If you are a nature or wildlife photographer, you should consider your next travel destination to be Guatemala. The country is an ideal place to explore due to its extensive amount of natural areas. If you already have a collection of wildlife images from the places you have visited before, you can increase it by a huge margin in Guatemala, and even help out the local scientific effort to document and illustrate the animals you may be able to photograph.
Guatemala is one of those small countries in the Central American isthmus, southeast of Mexico and northwest of Panama. One of the five countries that form this stretch of land that unites the South American continent with North America. It is considered the fifth biodiversity hotspot in the world, according to Parkswatch and The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN; officially International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).
Guatemala has been dubbed a “Third-world country” due to its diverse and various social issues and problems, but it is also a vibrant place full of all sorts of natural wonders. It has 14 eco-regions that ranges from mangrove forests (there are at least 4 species of mangroves along its marine and coastal ecosystems), in both ocean littorals, dry forests and scrublands in the eastern highlands, subtropical and tropical rainforests in the north, wetlands distributed all over the country, cloud forests in the central region, and finally, mixed forests and pine forests in the western highlands.
Over one third (1/3) or 36.3% of the country (approximately 39,380 square kilometers) is forested. About half of the forests (49.7% or roughly 19,570 square kilometers) is classified as primary forest which is considered the most biodiverse forest type. Tree species include 17 conifers (pines, cypress, including the endemic Abies guatemalensis), the most in any tropical region of the world.
Guatemala has 7 wetlands of international importance that were included in the Ramsar List. The country also has some 1,246 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 6.7% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 8.1% are threatened species. It is also home to at least 8681 species of vascular plants, of which 13.5% are endemic. 5.4% of the country is protected under IUCN categories I-V.
A Photographer that is also a Scientist
With a total of 123 protected areas and more than 29% of the territory declared a protected area, Guatemala has the largest percentage of protected areas in Central America. Tikal National Park, which was created in 1955, was the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world.
So, you can visit Guatemala and its natural areas, and could get lucky enough to photograph large organisms, but even on a casual strolls through the designated trails, you can find small organisms that you can capture with your camera. You can later merchandise and sell your images in platforms such as Dreamstime, but you can also publish your images on websites like iNaturalist, where you can identify the name and nature of the animals on your pictures, and become a “citizen scientist photographer”. Your pictures can be used by biologists and conservationists to study the animal species, use for their drawings and/or illustrate the scientific articles or investigations that are published on journals, and thus contribute to the protection and conservation efforts of the natural areas all over the planet.
And this is specially important in places like Guatemala, with a biodiversity so rich and wide but where the general interests, from both the government and the private initiative, are not focused on science and the research toward solutions it could develop. Here, scientists have to struggle with the fact that they are alone. If they want to research and develop a idea or program to protect the wildlife or the natural areas, they have to face powerful economic and political interests, that have other ideas or agendas for the natural resources of the country.
If you want to know more about becoming a Citizen Scientist Photographer and help out the scientific efforts to study wildlife, its behavior and their habitat, you can visit inaturalist, or download the app on your phone or tablet, where a short tutorial will show you how to upload wildlife images, and you can identify the specimen you capture with your camera.
So, don’t wait any longer and get out there and look for animals to photograph!
Photo credits: Carlos Duarte.