Only 800km long and some 80km wide at its narrowest point, Panama lies at the base of the Meso-American Isthmus and is the gateway to South America. It is a Spanish speaking country although it has a strong historical link with the United States. It is flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.
The inordinate number of species that are found in Panama is a result of environmental and geological processes that have been acting together for millennia. This high diversity is reflected in Panama’s bird-fauna of which there are approximately 940 species, more than in all Europe or about 10% of the known number of species worldwide.
Most deforestation and forest degradation in Panama results from road construction, logging, industrial gold mining, and colonization, which leads to clearing for agriculture, pasture land, and fuel wood collection. Of these activities, colonization is responsible for the bulk of forest loss.
Panama’s floral diversity is one of the richest in the world. More than 8,200 species of flowering plants and trees have been described of which more than 1,200 are only found in Panama.
Panama, which means 'abundance of fish' in one of the native languages, is home to seven native peoples, Kuna, Guaymis, Embera, Wounaan, Bokata, Bribri, and Teribe. The Kuna administer their own autonomous ancestral lands known as Kuna Yala. Most rural communities however are composed of “campesinos” or farmers. This group has a mixture of indigenous and European ancestries. They are mostly poor, subsistence communities who practice slash and burn agriculture to grow crops. Some richer campesinos are cattle ranchers and own large tracts of land, which they deforest to open up for pasture land. The interaction between indigenous people, who generally have protected their forests, and campesinos, who generally have opened up the forest is often delicate, and has flared up into open conflict with claims that campesinos have invaded ancestral lands. This is an ongoing social and environmental issue and there have been several government projects to demarcate legal boundaries.