The diversity of both aquatic and terrestrial habitats in this heterogeneous environment are such that there is a great variety of animals, including 540 vertebrate species. There are 72 mammal species, 270 bird species, 68 reptile species, 19 amphibian species and 110 fish species found in the park (Ceballos 1989; Arizmendi et al. 1991; Arizmendi et al. 2002; Espinosa et al. 2002; García y Ceballos 1996; Ramírez-Bautista y Vitt, 1997; Ceballos et al. 1999). Invertebrate studies conclude that there are 1877 arthropod species, 14 of which are in the class arachnid and 1863 in the class hexapod (Pescador-Rubio et al. 2002; Noguera et al. 1996). Among the species found in the park listed as endangered by the Official Mexican Ecological Register 059 (NOM-ECOL-059) are the green (Chelonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtles. Other endangered reptiles found in the park are the Mexican-bearded lizard (Heloderma horridum), the green iguana (Iguana iguana), and the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). In terms of mammals, the reserve boasts the jaguar (Panthera onca), the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and the margay (Leopardus wiedii). Birds found in the park include the yellow-headed parrot (Amazona oratrix), the green macaw (Ara militaris), the muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) and the least tern (Sterna antillarum). The IUCN lists the following species as endangered: A. oratrix, C. Mydas, and L. olvidacea. Listed as vulnerable are C. acutus, A. militaris, and H. horridium and as critical are the turtles E. imbricata and D. coriacea (IUCN 2002).
The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is found in the wetland areas.
The flora of the reserve is very diverse, consisting of 1,149 species. Endemic vegetation comprises 10% of the total, among which are the trees Sciadodendron excelsum, Jatropha chamelensis and Celanodendron mexicanum, the cacti (Peniocereus cuixmalensis and Opuntia excelsa) and other species such as Agave colimana (Lott 2002). The species considered to be endangered by NOM-ECOL-059 are Conocarpus erecta, Laguncularia racemosa, Dalbergia congestiflora and Platymiscium lasiocarpum. The vegetation is divided into 8 different categories: 1) Lowland deciduous forest, the most abundant; 2) Xerophytic scrub, distributed near the ocean; 3) Medium semi-deciduous forest found in patches commonly in canyons; 4) Mangroves are present in the Cuixmala region closest to the ocean, the dominant species are L. racemosa and R. mangle; 5) Manzanillera forest dominated by the manchineel tree, also known as the poison guava tree (Hippomane mancinella); 6) Riparian vegetation, distributed along the Cuixmala River and the Chamela Stream; 7) Reeds and aquatic vegetation, found in Cuixmala, the representative species are cattail (Typha latifolia), water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and waterlily (Nymphaea ampla); 8) Coastal Dune vegetation, located in areas near the ocean; and 9) Pastizales, or grasslands, which are restricted to sandy soils and were most affected by grazing before the reserve was created (Rzedowski 1978; Ceballos et al. 1999).
The wetlands hold an amazing variety of animal species and aquatic vegetation.
From a biological point of view, the region where the reserve is located is one of the most important of the country. It encompasses a diversity of environments from wetlands to low tropical forests (WWF and IUCN 1994-97). The diversity of species is exceptional, including a high concentration of species endemic to the country. One example is the Lilac-crowned parakeet (Amazona finschi), a species endemic to the pacific coast. This reserve represents the first effort of Mexico to protect the dry deciduous forests of the Mexican Pacific coast (Ceballos y Garcia 1996).
In this particular case, it is important to mention that in addition to the native fauna of this ecoregion, Sir James Goldsmith (deceased) introduced exotic animals onto his private property in the Cuixmala region before the creation of the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserve. This was done with legal authorization and under the strict control of the Mexican Wildlife Agency (Dirección General de Vida Silvestre in Spanish). There are 32 common eland (Taurotragus oryx), eight Burchell's zebras (Equus burchellii) and nine blackbucks (Antílope cervicapra). The exotic species are restricted to areas that were previously altered from their natural state. They are confined to a fenced-in area in the buffer zone of the reserve, where the Goldsmith family resides. There are permanent infrastructure maintenance and security measures for the enclosed area. The animals are given veterinary care and birth control in order to control illness and reproduction so there is no population growth. The exotic species were brought to Cuixmala for the family's enjoyment.
Sir James cared for nature in general and for this region in particular. Because of this, in 1988, he created the Cuixmala Ecological Foundation (Foundation) and secured financial backing for its operation. Its objective is to promote conservation of tropical ecosystems on the Jalisco coast and to give an impetus to the effective protection of the zone. The Foundation also provided technical and financial assistance during the creation of the Reserve.