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Photo: Nathan Dappen

The Rainforest Foundation has Protected
Panama’s rainforests for ten years

Map of Panama. Panama rainforest. Panama's rainforest

Panama is far from the Amazon basin. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t rainforest! Panama’s lush Darien jungle is nestled between the only gap of the Pan American Highway–the world’s longest road. It is still one of the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet–a place where you might still encounter an ocelot or spy a giant ant eater. In fact, until the Panama Canal was built in the 20th century, much of Panama was wetlands and rainforest. Today large pockets of rainforest remain throughout the country. Approximately 30% of Panama’s remaining forests are in indigenous territories.  When these communities have the legal right to defend their ancestral lands, we all win.

It’s clear: respecting Indigenous communities right to their ancestral lands isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the most effective way to protect our rainforests.

Panama’s canal– and its economy–depends on its rainforests and the watersheds they protect. Because of this, Panama has declared safeguarding their forests a priority. Yet, year after year Panama continues to lose forest to cattle ranching and logging. In contrast, lands managed by indigenous communities remain the most pristine in the country. By helping Indigenous communities protect their homelands we also ensure that the rainforest will be there for future generations.

Land Titling: We work with organizations representing the Guna, Embera and Wounaan and others to document and file land claims, and follow up with the government to push for title.


Mapping & Monitoring: We train communities in using smartphones and drones to monitor their lands. Today, a team of indigenous mappers provides technical support to communities across Panama, and engaging with government agencies.


Land Management Planning: We are working with Embera and Wounaan communities to build participatory bottom-up plans to protect their forests, develop economically, and ensure respect for their culture.

Panama Facts

58% rainforest cover
23rd most biodiverse country

Indigenous Communities

Are 5% of the population
7 indigenous peoples

Known Species

1,500 animals
10,000 plants

Our Work

Started working in 2010
Began with the Wounaan & Embera
Today: Ngabe-Bugle, Guna & others

Featured Partners


Indigenous communities fight back against illegal incursions

In Panama, rainforests are threatened by people clearing rainforests to harvest rosewood and graze cattle–but Indigenous communities monitor their lands and fight back against illegal incursions.

Help Indigenous communities protect their lands & help us protect the future!

Make a difference

Just $5 saves an acre of Rainforest!

Featured Partners: The Wounaan Community of Puerto Lara

The Wounaan community of Puerto Lara fought and won against the illegal loggers and ranchers who would destroy their rainforest home. Tired of seeing their rainforest being destroyed, the Wounaan partnered with the Rainforest Foundation to protect their homeland and insist the Panamanian state respect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Puerto Lara began documenting their rights to their lands and the increased deforestation around them in the 1980s, as the Pan American Highway plowed through the region, cutting through several indigenous lands. With the road came thousands of people who invaded indigenous lands, clearing swathes of rainforest to sell mahogany and graze herds of cattle. Puerto Lara’s claims were consistently postponed or ignored by the state. The threats to rainforests of Puerto Lara were dramatic. The community of Puerto Lara fished, raised poultry and hunted for food; they grew crops like avocados and plantains in sustainable rainforest gardens, but the newcomers clearcut patches of forest and set up homesteads people.

For years, Puerto Lara’s claims were consistently postponed or ignored by the state. But they continued to press forward. Together we fought and won making sure the state recognized indigenous people’s rights.

In 2008, Panama passed Law 72, recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights to collective lands outside the Comarcas, After years of advocacy and intense struggle in 2012, Puerto Lara gained the title to their land, ending a thirty year struggle. In 2015, after continued pressure, the government cleared the last of the ranchers off their land.

Panama rainforest. Let's keep Panama's rainforest in good hands. Wounaan and Embera communities guard Panama's rainforest.

Fighting Deforestation in the Darien

A huge part of our work is mapping the rainforest. Ever wonder why? Without highly detailed maps, communities can’t prove the rainforest they protect is their ancestral land. Once their forests are mapped, the Rainforest Foundation US works with communities to fight for the legal recognition of their land, create sustainable development plans and guard their forests. Together we are ensuring their forests remain in safe hands.

Carlos Doviasa protects Panama's rainforests.


Carlos Doviaza spends his days in two very different ways, but the goal is always the same: protecting his community’s rainforests.

Find Carlos Doviaza in Panama City and he looks no different from any other tech-oriented millennial. You are likely to see him at a computer working with his data, or in meetings in offices throughout the city. But he is just as likely to be in the middle of a rainforest: flying a drone and identifying illegal logging in real time in the Darien, taking GPS coordinates to determine the ancestral boundaries of a community in Western Panama, or training the newest generation of indigenous environmental activists to fly drones, map, and monitor their lands.

Carlos Doviaza is making sure his future grandchildren will also be able to spot a sloth in the mangrove, fish in the rivers, or play beneath a rosewood tree. His work goes beyond protecting the rainforest for future generations; it documents and reinforces the deep ties indigenous communities have to their rainforest home. “Just by showing communities their land from above, from the drone footage, I bring out the pride we feel, as people recognize and remember stories important places, history. I am protecting our heritage.”

Carlos is part of the Embera communities of the Darien and Mapping Coordinator for the Rainforest Foundation.

“For more than 500 years indigenous people have held the responsibility of protecting the rainforest. How do we combine our traditional history protecting the forest with technology? How can we have avoid a trek for hours or days just to investigate deforestation, or how can we measure and get an exact location of the places someone knows and visits so we can document what is happening on the land. That is what motivates me.”

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