Feb 26, 2019

How it all began: Lands for Conservation Program

An article by Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, GESG’s official photographer and head of the Lands for Conservation Program, on the birth of this incredible network of private nature reserves.

In 1987, my parents started a grassroots movement aimed at conserving the incredible biodiversity of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, which led to the founding of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG). Having grown up with the Sierra Gorda as my back yard, I enthusiastically became involved with the project. It was natural for me to pick up photography as a tool for shedding light on the Sierra Gorda’s biological wealth and documenting its diversity of ecosystems.

In 1996, I was carrying out point counts for a bird monitoring project, which led me to revisit a very special cloud forest, one where grand old oaks and ancient cypresses reach heights of 40 meters with their limbs draped in dense mats of moss, ferns, orchids, and bromeliads, a place where I have managed to photograph jaguars, pumas, and margays.

To my dismay, I found this precious cloud forest in the process of being logged, which was perfectly legal but incredibly harmful nevertheless. Hundreds of trees had already been cut down, and, as is customary, the loggers and foresters paid the humble property owners a pittance for the rights to their forest. The shock of this experience spurred me and the rest of GESG to action. We stopped the destruction by purchasing this cloud forest and placing it under strict protection, establishing it as the first private natural reserve in the Sierra Gorda.

Today, we run a network of private nature reserves, devoted solely to wildlife. Thanks to these networks and your generosity, we are protecting sites with high biological value, giving ecosystems and species refuges from human activity, spaces where they are protected from humans’ ever-increasing demands for land and ecosystem services.

Your donations make this work possible by helping us to cover park ranger salaries and maintenance costs. Thank you.


Feb 12, 2019

Protecting Salamanders in the Sierra Gorda

Bell's False Brook Salamander
Bell's False Brook Salamander

The Salamanders of the Sierra Gorda: a family that needs your help!


The Big-Footed Salamander (Chiropterotriton magnipes) – Critically Endangered

Chunky False Brook Salamander (Aquiloeurycea cephalica) – Near Threatened

Leprous False Brook Salamander (Pseudoerycea leprosa) – Least Concern

Bell´s False Brook Salamander (Isthmura belli)— Vulnerable


Protection status: All four salamanders found in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve have Protected Status under SEMARNAT (Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources) and are listed in the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species. This is not surprising, as 40% of all amphibian species are in danger of extinction worldwide.

Status in the Sierra Gorda: The salamanders of the Sierra Gorda have lost thousands of hectares of habitat and their numbers are decreasing due to agricultural clearings, forest fires, logging, infrastructure development and climate change. Moreover, a popular myth that salamanders impregnate women has led to many salamanders being killed unnecessarily.

While the Chunky False Brook Salamander can make its home in somewhat disturbed habitats such as forest edges and rural gardens, other species such as the Leprous False Brook Salamander are extremely sensitive to disturbances in their habitats. The Big-footed Salamander, meanwhile, is critically endangered. It is micro-endemic to a small stretch of the mountains between Querétaro and San Luis Potosí (approximately 10 km2) and was last seen two years ago. 

Habitat and Habits: These salamanders lack lungs and breathe through their skin and through the tissues lining their mouths. Glands in their skin discharge mucus, keeping the skin moist and slippery, helping with respiration and thermoregulation, and making it difficult for predators to grab on.  

Because of their permeable skin, these salamanders rely on damp and cool habitats. They favor the temperate and cloud forests of the Sierra Gorda, and can be found in upper altitudes of all five municipalities that make up the Biosphere Reserve.

Cryptic, nocturnal creatures, they make their homes in the leaf litter of the forest floor, in cavities in rocks, and in the forest canopy in bromeliads. They are fierce insect predators and are most active in the rainy season.

Did you know that salamanders can regenerate lost limbs!?

Conservation actions in the Sierra Gorda: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda protects all four species of salamanders in our privately managed reserves. By keeping the forests in these reserves free from human activity, salamanders can nest in safety and are not threatened by illegal logging. We also provide forest owners with payments for ecosystem services in areas where these species are distributed, thus protecting more habitats.

Amphibians survived the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Now, they are in greater danger than any other vertebrate group. Help us protect these magnificent, prehistoric beings.

Big-Footed Salamander
Big-Footed Salamander
Leprous False Brook Salamander
Leprous False Brook Salamander
Chunky False Brook Salamander
Chunky False Brook Salamander


Jan 14, 2019

Protecting Military Macaws in the Sierra Gorda

Two pairs of military macaws vying for a perch
Two pairs of military macaws vying for a perch

Military Macaw

(Ara militaris)

The military macaw is one of the endangered species that we protect in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. There are only 40 pairs of military macaws left in the Biosphere Reserve. Please support our work financially and help us to ensure the survival this magnificent bird by providing it with safe habitats.

Protection status: The military macaw´s population has been decreasing over the past fifty years due to habitat loss and capture for sale as pets. Classified as Endangered by SEMARNAT (Mexico´s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources) and listed as Vulnerable in IUCN´s Red List of Threatened Species, its global population is estimated to be only between 3,000 – 10,000 individuals, with approximately 1,000 – 2,000 breeding pairs. (1)

Status in the Sierra Gorda: Military macaws have lost thousands of hectares of habitat in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve because of agriculture, logging, infrastructure development, tourism, forest fires, and climate change. Furthermore, canyoneering activities disturb the macaws’ nesting sites.

A single colony of 80 birds survives in the Sierra Gorda. Although the macaws used to be plentiful throughout the reserve, they now occupy just two nesting sites: Sótano del Barro and Cañón del Infiernillo. They rest and nest in these two sites, leaving to feed in neighboring areas. Even here they suffer from increasing pressure from tourism and habitat transformation.

More macaws visit every year from San Luis Potosí during seasonal migrations.

Habitats and Habits: The macaws depend on the temperate forests and tropical deciduous forests in the region, where they feed on a variety of fruits, including acorns, fruits of paradise, and nuts which they break open with their strong peaks.

Military macaws mate for life. This means that if one of the pair is killed or captured, the other will never mate again. This significantly reduces the species’ ability to restore its population. There are currently approximately 1,000 – 2,000 estimated breeding pairs of military macaws in the world.

Our Conservation Actions in the Sierra Gorda: By managing parts of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as sites for strict conservation, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda ensures safe feeding sites for military macaws. We continually educate local communities and tourism organizations about the macaws and regulate pressure on their nesting sites. Finally, we provide landowners with payments for ecosystem services in areas where the macaws feed, thus ensuring forest conservation.

The global population of military macaws is at risk. Please support us financially and help us to conserve their habitat.



  1. BirdLife International 2016. Ara militarisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species2016: e.T22685548A93079238. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22685548A93079238.en. Downloaded on 05 January 2019.


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