Ecotourism in Panama
By Will Irvine
Panama… one of the most complex ecosystems on this earth
The Republic of Panama, uniquely situated as a bridge of land between the coasts of North and South America, has inherited one of the most complex ecosystems on this earth. Panama is an extremely beautiful and ecologically diverse country, with a large number of rain forests, cloud forests, cool mountain retreats, pristine beaches, coastlines and islands. There are tremendous opportunities for the development of ecotourism here. In an effort to protect its natural resources, Panama has set aside a huge amount of land that has been allocated for the establishment and maintenance of national parks. As a result, Panama has a total of 17 national parks, forest reserves and wild life refuges.
The Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research and its role
Among the 10,000 species of plants found in Panama are about 1,200 varieties of orchids, 1,500 types of trees and 678 different ferns. The Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research has been studying plants and wild life in Panama for over 80 years now and has established several major research centers there. The Institute’s research center in Isla Galeta in Colon is conducting valuable studies of mangrove habitats, coral formations and the 22 species of tropical birds found on this island. These studies assist the authorities in Panama in monitoring and preserving the Republic’s Caribbean coastline, which shelters diverse marine creatures.
Barro Colorado wildlife refuge at
One of the most popular ecotourism destinations in the Republic of Panama is the Barro Colorado wildlife refuge at Lake Gatun. Lake Gatun is a freshwater lake flowing to the southeast that serves as a reservoir, providing water to operate the locks placed at intervals along the Panama Canal. The lake offers excellent opportunities for fishing. The Barro Colorado Island has been a protected nature reserve since 1923. The Panama Canal waterway also houses another island dedicated to exclusive research on monkeys.
Darien National Park:
home to many rare birds
Darien National Park is the most extensive of all of Panama’s national parks. Accessible only by trail or river, the park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and a biosphere reserve in 1981. This park is a dense primary tropical rainforest and is home to many rare birds, including the world’s largest flying predator, the harpy eagle. This magnificent bird is close to extinction, and stands about three feet tall. At the center of the Darien National Park is the Cana Valley, considered to be the
top birding site in Central America. It is particularly known for its macaws and parrots. Darien National Park is located 325 kilometers from Panama City and is close to the Republic’s border with Colombia. Darien is also the home of the Embera, Kuna and Wounaan Indians. (Continued on page 2)
Rainforest in Panama
A Jaguar has been sighted.
During the construction of the Canal, the Chagres River needed to be dammed in order to create Gatun Lake to open space for the canal. This area forms the Barro Colorado Natural Monument, very close to Panama City. Recently, a magnificent and rare jaguar was photographed here in this beautifully protected preserve. This was on the most unlikely small island that rises up 476ft in the middle of the lake. Did this jaguar swim over? If he did, it would have been at least 200 meters from his natural habitat.
Web cameras have been set up on the island to keep track of the animal species by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The region is full of fauna and flora, much of which is listed on the endangered species list. Scientists are fascinated with the fact that the land mass is actually too small to host feline families, yet this jaguar made it.
Panama is full of surprises due to the intense diversity of the rain forest. You just never know what will be discovered next.
There are tremendous opportunities for the development of ecotourism here. Panama also has a Visa you can obtain for an ad-vestment into a reforestation program.