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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.