The western border of the Chiquibul is adjacent to Guatemala, and the two countries are engaged in conflict. Faced with deep poverty, Guatemalans, known as Xateros, cross the border into Belize in search of fishtail palms, or Xate (sha-tay). Xateros earn a few dollars for every few hundred palm leaves they harvest in order to support their families. They set up camp on the border and have their children help collect palm leaves.

Xate palms, also known as “Leaf of Gold” by the Guatemalans, are highly prized in the international floral industry. The highly profitable nature of this multi-million dollar industry encourages continued exploitation of the rainforest.1 Xate palm leaves are commonly sold to churches to be used in the celebration of Palm Sunday. The collection of the Xate is the main driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Chiquibul.

The abundance of Xate in the Chiquibul, however is low, which forces Xateros to travel throughout the national park. They not only search for Xate, but also other valuable resources such as mahogany, gold, and animals. These harvests damage the ecological integrity of the park.

This unique and complex story illustrates concerns in tropical forest ecology such as poaching, bushmeat, illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, slash and burn agriculture, illegal mineral extraction, and illegal extraction of non-timber forest products.

Learning Objectives

After reading about the Threats, students will be able to:

  1. Describe how the illegal harvest of Xate palms is related to other common issues in the Tropics such as bushmeat, illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, slash and burn agriculture, and the illegal extraction of minerals. (Don’t know if I understand what that objective was trying to say, so I may not have revised it correctly)
  2. Understand why poverty is the main driver of all the threats the Chiquibul faces.
  3. Explain the ecological and economic importance of Xate palms and the damage created by illegal extraction.
  4. Define slash and burn agriculture and list how it contributes to small-scale deforestation and land degradation in the Chiquibul Forest.
  5. Recognize how illegal mahogany logging causes forest damage, a loss in ecosystem services, and an economic loss to Belize.
  6. List the ways how poaching for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade market threatens the survival of many species in the Chiquibul


1Bridgewater, S. (2012). A natural history of Belize: inside the Maya forest. Austin: University of Texas Press.