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La Encrucijada Biosphere

Loreto Bay/Isla Espiritu Santo

Ría Celestún & Ría Lagartos

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

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El Ocote Ecological Reserve

El Ocote, located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, is an area of upland rainforest. Together with areas in Oaxaca and Veracruz, El Ocote with Chimalapas and Uxpanapa forms the second largest rainforest in Mexico.  The 3 million acres of biologically rich, intact rainforest are created by tropical storms that linger against the mountains and deposit significant rainfall.  The area is an important watershed for the Cintalapa Valley as well as Mexico’s second most important cave system, which recharges aquifers that feed the Rio La Venta and Malpaso Dam.

did you know?

Archeological relics from the Zoque culture of the early classic period have been found in El Ocote and date back to 300-550 A.D.

Canyon de la Ria la Venta

Canyon del Rio la Venta © Lynda Richardson


site profile

total area protected:
119,000 acres
map of site

evergreen seasonal forests, lower montane rainforest, tropical deciduous forests, pine-oak forest, short tree savanna

partner organization:
Instituto de Historia Natural (IHN)

Ecological Importance

El Ocote joined to Uxpanapa has been identified as a Pleistocene Refuge, where numerous species survived climate change extinction, resulting in a biologically rich area. El Ocote is home to numerous endangered species, including jaguar, puma, brocket deer, tapir, collared peccary, howler and spider monkeys, flying squirrel, and king vulture. Ninety-seven mammal species, or 27 percent of Mexico’s total mammal species, are found in El Ocote, as well as 68 species of reptiles and amphibians. A recent bird study found 46 more species than indicated in previous records, bringing the reserve’s count to 429 species of birds. As one of Central America’s last remaining intact rainforests, the area is vital winter habitat for millions of songbirds that migrate from the U.S. and Canada each year. The area has a wealth of flowering plants with over 2,000 species found in10 vegetation types.


El Ocote has suffered from deforestation due to road construction and incompatible government projects, which, in turn have exacerbated slash-and-burn agriculture, cattle grazing, forest fires, and illegal timber harvesting. Poaching of wildlife, particularly agouti and peccary, is rampant. Social pressures have increased in the past decade due to increased settlement by farmers fleeing the armed conflicts in other areas of Chiapas.

A Strategy of Success

When PiP began supporting El Ocote in 1991, the reserve was little more than a “paper park” with an abandoned ranger station, few local scientists, low community interest, and little government financial support. With PiP funding, the reserve now has adequate infrastructure and personnel, the involvement of local communities, and technical information that is shared throughout Mexico and Latin America.

By focusing projects on compatible development and relevant environmental policy, the advance of the agriculture frontier was largely slowed and even stopped in many areas. From 1996 to 2000, El Ocote personnel, along with staff from the El Triunfo and La Encrucijada reserves, met with authorities who promised to end land grants within Chiapas protected areas. El Ocote staff also met with government agencies to acquire federal property for a field station.

El Ocote has set an example for sustainable agriculture techniques in local communities. A maize stabilization project was implemented in five communities with a total of 87 participants. Communities were able to reduce erosion and the loss of forest to agriculture and benefit from maintaining consistent maize production. Organic coffee practices were also implemented by five communities with a total of 74 producers. The Alvaro Obregón Ejido Union (AOEO) was officially recognized by the Mexican Coffee Council and was independently submitting coffee commercialization projects and selling locally. In two communities, cattle ranchers switched to successful bee-keeping practices. The purchase of a cheese factory reduced the need for  “middlemen,” thereby increasing profits from cattle and reducing the need to acquire more cattle.

By 1998, El Ocote was consolidated. In the words of Reserve Director, Adrián Méndez, “El Ocote’s achievements, in large made possible by Parks in Peril, are highly recognized at a federal, state and municipal level, which gives assurance to the reserve’s conservation allies.” Since site consolidation, however, up to 20,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed from fires.

Read more about El Ocote...

Instituto de Historia Natural (IHN)
The Nature Conservancy in the Chiapas Coastal Watershed 

Read more about projects in Mexico...

Ajos-Bavispe National Forest & Wildlife Refuge
Cuatro Ciénegas National Wildlife Reserve

Loreto Bay/Isla Espiritu Santo Migratory Flora and Fauna Reserve
Ría Celestun & Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserves
La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve
El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
El Pinacate/Gran Desierto del Altar Biosphere Reserve

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Mexico Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Mexico