When developing the Panama Canal expansion project, we created a structured plan to protect biodiversity, right from the initial construction stages. Indeed, the Consortium Grupo Unidos Por El Canal (GUPC) (of which we are a member), has defined a wide-ranging Rescue and Relocation Plan for Wildlife, in line with the local authorities and bodies responsible for managing Panama’s National Parks.

The Plan has two key objectives. Firstly, we aim to protect, conserve, rescue and relocate wildlife inhabiting the areas affected by forest harvesting, grubbing and movement of earth.  Secondly, we aim to help field workers understand the importance of conserving local wildlife in a structured way, while developing the country.

In order to develop the plan, we conducted an in-depth study of the area, analysing the local climate and habitats on both sites of the canal (Atlantic and Pacific), and comparing them with those in Panamanian parks and protected areas. Having identified parks with the same biodiversity of the working area, we agreed that they would host rescued wildlife from the area surrounding the site.

Through the first field stage, specialised researchers monitored the area for a week to identify the species present and the number of animals to relocate (including the nests and beehives on the trees). In particular, they focused on species that may move slowly, those injured or in imminent danger, as well as young animals.

The researchers classified the species identified during the observation activities, including the endangered and endemic species, in line with the Panamanian Wildlife Laws, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Life and Flora (CITES), and the IUCN Red List.

The real rescue operation could then take place. On the Pacific side of the project, camera traps were installed in strategic places a week prior to the works, for example, to help locate the animals as efficiently as possible. The monitoring and rescue activities will continue both during and at the end of the works.

Experienced vets examine the rescued animals and determine if they are well enough to be released into a new habitat, or if they require recovery and rehabilitation (in places such as the Shelter Temporary Metropolitan Park). Finally, the animals are released in the agreed parks, with the collaboration of the park guards or other ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente) officers.

With worker collaboration essential to rescuing any wildlife still in the working area, we strive to make the process as proactive as possible by engaging them through dedicated and continuous training on conserving biodiversity.

We deliver weekly training talks, helping workers remember the rescue plan and the procedures to follow if they see any animals during the construction activities. Additionally, we display murals and brochures relating to the protection of wildlife throughout the site, as well as installing signs showing crossing fauna and speed limits.

From the beginning of the project in 2009 until the end of 2015, we have helped to rescue more than 4,100 animals, mainly reptiles, mammals and amphibians (of which about 4% were found injured) and relocate them to protected parks.