Why it’s unclear if Tulum’s new jaguar reserve is a real step forward for conservation

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Quintana Roo’s Jaguar Flora and Fauna Protection Reserve is either a step forward for conservation or a political maneuver. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Mexico’s government has begun constructing a bio reserve in the state of Quintana Roo dedicated to protecting native plants and animals. 

Known formally as the Jaguar Flora and Fauna Protection Area, the limits of the reserve are being walled off by a stone perimeter to avoid encroachment by developers and squatters. 

“This project is extremely important, especially when you consider how severe the impact of tourism has had on the region’s ecosystem,” said project supervisor Cecilio Méndez. 

The reserve will be contained almost entirely inside the Tulum municipality, known for being a tourism magnet thanks to its pristine beaches and archaeological sites

The national guard has been called in to speed up the construction of the perimeter fence, which is reportedly 25% complete. The armed forces have also begun dismantling illegal settlements within the reserve but have yet to exert pressure on hotels or large-scale commercial endeavors that infringe on the area. 

Tulum is one of Mexico’s most visited municipalities, in no small part thanks to its pristine beaches and anything-goes atmosphere. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But critics of the project argue that the reserve is too little too late as a simple stone fence will be far from enough to keep people out and help the area’s biodiversity to recover.

“What we see here is a simple greenwashing project to placate those of us against the Maya Train. The state and federal governments have allowed incursions into this reserve for decades and will continue to do so. It is all smoke and mirrors,” said Tulum-based environmental activist Mariel Ramírez. 

Questions surrounding the project are also called into question as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he is still adamant about building a new international airport in the area. 

There are mixed messages regarding whether visitors will be allowed inside the reserve as some sources claim this will not be possible while others say it will. 

This needs to be clarified as the reserve’s perimeter includes the archaeological site of Tulum, which in 2022 received almost 2 million visitors. 

The Jaguar Flora and Fauna Protection Area also includes archaeological sites such as Tankah, which have never been open to the public but are partially visible from the highway. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Before the construction of tourist resorts and the expansion of the once-tiny town of Tulum, the municipality was known for its lush ecosystem jam-packed with exotic animals such as jaguars and tucans. However, sightings of such animals have now become rare, especially since the beginning of the Tren Maya rail project, which spans the entire peninsula. 

Toucans are native to the Yucatán Peninsula but have become a rare sight outside of the Calakmul reserve in southern Campeche. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine