Date of Award
Master of Science
Since the ceding of the Panamá Canal from the United States to the Republic of Panamá in 1999, human development has accelerated, resulting in the loss of tropical rainforest habitat and declines in wildlife populations. In 2007 this area of vast plant and wildlife diversity experience further loss of habitat as land clearing and excavation commenced for the Panamá Canal Third Locks Expansion Project. As one of the largest construction projects in the world, the potential impacts of the expansion prompted the Panama Canal Authority to work with a local non-governmental conservation organization to initiate a wildlife rescue and relocation operation to conserve wildlife in the affected areas. From 2007 to 2010, 896 wildlife rescue events occurred in 11 areas along the Canal; 806 of these individuals (90%) were successfully relocated to protected areas (n=749) or captivity (n=57). These wildlife rescue efforts were summarized, including human labor required, wildlife species composition, and conservation statuses according to the IUCN and CITES. Also quantified were wildlife dominance and biodiversity using the Simpson, Shannon, Berger-Parker, and Brillouin diversity indices, relative abundance of >100 Neotropical species, and habitat-abundance relationships for four focal species: Hoffman's two-toed sloth, Choloepus hoffmanni; brown-throated three-toed sloth, Bradypus variegatus; American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus; and common caiman, Caiman crocodilus. Relationships between diversity indices and habitat for the wildlife rescued during the wildlife rescue project were also analyzed. Results indicate the Panamá Canal Watershed to ii possess a diverse representation of Neotropical wildlife. Habitat-abundance relationships of focal species suggest two-toed sloth numbers increased as the edge of secondary forest decreased and number of three-toed sloths increased as total landscape area of agriculture decreased. Crocodile populations increased as number of patches on the landscape and mean patch size of secondary forest decreased, and caiman numbers increased as the edge density of secondary forests decreased and mean patch size of agriculture increased. Diversity-habitat relationships revealed wildlife diversity increased with heterogeneous secondary forest landscape consisting of less edge. This project provides rare insights into wildlife rescue operations and wildlife-habitat relationships for Neotropical wildlife species that will be useful for a range of conservation efforts. Additionally, this research provides updated population assessments for many of the species included in the research, especially the focal species, in which a need for them has been stressed in the conservation literature.
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