Guatemala: Protection of La Danta

One of the largest pyramids in the world by volume, Danta, is located in Guatemala in one of the few Biosphere Reserves of the Planet. However, wildfires and a lack of community involvement are requiring urgent actions in the area. In addition, overdevelopment, rudimentary slash and burn agricultural practices, archaeological looting, and deforestation are risking the country's valuable cultural heritage.

The governor of Petén, Rudel Alvarez, is also a blogger and he describes the problems of the environmental reserves in the region, which contains about 85% of the protected areas and the Mayan Biosphere Reserve covers more than 13% of the country.

International independent reporters and bloggers visited Petén recently, with a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to sort out the scientific claims about conservation and to document the stories. Their project was called "Future of Peten. They were lucky enough to visit the Mirador Basin Project and meet the Director of the Project, and presents The view from the Top of the Maya World:

El Mirador, as head archaeologist Richard Hansen enthusiastically reminded us yesterday from the top of La Danta pyramid, is a lost city loaded with superlatives:

* The first state-level civilization in the Western Hemisphere
* The largest (by volume) pyramid in the world
* The greatest concentration of Maya sites in the world

Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people constructed this city over 750 years starting about 500 B.C., though occupation started hundreds of years earlier.

Sadly the reserve is facing a serious environmental and social crisis, and urgent actions must be taken. Nadia Sussmand wrote about it on What if there were no eco to tour :

Today head archaeologist Richard Hansen continued our tour of monumental architecture, while discussing his plans for the development of ecotourism at El Mirador . Hansen is convinced that the only way to stop deforestation is to create a legally protected 810,000-acre no-cut area around the archaeological sites here, bounded by the natural borders of the Mirador Basin . He maintains that all logging – sustainable or not – will sooner or later lead to road-building, slash-and-burn farming, and the permanent destruction of the jungle.

The team was blogging from the field, from the very heart of the jungle, as Kara Andrade, another member told on Oasis :

The laboratory in the jungle is a small oasis of electricity and Wi-Fi in Peten's sea of rainforest darkness broken only by the drone of cicadas that is present all day. Every night, David Barreda and I move in with a bag of battery chargers, power strips, two laptops and a multitude of gadgets that allow us to connect with the world outside. We come in from the remotest stretch of jungle in Guatemala and upload like drought-stricken people to water. We are fiends at capturing video and photos and are at times overwhelmed with the amount of new content we're producing. Dispatches are coming slowly and we run with the rhythm of the generator.

Danta is the name of the Pyramid, but it is also an endangered specimen of tapir in the region. A collaborative group of university students organized to protect the danta, and to teach the community ways to protect it (people often eat tapir meat in Peten, a tasty exotic meat). Blogger Mesas de Diaologo tells us about the students from the Forestry and Environmental Studies from the Rural Guatemalan University and the Agro-forestry Sciences Institute collaborated in an action plan to protect the habitat of the tapir. The plan focuses on the use of education and the development of economic alternatives for the communities.

Global Heritage Fund is helping to save The Mirador Basin and has a detailed description of the area and a video.

It is complex to figure out ways to protect La Danta and dantas when people are facing extreme poverty, isolation and exclusion. Only community involvement and engagement, and providing alternatives to the peoples living near the protected areas can rescue both Danta and dantas, and build a better future.

Thumbnail photo by Lala Lulu


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