Tikal National Park is an area of vast importance, both due to its cultural and natural heritage. It is one of the core zones of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and one of the few protected areas in Guatemala that has a relatively stable situation with few problems. Despite the fact there are serious threats caused by human activity both around and within the park, the park can guarantee the conservation of its biological diversity as long as there are continued efforts, and assuming that the situations in surrounding protected areas are settled. Reports on flora and fauna suggest that the area is home to stable populations of endangered species. Reports also suggest that species such as the xate (Chamaedorea sp.), which are disappearing in other areas, have managed to reproduce in Tikal.
Due to external pressure, Tikal National Park is classified as a vulnerable area where continuous efforts have to be made to ensure success in protecting the area's biological diversity in the long run. Updating the Master Plan and completing the plan for public use will be crucial in order to guarantee medium-term protection.
Field visits carried out by ParksWatch to the area show that there is major pressure in the southwest, southeast and west, and need priority attention. The most serious hazard is that of forest fires, the illegal extraction of forestry products and mass tourism. Lack of personnel is not that serious of a problem, although it makes it difficult to solve two of Tikal's three most pressing problems. This is why we believe completing the Master Plan is a priority task so that annual operating plans can aim at medium-term action, designed to solve the lack of personnel for patrols and control. Work also needs to continue to increase local community participation in the prevention and control of forest fires, as well as the control of the extraction of forestry products. The more benefits local communities receive from the park, the greater the possibility they will respect its boundaries.
The park management should evaluate the need for permanent guard posts, not just at the main entrance to park, but also in the more remote areas. This would spur the need to hire more personnel. To date, the park has been maintained practically isolated from the protected areas that surround it. However, evidence gathered by ParksWatch in the field shows that both the threat of forest fires and the illegal extraction of forestry products occur in areas of conflict between Tikal and neighboring areas. Coordination and mutual support are necessary and would make control and monitoring much simpler.
The public use plan currently being prepared is very important and could be a tool to help mitigate the damage caused by mass tourism. However, it is crucial that this plan be based on a study of the park's capacity to receive visitors, something that has yet to be done. Being able to make the right decisions about amount of tourism in Tikal depends on such a study.
In addition to the intrinsic importance of the national park, the fact that it is bordered by the Yaxhá, Nakum, Naranjo Natural Monument and the San Miguel la Palotada (El Zotz) Protected Biosphere have made the entire area one of the most important sections of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The three areas comprise over 150,000 ha in strictly protected areas in the heart of the Maya jungle and form the gateway to the entire central area. Due to its location, it is crucial that Tikal is conserved, and that the efforts made in the protected area have a positive impact on a much broader area than just the boundaries of Tikal. Efforts being made by the park managers to update the Master Plan and the public use plan represent an important step, one that should be supported by the authorities of the Guatemalan government as well as the national and international community.