Parks and Protected Areas
Panama has set aside 76 protected areas covering nearly two million hectares (close to five million acres) of land, or about 25 percent of Panama’s total area, and a substantial portion of its territorial waters.
Most of these protected areas are part of an extensive system of 13 national parks and marine parks and one international park, the giant Parque Internacional La Amistad (PILA), that extends over the border into Costa Rica.
There are numerous wildlife refuges, buffer forests, protected wetlands, and so on. There are also laws on the books to protect endangered or threatened animals.
The protected areas are a relatively new phenomenon. The first national park, Parque Nacional Altos de Campana, was set aside in 1966, and all the others have been created just in the last 25 years. The parks and other protected areas are managed by the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM), which translates as National Environmental Authority.
As anyone who travels extensively in Panama’s national parks will soon discover, just being named a protected area does not confer much protection. Illegal hunting, fishing, logging, and even farming continue in many of the protected areas.
All the parks have at least rudimentary ranger stations, but few have much in the way of visitors’ facilities or developed trails. Large sections of some parks, notably the Caribbean slope of PILA and almost all of Parque Nacional Cerro Hoya, are almost inaccessible, which is the main reason they’re still intact.
ANAM has only a couple hundred workers spread throughout the entire system of protected areas; there’s an average of about one employee for every 7,000 hectares. Sometimes they’re spread far more thinly than that: There are only a handful of rangers at two rustic ranger stations to guard the entire 579,000 hectares of Parque Nacional Darién. A third of the protected areas do not have a single ranger assigned to them.
Anyone who witnesses poaching, the sale or captivity of endangered species, habitat destruction, or other kinds of illegal environmental damage can report it to ANAM’s hotline (tel. 500-0855, ext. 1111). These denuncias can also be made online (http://consult.anam.gob.pa/denuncia_web/index.php).
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition