ParksWatch classifies Tikal National Park as a vulnerable area and recommends that continuous efforts must be made to ensure the long-term success of biodiversity protection. The main threats to the park are forest fires, illegal extraction of forestry products, and poaching. Illegal extraction of forestry products and poaching within the park is occurring for two main reasons. First, it occurs because those engaging in these activities lack respect for park boundaries. Second, it occurs because an imbalance exists between the number of personnel in charge of the archeological and tourist areas and the number of personnel available to patrol the natural areas, meaning that there is actually a lack of necessary staff to monitor for and to control these illegal activities.
The threats to Tikal National Park include:
* Lack of personnel
* Forest fires
* Illegal extraction of forestry products and poaching
* Uncontrolled mass tourism
Lack of personnel
Unlike other parks, Tikal is privileged in the total amount of personnel it employs. Yet, the number of employees in the field to run patrols continues to be insufficient. The 56 park guards are organized in shifts to guard the museums, control posts and patrols. There are 39 workers covering the entire park, 18 of whom work during the day and 21 at night. This situation is better than most protected areas in Guatemala, although it continues to be insufficient. In practice, considering the number of people per shift, each park guard has to cover 3,000 hectares, a situation similar to the threatened Natural Monuments Yaxhá, Nakum, Naranjo (ParksWatch, 2002). The difference between Tikal and Yaxhá arises not so much from the number of guards but how the local villagers view the protected area: Tikal National Park is a national symbol that has been protected for nearly 50 years. Despite this, extraction of forestry products continues to be a major problem, as well as the threat of forest fires, many of them started by people who oppose the existence of the park. Bearing in mind conflicts are not as exacerbated as in surrounding areas but still exist, the number of personnel in charge of control and monitoring patrols remains low. In interviews with members of nearby communities and during field visits, it is easy to see that control of illegal activities in the southeast is minimum and sporadic, as on the western boundary.
Forest fires are a major problem for the national park. In 1998 forest fires burned more than 2,200 ha (CEMEC/CONAP, 1999.) In the Year 2000 there were 14 different fires that affected over 600 ha. The problem of fires is repeated year after year. The main source of fires is found in the lower southwest and center-east stretches of the park, the areas that have proven to be the most vulnerable to fires. Park guards say there are three different groups that start these fires. First, extractors and poachers light campfires in the area that can become forest fires. Those who are seeking revenge because they have been caught carrying out illegal activities within the park start other fires. But the main cause of forest fires is the advancing agricultural frontiers to the south, on the outskirts of the park. The critical time of year for the park is from April-May, the driest season, when the park administration often takes on additional personnel to control and prevent forest fires. From November-December 2001, the park management came up with a strategy to fight forest fires by placing emphasis on prevention with awareness campaigns in nearby communities, training in putting out fires, and reducing the sources of fuel. The plan was apparently successful, although the potential problem continues to exist. During our field visits, we spotted plots of land recently burned and cleared near the protected area.
Illegal extraction of forestry products and poaching
Like in other areas in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the problem of illegal extraction of forestry products is difficult to curb due to the many entry routes into the protected area, which grants easy access with no control over the routes. The non-timber product in heaviest demand is the xate (Chamaedorea sp.), which is possibly the cause of the decrease in wildlife species. Extraction is done with no control of any kind, and in the central area, near the most frequently visited archaeological site, one can spot plants that have been cut down by extractors. Evidence of extraction of pita floja is also easily spotted near the administrative offices. The main entry routes lie to the west, through the San Miguel la Palotada Protected Biosphere, to the southeast through the Caoba Rift, and to the northwest, near the community of Uaxactún and the village of Santa Cruz.
Although there is no specific data on the frequency or impacts of poaching in the national park, park guards claim that during their patrols they have found evidence of illegal hunting, something which is closely linked to the extraction of forestry products. Unlike extraction activities, hunting is done only in the most remote parts of the park, due to the control existing over areas near the archaeological site.
A xate logging camp set up just a few meters from Tikal on the southeastern boundary. Extraction of forestry products is believed to be thinning out some species.
Uncontrolled mass tourism
Uncontrolled mass tourism is one of the most serious problems in the national park. The massive arrivals of tourists is deteriorating pre-Hispanic monuments, by erosion (due to the fact the ruins are exposed), access to the structures, and by acts of vandalism in some of the temples. Lack of control over visitors is evident in many of the temples, which have been scratched and deteriorated in the most accessible places. The fact that Guatemalans may enter the park for free on Sundays means thousands of people visit the park in a single day, and the problems associated with mass visits have worsened.
One of the most evident impacts can be seen in the change in behavior of many of the animals, which approach tourists to be fed. The pizote (Nasua narica) abounds in the park due to litter left behind by tourists. This mammal could be affecting the nesting habits of some of the park's bird species (Solórzano, 2002, per. com.). The existence of dozens of different garbage cans throughout the visitors' zones, and particularly in eating areas, have led to a rise in the number of vultures (Cathartes sp.), which use the same nesting space as some birds of prey, forcing them out of the area (Solórzano, 2002.) In the central area of Tikal one can often spot timid species that act tame around visitors, which shows how the massive influx of tourists has changed the behavior of even the most fearful species.
On Sundays, the park is open free of charge to local tourists, which means thousands of people come here from all over Guatemala. This is increasing the damage caused by visitors.
The pizote (Nasua narica) abounds in the park due to litter left behind by tourists. This mammal could be affecting the nesting habits of some of the park's bird species.
The main future threat that ParksWatch has identified is potential road construction projects in the area.
Road construction project
Although there is little available information, it is known that there have been proposals for road building within the protected area on several occasions. For example, in early 2000, the Guatemalan government requested a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to build a road that would link Tikal with El Mirador-Río Azul National Park and from there to the Mexican state of Campeche. The IDB turned down the loan request, and pressure from ecological groups and local villagers managed to halt the project. The construction of a road through the national park could end up destroying the entire northern half of the area within a few years due to population pressure.