Chajul Station has played an important role (if not the most important role) in creating scientific research and contributing to conservation in the reserve and the greater Selva Lacandona region. The federal government was in charge of its initial establishment in 1984, but they later abandoned the station. In 1989, a group of scientists interested in studying this large jungle restored the facilities, and with help from institutions such as Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Conservation International and MacArthur Foundation, they began research-some of which continues to this day.
Aerial view of Chajul Station inside Montes Azules.
During most of the 1990's, Chajul station was administered jointly by Conservation International and UNAM, allowing many academic institutions from the entire country, and the world, to conduct research. Undoubtedly, it was an important time period for science in Mexico and it generated important knowledge of the region's tropical jungles (Ceballos et al. 2000). This research and corresponding scientific evidence led scientists to conclude that Selva Lacandona is Mexico's most biologically diverse ecosystem. Since 1998 Chajul Station has been administered by ENDESU who also promotes conservation and research, but has changed the focus to developing ecotourism.
Once ENDESU took over the station's management, cooperative agreements with governmental agencies such as UNAM or other research institutes that used to subsidize research costs have lapsed. As a result, less students/researchers are able to pay fees of $100 per day and there are not as many research projects. Scientists still indicate their intentions to conduct research at the station because of the excellent facilities, specific services, and access to the stations boats that are necessary for most field research. Most people preferred boat travel in the past, but over the last ten years it has been used less and less. The border highway has greatly reduced the time and costs associated with travel in the area.
Many institutions have conducted research in this reserve; some of the most important studies are listed below.
UNAM has had researchers in the area since the first trips into the reserve, like brothers Javier and Roberto de la Maza, who studied butterflies. Rodrigo Medellín conducted one of the longest studies in the region on bats and small mammals. Alfredo Cuarón has studied monkeys and other fauna; Miguel Martínez conducted studies on population ecology and communities of tropical flora in the region. Rodolfo Dirzo's research focused on the plant-animal interaction and tropical ecology (Mendoza y Dirzo 1999; Medellín y Gaona 1999; Martínez-Ramos et al. 2001).
Eduardo Iñigo is another expert in the region studying bird ecology and conservation biology, his studies on the scarlet macaw population and on birds of prey stand out (Iñigo-Elias, 1996; Iñigo-Elias et al. 2001; Carreón et al. 2001).
From the university Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) Eduardo Naranjo studies ecology, ungulate conservation and wildlife use (Naranjo 2002). Rocío Rodiles studies fish in the Lacantún and Lacanjá Rivers (Rodiles et al. 1996; Morales-Román y Rodiles 2001). Samuel Levy studies agroecological systems, such as the ones the Lacandona people practice.
Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH)) conducts archeological site inventories. One of their expert anthropologists is Alejandro Tovalin.
Conservación Internacional (CI) has worked in the entire region, including Montes Azules, for more than ten years on projects ranging from flyover jungle monitoring, to vegetative coverage studies, to social development, to population and environment, to management training, to natural resource use. In addition, they have financed projects for priority species like the jaguar, harpy eagle, and scarlet macaw. CI has one of the region's most important information databases and it also has an important geographic information system within its Northern Mesoamerican program.
Recent CI publications include two compact discs: "La Selva Lacandona tesoro de biodiversidad en México" and "Selva Lacandona siglo XXI Estrategia Conjunta para la Conservación de la Biodiversidad" which mean "The Selva Lacandona: Mexico's biodiversity treasure" and "Selva Lacandona: 21st Century Joint Strategy for Biodiversity Conservation" respectively (CI - ECOSUR 2001; March 2003).
Actually, destruction of the Selva Lacandona and especially Montes Azules has caught the attention of a large part of the Mexican society because newspapers and television stations have been providing frequent coverage on the area and its problems. This has led to an awareness campaign directed at the general public but with a special emphasis on kids, who can win a trip to Chajul Station. Fundación Azteca, the Ford Company, la UNAM and ENDESU sponsor this campaign.
ENDESU has solicited funds from donors for firefighting programs, and security and protection programs that denounce illegal acts in the reserve to the environmental authorities.
The most recent civil society initiative began two years ago and it brings together people and institutions to discuss and develop strategies to resolve the complex problems of the Selva Lacandona, Montes Azules, and Mexico's protected areas in general. The collation is called, "La Coalición para el Rescate de la Selva Lacandona", or Collation to Rescue Selva Lacandona in English. Some organizations involved include Naturalia, A.C, ParksWatch, Mexico's Environmental Rights Center (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA)), Conservation International, Presencia Ciudadana, PRONATURA, A.C., ARENA, A.C. So far, the collation has denounced environmental crimes and human rights violations, held press conferences, and started to create political pressure so that authorities will consider this region a national priority.