Explore the wilds of the Sierra Gorda mountains, a one million acre Biosphere Reserve protected thanks to Páramo’s chosen charity, the World Land Trust
Grinning up at us from beneath his cowboy hat, ranger Leonel Espino is kneeling in the path’s sticky earth, pointing out the clear imprint of a big cat’s paw. A puma, he tells us, and its fresh – this top predator was roaming our forest trail as little as 24 hours ago.
We’re hiking through the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve within one of the most biologically diverse areas of Mexico, where tropical forests meet temperate mountains and semi-deserts. The reserve is home to a wealth of wildlife; noisy Military Macaws circle the reserve’s sinkhole canyons, while black bears and six cat species roam the forests – including the jaguar and puma.
As we trek through the nature reserve we’re greeted by such a bizarre mix a flora it seems almost unnatural. Familiar trees of European woodlands grow alongside tropical palms and cycads; plants dubbed ‘living fossils’, thought to have survived since the last dinosaurs fed on them 65.5 million years ago. The red spikes of bromeliads sprout from towering pine trees, with their branches draped in exotic pink orchids.
Stumbling across the big cat’s prints is a reminder of how the successful conservation partnership between the Word Land Trust and local conservation organisation Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) is protecting the diversity of this wilderness. It’s a biological melting pot that allows these endangered animals to not only survive here, but to prosper and thrive.
Leonel, who works for GESG and lives in the near-by village, begins telling us the story of his recent close encounter with a puma; the sound of padding paws and a cat’s cry in the jungle just metres away marked the moment he almost came face-to-face with this iconic animal.
With only a month to explore these forests, spotting a big cat isn’t on the agenda. Instead, our reward is to see how strong partnerships lead to conservation success – creating protected areas that safeguard a thriving diversity of life.
World Land Trust supports the protection of this wilderness through the Buy and Acre appeal: www.worldlandtrust.org