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The dense cloud forests on the Caribbean coastline of Guatemala are home to rich biodiversity – from unique species of birds, such as threatened warblers and woodthrush, to large cats, like jaguars and ocelots. That is why stakeholders, led by local NGO FUNDAECO, came together in 2012 to develop a REDD+ project in the region – the Conservation Coast – which uses climate finance from the sale of carbon credits to fund conservation work led by local and indigenous communities. Monitoring and surveillance of the forest and marine ecosystem is a key pillar of FUNDAECO’s project implementation work and important to understanding how this landscape is responding to and changing as a result of conservation efforts.

As part of an intensive biodiversity programme, recent research was carried out to better understand the region’s species of wild cats. The aim was to evaluate the diet as well as genetic connectivity of the five main wild cat species present in Guatemala. The study, a collaboration between FUNDAECO and Panthera, centred around the use of DNA analysis from the feces collected throughout the project area. The research was carried out in the spring of 2022 and was led by Guatemalan biologist Bárbara Escobar Anleu and supported by a detection team made up of Stephanny Arroyo, a Costa Rican biologist, and Tigre, a detection dog specifically trained to find feces of wild cats.

The team prioritised FUNDAECO Nature Reserves and in doing so collected 35 fecal samples. Faecal screening is a non-invasive method to collect genetic samples. Fecal sampling can provide important information about species identity, sex, diet and other characteristics at the population level, such as determining the genetic diversity in a population. With an impressive number collected, the team’s findings have now been sent to a conservation genetics lab and results are awaited.

The sample size collected is another reminder of how important these forests are to providing habitat for threatened species, like the jaguar and ocelote. This forest coastline is crawling with unique biodiversity, but remains highly threated by deforestation and forest degradation. Thanks to the efforts of FUNDAECO and its partners, supported by climate finance from the sale of carbon credits, this region is gradually transforming dynamics to drive conservation outcomes in the long term.