areas, and to advocate public policy through decision-makers; all in an environment of intercultural cooperation.


The Selva Maya has high biological diversity. Striking examples of its flora and fauna include

  • Highly endangered species, such as the scarlet macaw, jaguar and tapir
  • Species endemic to the Selva Maya, including the white turtle or hickatee (Dermatemys mawii), the Yucatan brown brocket (Mazama pandora), the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and the ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)
  • Species of flora and fauna which provide important alternative income and/or are a food source for the rural population, including the breadnut or Ramón tree (Brosimum alicastrum), chicle tree (Manilkara sapota), cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) and Africanized honey bees.


The Selva Maya faces immense threats that compromise its functionality and viability in the medium and long term. These threats include forest fires, illegal logging and trafficking of flora and fauna in most of the area. Land use change and land degradation caused by agricultural activities and the application of pesticides also heavily affect the region. Additionally, the borders between the three countries sharing the natural resources of the Selva Maya accentuate the challenge of implementing joint strategies to mitigate these threats.