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Cockpit Country

Blue and John Crow Mountains

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Cockpit CountryPIP 2000

Millions of years of erosion have sculpted the yellow and white limestone peaks of the dramatic—and nearly untouched—landscape of Cockpit Country. Dubbed “cockpits” by the 17th century British for their resemblance to cockfighting arenas, these steep bowl-shaped depressions characterize the region. Due to the region’s isolation during most of its geologic history, it harbors a highly diverse array of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. The unique limestone karst topography in Cockpit Country also plays a vital role in supporting Jamaica’s population: these complex systems of porous bedrock and sinkholes drain water to underground caves and provide 59 percent of Jamaica’s freshwater.

did you know

Cockpit Country was the first site selected by USAID for the Parks in Peril 2000 program.

Cockpit Country

A karst landscape defines the environment of Jamaican Cockpit Country © Jonathan Kerr


site profile

total area protected:
112,100 acres
map of site

Jamaican Tropical Moist Broadleaf Forest

partner organization:
Jamaica Forestry Department

Ecological Importance

Cockpit Country highlights Jamaica’s spectacular endemism, particularly the island’s unique flora. Of the 152 vascular plant species found in Cockpit Country, over 100 are found nowhere else in the world, with many individual hilltops claiming their own unique species. Most of Jamaica’s 550 native fern species are found in Cockpit Country and relative to its area, more species of ferns are found here than in any other tropical forest in the world.

Bats dominate the mammalian biomass in Cockpit Country, with some caves sheltering over 50,000 individuals. The diverse vegetation and topography create ideal habitat for all 28 of Jamaica’s endemic land birds. The region also has the highest local diversity of amphibians and reptiles on the whole island, with four new endemic species discovered in 2004.


Most sources of stress in Cockpit Country are due to excessive and unsustainable resource use. Farmers convert natural forest to agricultural land and then use inappropriate tillage practices. Loggers, illegally and legally, extract timber in an unsustainable manner for furniture factories and other private enterprises. Cockpit Country is threatened by mining, as mining interests in Jamaica are granted legal use over other land uses, including timber, agriculture and conservation. While tourist enterprises have capitalized on the natural resources of Cockpit Country, much more can be done to develop an understanding of the need for conservation and appropriate development.

A Strategy of Success

In Cockpit Country, Parks in Peril (PiP) has been working closely with the region’s primary stakeholders—the Forestry Department and local communities. The Forestry Department is responsible for the management of Cockpit Country and PiP is supporting the Department’s first biodiversity conservation project. Forest management committees have been formed in the local communities to engage a range of stakeholders in forest conservation and sustainable livelihood projects.

PiP and its partners are working to develop ways for communities to benefit from conservation with projects focusing on the development of butterfly farms and ecotourism enterprises as well as improved conservation practices in the indigenous Maroon communities. In 2004, a Tropical Forest Conservation Act dept-for-nature swap was arranged, allowing nearly $16 million in debt payments to be directed towards forest conservation. Funds will complement PiP funding and will be used to develop the role of local communities in conservation activities.

Additionally, a monumental hydrological assessment of Cockpit Country is in place to determine the value of water resources and the role that the region plays in maintaining water quality. The study will be used for public education and awareness and to address government policies that hinder biodiversity and natural resource conservation. Through these and other initiatives, PiP and its local partners are working to establish a broad coalition to support site consolidation of Cockpit Country by 2007.

Read more about the Cockpit Country...

Jamaica Forestry Department
The Nature Conservancy in Cockpit Country
Online Field Guide to Cockpit Country

Read more about projects in Jamaica...

Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

Jamaica Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Jamaica