Protecting Belize's Biodiversity through Women-Led Conservation

Established in 1985 to protect habitat for the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) – locally called baboons – the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) is a voluntary grassroots private protected area covering 5,179 hectares along the historic Belize Old River in the northern coastal plain of Belize. The Community Baboon Sanctuary is a Community Conserved Area that forms an important corridor connecting critical areas in the Maya Forest Corridor (formerly the Central Belize Biological Corridor) and the Northern Belize Biological Corridor. It is listed under Category IV of the IUCN protected area categories to preserve species or habitats.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary received the James Waight Award in 2019, the highest award for conservation in Belize, and the Equator Prize in 2017. For the last 36 years, nearly all the landowners in a 20 square-mile area near the Belize River are still upholding the voluntarily signed pledges that committed them to protect the habitat of the black howler monkey in that region. They agreed to protect the forest along the riverbanks, leaving food trees when clearing land and maintaining corridors of forested areas around their farms. Their commitment made possible the establishment of the Community Baboon Sanctuary in 1985. The project reflects the conservation ethic that exists within the people of rural Belize and is truly a grassroots conservation program.

The communities along the Belize Old River included in this project are Bermudian Landing, Big Falls, Double Head Cabbage, Flowers Bank, Isabella Bank, Big Falls, St. Paul’s, and Willows Bank. The Community Baboon Sanctuary was initially managed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) from 1985 to 1996. Following the Society’s closure, community members composed mainly of women leaders created the Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG).

In 1998, CBSWCG was created as the new management committee of the sanctuary and registered as a legal non-profit organization in Belize. An elected 7-member board of directors runs CBSWCG, a president and one female representative from each of the seven villages, and a three-member advisory committee. One compelling feature of CBSWCG is that the organization brings together women from all walks of life, including homemakers and women with different religions, cultures, and educational qualifications. These women work well together to promote peace, stability, health, women’s empowerment, and conservation ethics as part of their daily lives while engaging in sustainable livelihoods within their families and across their communities.

However, visitation to the CBS came to a complete halt at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, CBS is facing profound financial challenges. The CBSWCG staff are currently working voluntarily with just a stipend. Therefore, there is a need to hire a  FieldCoordinator and an  Office  Manager to ensure successful implementation of our projects and maintain daily operations of the CBS.

The COVID -19 Pandemic has also caused loss of employment that resulted in increased agricultural farming for food security and expansion of cattle ranching. Both activities negatively contribute to increased deforestation of the riverine forest, which is the prime habitat for the black howler monkeys, and contribute to climate change.

The three main objectives of the Community Baboon Sanctuary project:

  • Protect the interconnected Maya Forest Corridor (formally Northern Biological Corridor), integrity of the Community Baboon Sanctuary lands (20 square miles), and maintain a viable population of over 6,000 black howler monkeys.
  • Implement climate-resilient practices amongst 300 farmers.
  • Engage the seven communities (with a population of 2800 including students, teachers, youth groups, and other community groups) to conserve the CBS natural resources.

The seven main activities of the project:

  • Provide salary for a project manager/ field officer and office manager to strengthen the human resource capacity of the CBS and CBSWCG to achieve the goals and objectives of the project effectively.
  • Purchase and distribute Maya Nuts and  Madre  De  Cocoa that are resistant and resilient to droughts and floods for forest and riverine restoration to cattle ranchers and farmers.
  • Purchase and distribute fruits and vegetable seeds to small-scale farmers to farm seasonal crops traditionally grown for home and local market consumption.
  • Conduct the Fallet A. Young Environmental Summer Camp students of the CBS communities.
  • Students, youth groups, and rangers receive onsite training in forestry, fisheries, and data collection.
  • Conduct CBS/Belize River Valley commerce and Expo as a market where farmers, cattle ranchers, and entrepreneurs promote and sell their products.
  • Purchase a projector for educational presentations to schools, communities, and visitors.
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