Protecting Belize’s Biodiversity and Enhancing Community Livelihoods Through Women-led Conservation

Image credit: Courtesy of the Community Baboon Sanctuary

Protecting Belize’s Biodiversity and Enhancing Community Livelihoods Through Women-led Conservation

Category Nature Conservation

Our project categories represent one of three core solutions pathways to solving climate change. Energy Transition focuses on renewable energy access and energy efficiency. Nature Conservation includes wildlife habitat protection and ecosystem restoration, as well as Indigenous land rights. Regenerative Agriculture supports farmers, ranchers, and community agriculture.

Realm Central America

The Project Marketplace is organized by the major terrestrial realms divided into 14 biogeographical regions – N. America, Subarctic America, C. America, S. America, Afrotropics, Indomalaya, Australasia, Oceania, Antarctica, and the Palearctic realm, which coincides with Eurasia and is divided into Subarctic, Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern regions.

Status active

Seed indicates an early stage project that needs some level of support to develop into a larger funding proposal. Ongoing indicates any project that needs core programmatic funding. Urgent indicates a short-term project initiated in response to a natural disaster or other impending risk.

Funding Level $$$

$$$ indicates a project between $250,000-$1 million.

Timeframe 12 months

Established in 1985 to protect habitat for the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) –locally called baboons – the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) is a voluntary grassroots private protected area covering 5,179 hectares along the historic Belize Old River in the northern coastal plain of Belize. The Community Baboon Sanctuary is a Community Conserved Area that forms an important corridor connecting critical areas in the Maya Forest Corridor (formerly the Central Belize Biological Corridor) and the Northern Belize Biological Corridor. It is listed under Category IV of the IUCN protected area categories to protect species or habitats.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary was the recipient of the James Waight Award in 2019, the highest award for conservation in Belize, and the Equator Prize in 2017. For the last 36 years, nearly all the landowners in a 20 square-mile area near the Belize River are still upholding the voluntarily sign pledges that committed them to protect the habitat of the black howler monkey in that region. They agreed to protect the forest along the riverbanks, leaving food trees when clearing land and maintaining corridors of forested areas around their farms. Their commitment made possible the establishment of the Community Baboon Sanctuary in 1985. The project reflects the conservation ethic that exists within the people of rural Belize and is truly a grassroots conservation program.

The communities along the Belize Old River included in this project are Bermudian Landing, Big Falls, Double Head Cabbage, Flowers Bank, Isabella Bank, Big Falls, St. Paul’s, and Willows Bank. The Community Baboon Sanctuary was initially managed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) from 1985 to 1996. Following the Society’s closure, community members composed mainly of women leaders created the Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG).

Jessie Young, the wife of the previous sanctuary manager, gathered the wives of male landowners and some women landowners to discuss the sanctuary and the needs of the community. The group circulated a petition to the landowners requesting that the women become the managers of the sanctuary. Landowners across the seven villages agreed unanimously to this change in leadership. Notably, men in the communities were supportive since they would not be excluded from the future management of the sanctuary and since they are majority landholders.

A micro-credit fund has spawned projects in sustainable oil harvesting, tilapia farming, organic agriculture, and livestock rearing. The Bel-riv Commerce and Eco-Tourism Expo, created by the group in 2013, offers improved market access for farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and artisans. The successful protection of the sanctuary has led not only to an increase in the baboon population from 800 in 1985 to 6,000 in 2011, but also to the recovery of vulnerable populations of jaguar, ocelot, margay, puma, and over 200 species of birds.

In 1998, CBSWCG was created as the new management committee of the sanctuary and registered as a legal non-profit organization in Belize. CBSWCG is run by an elected 7-member board of directors made up of a president and one female representative from each of the seven villages as well as a three member advisory committee. One particularly powerful feature of CBSWCG is that the organization brings together women from all walks of life, including housewives and women with different religions, cultures, and educational qualifications. These women work well together to promote peace, stability, health, women’s empowerment, and conservation ethics as part of their daily lives while engaging in sustainable livelihoods within their families and across their communities.

The 3 main objectives of the Community Baboon Sanctuary project:

  • Protect the interconnected Maya Forest Corridor (formally Northern Biological Corridor) integrity of the Community Baboon Sanctuary lands (20 square miles) and maintain a viable population of over 6,000 black howler monkeys.
  • Implement climate-resilient practices amongst 300 farmers.
  • Engage the 7 communities (with a population of 2800 including students, teachers, youth groups, and other community groups) to remain active in the conservation of the CBS natural resources.

The 4 main activities of the project:

  • Establish research and Monitoring Program, train and equip community rangers on data collection methods for the Black Howler Monkey population, river species, water quality monitoring, and wildlife monitoring
  • Re-pledge sanctuary landowners, updating and creating new property maps and conservation plans ecological analysis.
  • Monitor activities conducted and stored in CBS database as part of the execution of a new biodiversity management plan developed to be revised and reviewed every two years.
  • Develop hazards and disaster plans incorporating areas prone to flooding into consideration prior to implementing any programs and/or projects in those areas.

Provide a major gift

Your contribution will help ensure the long term success of this important project. Gifts can be made as a tribute to a friend or family member and are tax-deductible for U.S. residents. Please contact us!