I’m back in Brisbane after eight amazing weeks working as a herpetologist in Honduras! I was working in a team of biologists and educators organised by Operation Wallacea, a conservation research organisation based in England. Throughout the field season we had over fifty staff, including herpetologists (amphibians & reptiles), mammalogists (furry things), ornithologists (birds), entomologists (insects), habitat biologists, chiropterologists (bats), mycologists (fungi), lecturers, and schools coordinators. It was quite a multinational group, with England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and Australia represented. We hosted over 200 high school and university students from all over the world, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, United States, Canada, Brazil, Netherlands, Malta, and Iceland.
Cusuco National Park, at least on paper, covers an area of approximately 234 square kilometres (90 square miles) of the Sierra de Omoa in the Cordillera Merendón along the Honduras-Guatemala border in northwestern Honduras. In reality, even the authorities, the Instituto Nacional de Conservación y Desarrollo Forestal, Areas Protegidas y Vida Silvestre or ICF, would be hard pressed to show you the park’s boundaries on a map. The park consists of a core protected area (light green in the map below) which protects dwarf forest at the peaks, around 2425 metres (7956 ft), and broadleaf and pine cloud forest down to about 1600 metres (5250 ft). A buffer zone (darker green) surrounds the core, protecting rainforest, semi-arid forest, and the stream drainages down to just above sea level. Besides preserving a huge diversity of species, the park protects the entire water supply of San Pedro Sula, which, with a population of just over 700,000, is Honduras’ second largest city after the capital, Tegucigalpa.
The park is a Key Biodiversity Area within the Mesoamerica Biodiversity Hotspot. It is home to 270 bird species, over 100 amphibian and reptile species, 35 bat species, and a few larger mammals, including the Mantled Howler Monkey, Jaguar, and Baird’s Tapir. To focus on herpetofauna, at least 31 amphibians, 24 lizards, and 47 snakes can be found in the park. Of those species, 14 are endemic to Honduras, 9 are co-endemics (found only in Honduras and Guatemala), and 10 species are found in Cusuco National Park and nowhere else in the world. As a result, it is deemed the 25th most irreplaceable area for threatened amphibians worldwide (le Saout et al. 2013). Despite being established as a national park in 1987, the region, including the core zone, is threatened by deforestation, making way for coffee and cardamom plantations, and poaching, particularly of medium to large mammals. The amphibians of Cusuco are further threatened by the amphibian chytrid fungus. For more information about the impact of chytrid fungus on amphibians, see my previous post, “Help Hunter Help Honduran Herps.”
Operation Wallacea has established seasonal camps, a Base Camp and four satellite camps, throughout the park, located to maximise the elevational gradient and habitat types surveyed. During my seven and a half weeks in the National Park, I spent half a week in Guanales, one week in Cantiles, two weeks in Cortecito, and the rest of the time in Base Camp, surveying or waiting to go to the next satellite camp. The only camp I didn’t visit was El Danto, which was only open for three weeks. I will tell you all about the camps, the research, and the wildlife in the next post, so check back in the next few days. I’m also adding more photos to my Honduras Gallery, so have a look at what’s already posted and check the Gallery regularly for new additions.