Panama’s largest conservation group is the nonprofit Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (National Association for the Conservation of Nature, tel. 314-0052, www.ancon.org), or ANCON.
Since its founding in 1985 it has played an important role in Panama’s attempts to protect its environment by taking on such basic but critical projects as demarcating park boundaries and training park rangers.
ANCON does have its critics, who sometimes accuse it of giving a seal of approval to big development projects that are destructive to the environment.
ANCON owns the country’s largest private nature reserve, the 65,000-hectare Punta Patiño Reserve on the Darién coast. Its other holdings include Isla San Telmo, in the Archipiélago de las Perlas, which protects endangered moist premontane forest and is a sanctuary for brown pelicans and other animals.
It also owns several nature lodges around the country that are managed by Ancon Expeditions, a private for-profit organization that spun off as a separate entity.
ANCON welcomes foreign volunteers to its projects.
The U.S.-based Nature Conservancy works with local organizations on several projects in Panama. For more information contact the Nature Conservancy (4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22203-1606, tel. 800/628-6860, http://nature.org).
The prestigious Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI, www.stri.org) is based in Panama. STRI is one of the leading centers for the study of tropical animals, plants, marine life, evolution, conservation, and much more.
The Sociedad Audubon de Panamá (Panama Audubon Society, tel. 232-5977, www.panamaaudubon.org) hosts regular bird-watching tours, and nonmembers are invited to come along. The society is also a good source of information on nature hikes and backcountry places to stay, and some of its members are freelance guides.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition