Nestled deep in the sub-tropical forest of north-western Belize and renowned for being the largest private reserve and second largest single protected area in the country, the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) is located only two and a half hours away from Belize City.
However, before it became a haven for wildlife of all forms, in Pre-Classic times the lands now known as the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area was home to Belize’s first inhabitants, the Maya. With the mysterious demise of the great Maya civilization around 1000 A.D., and the colonization of what we now call Belize, the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area was plundered for logwood and then mahogany for trade with Europe.
In the 1980s when Belize's focus shifted to agro-industry, the RBCMA lands took on a higher agricultural value. Fortunately, there was also a resurgence of attention on the value of the environment at the same time. It was with this commitment to the environment that in 1988, the non-profit organization Programme for Belize (PFB) gained access to 90,000 acres of land in the Orange Walk District. This donation from Coca Cola Inc marked the start of PfB’s flagship project, the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.
Since then, the conservation site has increased to a total of 260,000 acres representing approximately 4% of Belize’s total land area. In terms of natural vegetation communities, the RBCMA is the most diverse protected area in Belize. It also makes a significant contribution to the representation of community types within the national protected area system. Two vegetation types are only represented in the protected area system in the RBCMA. It is an important site for a third and, in addition, the RBCMA contains over 75% of the national representation within protected areas of another three vegetation types.
The contribution of extent, variety in terms of vegetation type, and the occurrence of species of conservation concern make the RBCMA among the top ranked areas on a national scale. The RBCMA is also home to 200 species of trees, 390 species of birds (25 migratory species), 70 species of mammals and 39 species of conservation concern including the Jaguar, Puma, Margay, Ocelot, the Howler and Spider Monkeys.
The RBCMA is the largest private reserve in Belize, the largest protected area and the largest non-government land –holding in Northern Belize and the second largest single protected area in the country. In all, it covers 4% (260,000) of the national land area. The RBCMA therefore plays a significant part in biodiversity conservation on a national scale, in the role of private reserves within the national protected area network and the economy of the region.
At the regional level the RBCMA is part of the Maya lowlands which is comprised of Peten, Selva Lacondon, Belize, southern Quintana Roo and Campeche. The Campechean and Yucatan Biogeographical Provinces are recognized centers for biodiversity. It connects with the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Peten, Guatemala) and the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (Campeche, Mexico) covering 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) forming the largest protected area complex in Central America and one of the most important in the Neo Tropical region.
The extent of the landscape, its connectivity with the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, through the Maya Biosphere Reserve and Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, and its management has made it possible for the RBCMA to have the highest density of Jaguars in Belize and perhaps the region. It was rated the best managed protected area under the recent assessment within the National Protected Area System Project. Due to its rich diversity, efficient protection and a healthy prey base, the RBCMA has been selected as the release site for the restoration of the globally threatened Harpy Eagle (Harpia Harpyja) in 2005. More information about the conservation importance and conservation programmes of the RBCMA can be found in the 5th Edition Management Plan 2006-2010.