FLAAR Mesoamerica

How can you know whether a flat grass plain is a cattle pasture or a virgin savanna?

When you drive into the Poptun karst area of Peten, there are many miles and lots of kilometers of flat grassland. Now these are cow pastures (so any former trees totally destroyed). How can you know when a flat ecosystem surrounded by hillside rain forest is really a natural, native savanna and not just chopped down for a cattle pasture? Of course if there are cattle and horses and goats wandering around, you know it’s a pasture. But what ecosystem(s) were here a hundred years ago before cattle reached this deep into the remote areas? Also between Santa Elena and La Libertad and from there to Sayaxche there are thousands of acres (hundreds of square kilometers) of flat grasslands. How much of this was a savanna for the Classic Maya over a thousand years ago? How much of this was a bajo (rather than a savanna)?

So FLAAR (Mesoamerica research team for flora, fauna, and ecosystems) is studying savannas throughout the Reserva de la Biosfera Maya (RBM). These are virgin savannas: no cattle (only wild deer, tapir, and wild peccary wander around here, plus an occasional crocodile). FLAAR was formed in 1969 to map the Yaxha area. When I noticed these 4th-9th century Maya temples, pyramids, palaces were being damaged by grave robbers before our arrival, and that the forests were being chopped down and burned to make cattle pastures, I initiated a request with the then President of Guatemala and the head of FYDEP to create a national park to protect Lake Yaxha, Lake Sacnab, the islands (Topoxte Island and the others) and to protect Nakum about a dozen kilometers away. In later years other conservationists added the Naranjo ruins area to the initial Lake Yaxha-Lake Sacnab-Nakum core.

Two days ago (in November 2021) we hiked many kilometers up and down hills to reach the Savanna East of Nakum (in the Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo). We then hiked into the savanna, a tad moist during the rainy season (savannas are seasonally inundated during October into December).

We have lots of FLAAR reports coming out on this savanna, plus the Spider Lily Savanna that we documented in Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre several months ago.

We estimate there are dozens, scores of other virgin savannas hidden between the rain forest hills (savannas here are all in land flat as a pancake). We are working on savannas as part of our ongoing 5-year project of cooperation and conservation with CONAP.

FLAAR (in USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (in Guatemala) and the members of the FLAAR-REPORTS team are working every week, every month, every year. Since there have been no more in-person trade shows or expos for wide-format inkjet printer technology, we are focusing more on publishing our research on Neotropical plants, animals, and endangered ecosystems, especially in the Maya Lowlands (though we also have been working in the Maya Highlands for several decades).

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