Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

by Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P
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Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

The sixth wave of mass extinction is fast and voracious.  However, in December we carried out our first field survey, in one of our reserves, of an endemic species of magnolia recently discovered in 2015 (Magnolia rzedowskiana). This species is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as Endangered (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/82782448/82783726).

There is a lack of detailed information about this magnolia species. Our population survey found that there are approximately 1,662 individuals in the reserve.  It also allows us to see how the population structure has changed and will change over time.

When the reserve was newly created, in 1996, the old cloud forest was under heavy anthropologic threats from an authorized program of forest management (legal logging), as well as illegal logging, and foraging by livestock. These activities left the area in severely degradated state. There was no understory and therefore no natural regeneration of the existing species (oaks, cedars, and of course the magnolias).  So, the first priority was to build fences that would keep the neighbors´ livestock out and protect the few magnolias that had survived decades of degradation.  And while a change was evident from the beginning, it was not documented in any way. Now the numbers speak for themselves.

Our team found that approximately 100 “relic” specimens, with diameters of 20 cm or greater have served as ´seed trees,´ giving way to a 1108% rate of natural regeneration.  The majority of the trees measured have heights of 1, 2 and 3 meters and diameters less than 4 cm.  These are the saplings that have grown thanks to effective and timely conservation in the field that has brought a species back from the brink of extinction.

Our work continues…

In order to avoid further reduction in this and the Magnolia pedrazae populations, and prevent the extinction of these species, we have more work to do.  In the future we will conduct a census wherein each individual tree will be georeferenced to allow for the monitoring of their individual growth and health. We will also survey populations of  Magnolia pedrazae, which was also recently scientifically described, and is in danger of extinction, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/67513587/67513803.

In our current times, when we are increasingly feeling severe shocks from our human caused climate disruption, this is tremendously good news.  We have shown evidence of the effectiveness of our work in the field, which will help us to secure additional areas for biodiversity conservation.  In the Sierra Gorda, we say NO to extinction. 

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With the arrival of the rainy season, we were able to stop worrying about forest fires and focus our efforts on monitoring and protecting the reserves.  We are working on the maintenance of our fences in the most distant parts of the reserve and interacting with our neighboring landowners.  After an initial shaky start to the rainy season, this September brought abundant rain, ending the dry spell that persisted in 2018 and 2019.  The rivers and streams and waterfalls are following which means fauna in the various reserves have ample access to water.  Vegetation is also recuperating from the long drought.  This is especially evident in the area affected by the great fire of 2019, of the Hoya Verde reserve where we are seeing abundant regeneration of oaks and pines.

New growth can also represent additional combustible material in the next fire season (in 2021) which is why we are planning and coordinating to have a strong unified front with the same members of the firefighting brigade this coming year.  We project having them operational during the 4 most critical months of the dry season.

Fortunately, despite the pandemic, the monitoring and the protection of the reserves have not been interrupted.  This is because in many cases the monitoring is undertaken by individuals, alone, or by a group of park rangers, who can easily maintain a safe distance from one another.

Our hidden cameras caught captures of pumas, pacas, brocket deer, and collared peccary since our last report when we sent images caught on tape of a black bear and a jaguar.

We have the honor of announcing that in one of the reserves we found a healthy and robust population of two species new to science, the cactus Mammillaria rzewdowskiana (with a highly restricted distribution), a true daughter of our limestone mountains, and a new agave, Agave muxii.  It never ceases to amaze us year after year, we keep finding new species in the Sierra Gorda.  We see clearly that our reserves are islands of biodiversity of the highest value.  That we have an enormous responsibility to protect them at all costs.  In the Sierra Gorda, we say NO to the massive wave of extinction that is decimating life on our planet.  We thank you on behalf of this vast voiceless biodiverse community for your support and generosity. 

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At this latitude, spring is the worst and most difficult time of year as it is the dry season.  Climate change effects are evident, like higher than average temperatures, bringing with them a severe delay in rains and consequently a higher risk of forest fires.  A year ago, under similar conditions, there was a large fire in Valle Verde that for almost a month was unstoppable.  Springtime for us can be a scary time. 

For that reason, GESG has been managing and leading inter-institutional work and coordination with all three levels of government so that we are much better prepared than we were last year.  Through a partnership with World Land Trust, for the first time, we have our own brigade to help prevent and fight forest fires.  They are based in Valle Verde and made up of 10 people who are properly-equipped.  They´re all from the region and have previous experience in fire management.  They´ve been tasked with clearing trails and making fire breaks that would help in the case that they should be necessary.  They have repaired an observation tower which gives us an excellent lookout point to monitor much of the area, in addition, they have patrol routes and interact regularly with other property owners in the area.  The only pending item is a course in fire management given by CONAFOR, which has been delayed due to the health contingency of COVID-19.

This brigade can be reinforced, if necessary, with 7 additional members from our team at GESG.   This year, they´ve participated in putting out two fires to date (La Cercada and Los Galvanes Hill).  In addition, in the region, we can count on the Federal Government which has 3 brigades (CONANP, CONAFOR) and the State Government of Queretaro (SEDEA) and the Directorates of Civil Protection of City Councils and Honorable Volunteer Fire Brigades in the region and the state.  Even though the risk is always latent, we are without a doubt better prepared to combat fires in the region and better able to protect the reserves. 

On the other hand, we had an extraordinary capture on our wildlife camera, for the third time we caught a black bear on tape.  This is only the third such registry of this endangered species in Central Mexico in the last 3 years.  In footage from the same camera, we also saw a jaguar and puma.  For there to be three predators in the same area coexisting, speaks to the health of the forests in this zone.  It is an honor for us to share with you this event:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFkQAsysuvg&feature=youtu.beY&fbclid=IwAR39LS1qggy89CJ-3C_bptRrtc8of4fUgwylW7UMAH8romfy5V_6muHwt68

 

Apart from that, our park rangers have had a presence in all of the reserves with their rounds and reinforcing fences.  We´re in the process of buying another property to add to the Cerro Prieto reserve an additional 100 hectares, with the support of World Land Trust.  WLT partnered with the famous Finnish band, Nightwish, to show their support for biodiversity conservation in the Sierra Gorda mountains through this spectacular video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VshpPBBehxE

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Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, Ranger Miguel F.
Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, Ranger Miguel F.

On this occasion we want to share the experience from the last surveillance tour to one of the private reserves that we guard in this special territory that is the Sierra Gorda. Located in the great mountain range that runs east of the Sierra Gorda from south to north, it turns out to be unique for its ecosystems and species that live there.

To get there requires travelling for an hour of paved road, then a dirt road that is only passable in a 4x4 vehicle and where the driver's expertise is indispensable. Even if it's a jeep, it's easy to hit the rocks and damage the vehicle or get into one of the ditches that the rain has formed. A chainsaw is also necessary, because the wind knocks down trees and or it is not possible to be reached or one is trapped on the return if in that period an oak fell, which happened to us on one occasion. And the inseparable machete, to keep the bushes and branches trimmed and uncover the trail for future monitoring. This minimum maintenance is a recurring activity and takes up time on each tour.

After about 45 minutes, you arrive at the point where you leave the vehicle and start a long walk along a path that is used regularly by pumas and jaguars, to the shelter of old oaks and white cedars that are dripping wet from the fog that enveloped everything that morning. “The trail” is barely visible, as we just keep it open to minimize the disturbance and to deter other people from following it. In short, it is easy to get lost in that green sea, and in order to get oriented in the blurring fog, we use larger trees as a point of reference. In most visits it is the rule to find the territorial marks of pumas or jaguars on the trail, which they do with their back claws when “scratching” on the ground-litter and where they also defecate or urinate. That visit was no exception and I had the joy of finding 4 of those tracks. This speaks of how alive that great forest is, where the great predators are at ease and therefore the chain of life that sustains them remains robust and functional.

On this monitoring visit, I decided to go through the 11-kilometer perimeter fence that we built in 2007 and that since then has kept out the free-roaming cattle of neighboring properties. Trekking this very abrupt terrain, where limestone rocks dominate and are covered with moss and leaf litter, forces me to walk a bit blindly. I can´t see the often loose rocks that slide when stepped on, having to be particularly careful. A bad blow, sprain or fracture in those latitudes would be a bad experience, because one is far from any help. And worse, eventhough we wear protective gear, I am always on the alert for rattlesnakes. And fortunately, they are extremely calm and gentle beings. Keeping that fence in good condition is of the greatest importance, as trees or branches can fall and break it. A single damaged section allows the cattle to enter and destroy many years of natural regeneration. To make the point, the populations of the two species of magnolia (Magnolia rzedowskiana and M. pedrazae) that were “discovered” in this sanctuary were barely surviving before the area was fenced, and now the young magnolias are literally counted by the hundreds. It is no exaggeration to say there is a 200% increase in species when conservation is the main priority.

The micro-endemic species which were on the verge of extinction due to the illegal logging suffered in these forests for decades have slowly returned from the edge of extinction. And that is only to report on what is obvious to my eyes. Apart from the permanent presence of pumas, jaguars, margays, ocelots and endemic and endangered chivizcoyos, cryptic species such as salamanders maintain their lares in these shady forests. So each reconnaissance tour is gratifying, even if it is to start early and finish late in the day. The presence of this and other Reserves allows us to keep human greed far away and allow life to return in stronger numbers to those protected spaces, and re-wild nature.

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Photo of Magnolia Rzedowskiana by Roberto Pedraza
Photo of Magnolia Rzedowskiana by Roberto Pedraza

In order to adequately protect the private nature reserves that GESG oversees in the Sierra Gorda, we need to have a continuous presence in the field, surveillance trails and, very importantly, to keep the fences in good condition.

It is important to remember that domestic cattle (cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, horses) are exotic fauna that did not exist in America and the local species and ecosystems evolved without their presence. As a result, cattle presence in forests and jungles have had a severe negative impact by affecting succession processes and forest regeneration, their grazing is eradicating undergrowth and destroying the indispensable niche for many species. And of course, depredation conflicts arise for the big cats (jaguars and pumas) that find the cattle to be easy prey and that of course the cattle ranchers seek to eliminate. Throughout Mexico this leads to the useless slaughtering of felines, because many times these innocent specimens are sacrificed, or they are blamed for the death of animals that had died for other reasons for which felines are also targeted.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to keep our reserves free from cattle, grazing and destruction, being dedicated exclusively to wildlife. We recently calculated the CO2 that the reserves capture on their surface each year and it adds up to approximately 30,000 tons of CO2, a significant contribution to global well-being on a global scale and of course it has abundant hydrological recharge, landscape, oxygen production, soil retention and formation, climate regulation and of course the home for valuable biodiversity. For this, we have dedicated time and resources to repair the fences in several of the reserves, both those that were consumed by the fire last May in the Mesa Colorada and Hoya Verde, as well as those in the Cañón del Fresno and Las Arenitas. With this year's severe drought, the reserves were among the few areas with unrippled vegetation, so it certainly attracted the attention of the ranchers and they turned a blind eye if their cattle were introduced into them.

Maintaining the fences required replacing posts (we purchased iron for its durability), tightening and repairing the fence wires, and also maintaining the walkways for workers and carrying the posts. In the case of Mesa Colorada, they required a mule rental and they had to build a small camp because of their remote location (3 hours on foot from the El Pocito community).

On the other hand we maintained presence and visits in other reserves, that fortunately received rain in isolated events and the jagüeyes (small dams) were filled, guaranteeing a water supply for the wildlife. We also remodeled the roof of a small hut located in one of the reserves, installed canals, and collected water in a tank, so as to feed a watering hole. Now the wildlife has water in a place where such water may be scarce.

And once again, we registered another instance of black bear (Ursus americanus) in one of the reserves, which would be the second in central Mexico in at least two centuries. Even better, it is a female. So with a little luck, we hope in the mid-term to record cubs and be able to talk about a reproductive population in the Sierra Gorda. They will have to be protected and cared for so that they can flourish and be reintegrated into the fabric of the region's ecosystems.

Proteger de manera adecuada a las reservas naturales privadas que el GESG custodia en la Sierra Gorda requiere de nuestra continua presencia en campo, los recorridos de vigilancia y muy importante, mantener los cercados en buen estado.

Recordemos que el ganado doméstico (Vacas, ovejas, cabras, asnos, caballos) es fauna exótica, que no existía en América y sus especies y ecosistemas evolucionaron sin su presencia. Por lo que su presencia en bosques y selvas ha tenido un severo impacto negativo al afectar procesos de sucesión y regeneración forestal, su ramoneo desaparece al sotobosque y ello destruye el nicho indispensable para muchas especies. Y desde luego que surgen los conflictos de depredación por los grandes felinos (jaguares y pumas) que encuentran al ganado como presas fáciles y que desde luego los ganaderos buscan eliminar. Por todo México ello provoca el inútil sacrificio de los felinos, pues muchas veces se sacrifican a ejemplares inocentes, o se les culpa de la muerte de animales que murieron por otros motivos e igualmente se les elimina.

Por ello, es de la mayor importancia mantener a nuestras reservas sin ganado, libres de su ramoneo y destrucción como espacios dedicados exclusivamente a la vida silvestre. Recientemente hicimos el cálculo del CO2 que cada año capturan en su superficie las reservas y suma aproximadamente 30,000 toneladas de CO2, un aporte significativo para el bienestar global desde la escala global y desde luego ello abunda en la recarga hidrológica, paisaje, producción de oxígeno, retención y formación de suelos, regulación climática y desde luego la casa para la valiosa biodiversidad. Para ello, hemos dedicado tiempo y recursos a reparar los cercados en varias de las reservas, tanto los que fueron consumidos por el incendio de Mayo pasado en las de la Mesa Colorada y la Hoya Verde, como los de el Cañón del Fresno y Las Arenitas. Con la fuerte sequía de este año, las reservas eran de los pocos espacios con vegetación sin ramonear, por lo que desde luego ello atrajo la atención de los ganaderos y se hacían de la vista gorda si su ganado se introducía en las mismas.

El dar mantenimiento a los cercados requirió de cambiar postes (adquirimos de fierro por su duración), tensar y reparar los alambres de los cercos, y también dar mantenimiento a los senderos para el paso de los trabajadores y acarreo de los postes. Que en el caso de la Mesa Colorada requirió de la renta de una mula e instalar un pequeño campamento por su lejanía (3 horas a pie desde la comunidad de El Pocito).

Por otro lado mantuvimos presencia y recorridos en las demás reservas, que afortunadamente recibieron lluvia en eventos puntuales y los jagüeyes (pequeñas presas) se llenaron y podemos garantizar el abasto de agua en las mismas para la fauna. También se remozó el tejado de la pequeña cabaña que se encuentra en una de ellas, se instalaron canales y se colecta agua en un depósito, para de ahí alimentar un abrevadero y la fauna disponga de agua en un paraje donde la misma puede ser bastante escasa.

Y una vez más, tuvimos el registro de otro ejemplar de oso negro (Ursus americanus) en una de las reservas, lo que sería el segundo en el centro de México en al menos dos siglos y lo mejor es que se trata de una hembra. Por lo que con un poco de suerte, esperamos en el mediano plazo registrar cachorros y poder hablar de una población reproductora en la Sierra Gorda. A la que habrá que proteger y cuidar para que florezca y se reintegren al tejido de los ecosistemas de la región.

 

GESG in the field
GESG in the field
Roberto Pedraza Ruiz in the field
Roberto Pedraza Ruiz in the field
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Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P

Location: Queretaro - Mexico
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Twitter: @SierraGorda
Project Leader:
Martha "Pati" Ruiz Corzo
Jalpan de Serra, Queretaro Mexico
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