Saturday, March 22, 2014

king of the forest

Yesterday, I had a chance to go where very few non-locals have ever gone. And I received a crash course in native species conservation.

Five rocky, hard to stay in your seat, kilometers outside of town of Cenotillo, Yucatan lies the entrance to the Reserva San Nicolás. Once we finally arrived to where we were arriving to, it was magnificent.

Many of the indigenous species of the Yucatan are slowly disappearing. From the jaguar, believed by local Mayans to be the king of the forest, to the meat eating vulture (which I had a chance to witness firsthand). Sadly, an ever increasing human population and the destruction of many animals' natural habitats cause all these species to face extinction. Kudos to those working with organizations like Pronatura, to protect and educate us on the local ecosystems on the Yucatán Peninsula.

A camouflaged vine snake in motion

Navigating our way through the acres and acres of land that encompass Reserva San Nicolás, we were actually on a mission. Spread throughout the terrain are seven cameras. These small devices, attached inconspicuously to trees, record video in the area in front of them on 10 second loops. The videos are recorded onto SD memory cards. What I love about this idea is the combination of nature with technology. Here we are, miles from anyone or anything else, using small recording devices and memory cards to capture nature. The video boxes are placed (logically) in front of small holes/pools. We'd grab the video cards out of each box, place them in a digital camera, and watch the animals come by. From agoutis to foxes, there were lone travelers, as well as packs of animals congregating by each watering hole. It was our very own nature channel, right there in the middle of the palm trees. I can't emphasize what it felt like to stand in the forest, sweating buckets, covered in insects, surrounded by orchids and snakes, and pull video chips out of little recording devices.

The video recorder, which currently runs on battery.

While the fauna of the Yucatán is different from anywhere I've ever been, the people and the culture are what makes it completely beautiful. When we arrived at Reserva San Nicolás, there were two amazing gentlemen waiting for us. These men live at the reserve, in the stone structure under re-construction, and work hard to build into a three hundred year old structure some modern amenities. When completed, the house-like structure will house students and teachers, scientists and researchers from around the globe. 

What Arial and Jorge have accomplished so far is gorgeous; it's of the earth, made by hand, and functional. 

Made by these two men, this stone structure will serve as an outdoor stove (grill).

There is no electricity out in Reserva San Nicolás. Both men have motorcycles, so they can easily travel back to town (Ariel has a wife and daughter he tries to visit daily). But when they're out there on the land, they are dependent on the sun, on the weather, on their arms and legs. Before we headed out of the reserve for the day, Cindy handed 2 solar lights to the men. Once placed in the sun for about 8 hours, each lamp will provide about 3 hours of light. I can't wait to check in with these guys and see how solar light has benefited them, if at all. The only way to truly know if something is working is to test it out and solicit feedback. I wonder if they will still go to sleep in their hammocks as soon as the sun goes down. Only time will tell.

If you'd like to see the videos of the wildlife captured by the Reserva San Nicolás cameras, they are constantly uploaded to the facebook page found here:

To learn more about the company that provides solar lights, check out WakaWaka's website at

If you'd like to see all my photos from our visit to the Reserva San Nicolás, they can be found online here: