Mayan Train puts 2,000 jaguars at risk

Experts have suggested building elevated fauna crossings to mitigate its environmental impact

Mayan Train puts more than 2,000 jaguars at risk
According to the National Jaguar Census of 2018, around 4,800 specimens live in the national territory - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 08/01/2019 19:51 Leonardo Domínguez Mexico City Actualizada 20:15

After the Amazon, the world’s most important jaguar population is found in the Yucatán peninsula. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has set out to build a tourist train in the region. The railroad will go directly through the jaguar population habitat and biological corridors, which are essential for the preservation of this feline, classified as an endangered species.

According to the National Jaguar Census of 2018, around 4,800 specimens live in the national territory, more than half of which are located in the Yucatán peninsula, notably in the Calakmul Biosphere and the Sian Ka’an Reserve. The Mayan Train route will be 1,520 kilometers long and will use an existing rail line that goes through the states of Campeche and Yucatán, added to the construction of a new 750 kilometers long railroad in Quintana Roo.

To build the Mayan Train, commented Francisco Remolina, member of the Experts Group for the Preservation of Wild Felines in Mexico, would imply placing a physical barrier within the jaguar’s natural habitat. These animals are in need of a broad territory for themselves, an area where they can hunt, reproduce, and nurture their cubs. In the case of the jaguar, this space is of between 30 and 50 square kilometers.

“If we were to build a ‘wall’ that stops the jaguar from crossing to the other side, we would make it more difficult for the animal to find a mate and reproduce with individuals that show slight genetic differences, thus impeding their access to a wider genetic pool,” he stated, adding that the enclosure of the jaguar population in smaller spaces would damage their reproductive process, jeopardizing their survival.

“If the project is for the greater good of society, we will not oppose. But we need to be very careful so that the train is built properly, supported by scientific evidence,” concluded Guillermo de Anda, head of the Great Mayan Aquifer Project.

Bridges: A plausible solution?

Some experts have suggested building elevated fauna crossings as an alternative to mitigate the environmental impact of the train's construction and operation, though their infrastructure would likely represent one of the project’s main challenges, since it would be the first of its kind in the country. This type of construction could connect the region’s biological corridors, though certain specifications would be needed for it to work properly.

The National Alliance will advise the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur) to mitigate the environmental impact of the Mayan Train. “We are planning to build between 12 and 15 passageways for fauna throughout the railroad. The design has to be made so that the animals are not afraid to cross. The construction of a single overpass has a cost of around half a million dollars or more, but it is a necessary investment, and in a construction of this size, it shouldn’t be a problem,” explained Gerardo Ceballos, director of the National Alliance for the Preservation of the Jaguar (ANCJ).

Environmental impact

Last December, the National Alliance sent a letter to Fonatur highlighting nine points to consider for the project’s design. Some of them include due respect for environmental legislation and environmental impact studies. According to Ceballos, the points included in the letter were accepted by the government body. “This is a public demonstration that shows that the new government’s most important infrastructure project will follow environmental regulations,” stated the head of the ANCJ.

“The Environmental Impact Assessment will take a year, at least, since there are several seasonal factors to be evaluated concerning the activity of the region’s fauna,” commented José Cuauhtémoc Chávez, PhD in Ecology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Rogelio Jiménez Pons, director of Fonatur, announced the creation of an Advisory Technical Council that will work to identify environmental mitigation measures that the Mayan Train may require. Gerardo Ceballos also informed that the National Alliance would also participate in the council.