The 3.75 million acre Maya Biosphere Reserve in Northern Guatemala's Peten region is the largest intact tropical rainforest in Central America, home to an incredible variety of wildlife. Unfortunately, it is also a hotspot for illegal wildlife trafficking, often for the exotic pet trade.
ARCAS was originally created as a rescue center to care for and rehabilitate wild animals that were being confiscated on the black market by the Guatemalan government. Since its establishment, the ARCAS Rescue Center has grown into one of the largest and most complex wildlife rehabilitation centers in the world, a leader in training programs for other wildlife rescue groups. ARCAS has also branched out into other important conservation activities including environmental education, marine turtle conservation, sustainable community development, and reforestation. Thanks to ARCAS, animals such as parrots, scarlet macaws, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, coatimundis and sea turtles have a chance to live free and fulfill their natural role in the forest and ocean environments.
The Illegal Wildlife Trade
The illegal wildlife trade is one of the top most destructive and illicit transnational crimes of our times, along with drugs, arms and human trafficking. Illegal wildlife trafficking, for the pet industry and for products and souvenirs, has a devastating impact on animal welfare, species conservation, and ecosystems. It is a major cause of species extinction, second only to habitat loss. Ninety percent of animals smuggled for the pet trade die in transit, and those that survive need constant care and attention.
Harvesting of Turtle Eggs
The Pacific leatherback turtle is nearly extinct with only 1,438 mature individuals remaining in the entire Pacific ocean. Despite their endangered status, virtually all sea turtle nests in Guatemala are harvested by poachers and the eggs sold as a supposed aphrodisiac.
Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation
At its Wildlife Rescue Center in Peten, ARCAS provides care for 250-350 animals confiscated from poachers every year. Through programs including the Spider Monkey Rehabilitation Program and Jaguars Without Borders, ARCAS has developed protocols for the complex process of rehabilitating animals and releasing them back to the wild. Whenever possible, animals are released in national parks or large, well-protected private reserves. Some animals are not suitable for release due to injuries or habituation to people. These individuals require lifelong care, and in some cases, such as the Macaws Without Borders program, they are part of a captive breeding program for endangered species. To date, ARCAS has saved more than 5,000 birds.
Marine Turtle Conservation
In an attempt to counteract threats to leatherback and olive ridley turtle populations from over-harvesting of eggs, ARCAS operates several marine turtle hatcheries, where they rescue 50,000 turtle eggs each year. They have an exemplary agreement with local people in which ARCAS purchases eggs from collectors, and the collectors agree to donate 20% of their earnings back to turtle conservation. ARCAS reburies the eggs in the hatchery and after an incubation period of roughly 50 days, they release the hatchlings into the sea. ARCAS also carries out research on marine turtle species, including the first systematic sea turtle population survey ever conducted in Guatemala. ARCAS is working with the Guatemalan government to establish a 4,000 hectare protected area focused on the local mangrove wetlands, and to improve local fishing practices. Guatemalan Congress officially declared it a protected area in 2015.
Education and Community Development
ARCAS’s Environmental Education Department reaches out to more than 8000 children per year throughout the country. Presentations in local schools engage students in a fun, participatory manner, spreading the message not to buy wild animals as pets. In Hawaii, ARCAS staff and volunteers conduct beach clean-ups, sea turtle hatchling releases and community reforestations, as well as organizing local youth volunteer groups, ecological festivals and youth training courses. At the Rescue Center in Peten, ARCAS hosts visits from school groups to the Kinkajou Kingdom Environmental Education and Interpretation Center, and conducts presentations and training courses throughout the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Community development projects include the promotion of highly efficient wood-burning stoves, which reduce pressures on local forests and improve people’s health.
The fun work at ARCAS is done by international volunteers! ARCAS is an amazing place for any interested person to lend a hand and contribute directly to wildlife conservation while learning about animal care, conservation issues, and solutions.
Quarters for Conservation
Oakland Zoo chose ARCAS as a 2019-2020 Quarters for Conservation featured project. Staff Expertise and Practical SupportOakland Zoo’s animal care and veterinary staff have helped by working at ARCAS. The Zoo’s support has also included donations of veterinary supplies for the wildlife rehabilitation hospital and school supplies for ARCAS’s educational programs and classroom presentations, as well as funding for a successful educator’s workshop.
Our teen and adult ecotours to Guatemala spend time with ARCAS, gaining invaluable insight into the challenges facing both the human and wildlife populations in Central America. Participants assist with daily animal care at ARCAS wildlife rehabilitation facilities and provide general support of the project mission.
Outreach and Education
Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about the exotic pet trade, Central American species, and habitat conservation. As some of our own macaws were once someone’s bad pet choice who then needed rescuing, the Zoo teaches from experience about the responsibility of being a bird owner and the need to choose a domestically raised (not wild-caught) bird. We can offer options like Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue or the SPCA so that our visitors can consider a rescued bird Ð just like ours, and like the many at ARCAS.