One of the most lawless and ungovernable areas in the Americas is the borderland between Guatemala and Mexico. Fueled by drug money from narcotrafickers, the Guatemalan parks in the northern part of the country suffer from wildlife poaching, illegal timber extraction, illegal oil exploration, illegal colonization by paid invaders, and habitat destruction and purposely-set forest fires, so as to lead to removal of segments of territory from the park system. It is in this difficult environment that the Guatemala Program of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is trying to make a difference. (http://www. wcs.o rg/i ntern ati o na I/ latinamerica/mesoamerica/Guatemala).
The Wildlife Conservation Society is one of the nation's oldest zoological and conservation societies. It was founded in 1895 by the state of New York as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) to advance wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoological park. That first park, the "New York Zoologica I Park;' later the Bronx Zoo, was opened in 1899. In 1902, NYZS took over management of the New York Aquarium, then located at Battery Park in Manhattan, and in the mid- 1950's built a new aquarium at Coney Island, Brooklyn. Later, the organization was asked to manage and reinvigorate three city-run facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The redesigned Central Park Zoo opened in 1988, followed by the Prospect Park Zoo in 1992 and the Queens Zoo in 1993.
As well as being involved in creating and running zoological parks, the first director of the zoo did a survey of wildlife conditions through the United States and publicized the decline of birds and mammals in the organization's annual reports. In 1897 a field biologist was hired to survey the state of wildlife in the territory of Alaska. On the basis of these studies, the organization campaigned for new laws to protect the wildlife there and the United States as a whole. Beginning in 1905, the organization was active in the ultimately successful move to reintroduce the nearly extinct American bison to various protected areas.
After World War II the organization expanded its programs in field biology and conservation. In 1946 it helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park, which became part of the Grand Teton National Park in 1962. In the late 1950's the organizations began a series of wildlife surveys and projects in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma, and the Malay Peninsula. It changed its name to the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1993 to reflect its presence throughout the world, not just in New York, and today it works in dozens of countries on every continent except Antarctica.
The WCS program in Guatemala began in the early 1990's out of a modest office in the northern Guatemalan town of Flores with one employee, American Roan Balas McNab (now director of a much larger initiative). While Guatemala has the largest population of any Central American country and much of the natural habitat is severely degraded (see figure), the northern part of the country, known as the Peten, has vast expanses of lowland tropical rainforests and wetlands as well as many archaeological ruins. In 1990 the multi-use Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) was created to protect an area of the Peten twice the size of Yellowstone Park (see a map at the Parkswatch site: http://www.parkswatch.org/parkprofile.phpl=spa&country=gua). The MBR is the largest protected area in Mesoamerica and is home to more than 95 species of mammals and 400 species of birds, but it is protected largely only on...