Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Project Profiles - Mexico

Where Silence Walks
by Juan Carlos Faller, Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan

It’s 4 a.m. on Saturday, January 4, 2003. We leave Merida, Yucatan’s capital, and arrive 4 hours later at El Zapotal Ranch, 155 miles to the northeast and 6 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. We park and take the road into the forest on foot, startling an ocellated turkey as we go. We soon discover fresh puma and jaguar tracks along the path and spot where one stopped and sharpened its claws. Farther along, we find evidence that suggests its last meal was a wild boar.

I remember last August, during an early afternoon rainstorm, we met a jaguar along a curve on this same road. We were downwind and, therefore, able to observe him, undetected, from about 60 feet away. We stood in awe of this magnificent animal, the breath suspended in our lungs for one timeless moment. And in that moment, I felt we had been touched by the ancient god of silence. Agile and strong, he slowly turned and disappeared silently into the forest.

As we pass that memorable place now, I reflect on what ideal habitat this 5,680-acre ranch is for these cats. It contains some of the State’s last remaining, semi-deciduous forest; a myriad of favored, wild prey species; and many shallow, freshwater springs.

Suddenly, there’s a commotion in the canopy, followed by the unmistakable vocalizations of spider monkeys that nimbly swing through the trees right above us! Our hearts pound. We’ve seen them on the property before, but never this close. Farther down the road, we arrive at one of the springs frequented by crocodiles and walk along the edge to have a look. None today, but we hear the splashing of a white-tailed deer as it flees from sight. A few green herons take flight, squawking. Trogons, woodpeckers, and parakeets remain, unruffled.

I wonder if any of these birds will go to, or have come from, the Yum Balam Reserve or Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve—the latter alone houses some 333 species of birds, 142 of which are migratory. I imagine so, since this ranch is considered buffer habitat for both of those federally protected, biologically rich sites.

It’s now 5 p.m. The time has flown! En route to the city, we marvel at all that we saw in just a day’s walk through a forest once thought destined to become cattle pasture.

But it never was converted, nor will it be. A year ago, Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan acquired El Zapotal Ranch from its owner, a willing seller, as part of a larger project that includes inventorying the property’s flora and fauna, identifying natural corridors to adjacent protected areas, and involving the surrounding communities in conservation activities. A $249,300 North American Wetlands Conservation Act Standard Grant plus $258,000 that we and our partner, The Nature Conservancy, contributed to the project made it possible.

In Mexico, acquiring land for protection is a relatively new conservation tool. On the Yucatan Peninsula, our project represents only the second time it’s been done—but it won’t be the last. We want to protect more places where Nature’s silence can be seen as well as heard.

For more information, contact Juan Carlos Faller, Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan, Calle 17 #188-A x 10, Colonia Garcia Gineres, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico C.P. 97070, (52) (999) 920-4647, jcfaller@yahoo.com.mx.