TULUM, México – In recent months, the Cancun-Chetumal Highway has become a deadly path for the region’s endangered feline species. Tragically, the road claimed the lives of two wild cats within a short span, the latest victim being an ocelot struck down near Paamul on Thursday, July 13th. This unfortunate incident follows the earlier demise of a pregnant female jaguar, which occurred between Playa del Secreto and the Nickelodeon hotel. These fatalities have shed light on the detrimental consequences of the Tren Maya construction and the subsequent fragmentation of vital habitats.
The Cancun-Chetumal Highway, also known as Federal Highway 307, stretches for 366 kilometers, connecting the Mexican cities of Cancun and Chetumal. It serves as a crucial transportation route, passing through prominent tourist destinations such as Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Bacalar, and Chetumal. However, its impact on the region’s wildlife has become a matter of grave concern.
The construction of the Tren Maya’s Tramo 5 has led to the disappearance of a significant vegetation strip that once provided sustenance to the feline population. With their food sources vanishing, these magnificent creatures have been compelled to seek nourishment elsewhere, venturing closer to the highway. Unfortunately, this puts them in direct conflict with passing vehicles, resulting in fatal collisions.
Guillermo DChristy, a water quality consultant and nature enthusiast, drew attention to the deforestation associated with the Tren Maya project on his Twitter profile. He highlighted the felling of trees, including the chicozapote, which bears fruits that serve as prey for jaguars. This destruction has significantly impacted the availability of food for these majestic cats, exacerbating their vulnerability.
The Reserve Natural Rio Secreto, an intricate cave system located in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, plays a crucial role in supporting the surrounding ecosystems. It provides nourishment to various species dependent on the aquifer system, fostering the growth of vital vegetation. Among these species, the jaguar (Panthera onca) stands out as the largest predator in the American tropics and the sole member of the Panthera genus on the continent.
The Jaguar Wildlife Center A.C. emphasizes the jaguar’s need for extensive areas of well-preserved habitat to find territory, prey, water, and genetic exchange. While the jaguar’s current conservation status is classified as “near threatened,” populations are significantly fragmented. Some experts argue that the species should be reclassified as “vulnerable” (VU) according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
To counteract the environmental damage caused by the Tren Maya project, the federal government plans to expand 10,000 hectares of natural areas. This initiative includes dedicating 2,200 hectares to the Jaguar National Park in Tulum and planting 500 million trees through the Sembrando Vida program. In Quintana Roo alone, 25 million trees will be planted. However, criticism has arisen regarding the introduction of non-endemic trees to the region.
Efforts to protect and restore the natural habitats of these remarkable felines are crucial for their survival. The deaths of the ocelot and pregnant jaguar on the Cancun-Chetumal Highway serve as somber reminders of the urgent need to strike a balance between development and conservation. As these majestic creatures continue to face mounting threats, it is our responsibility to ensure their future remains secure.