Wonders Of The Yucatán

In Calakmul and elsewhere, the fierce jaguar was worshiped as a deity. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. Adrian Wilson for The New York Times

Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.

We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:

The number of jaguars is growing in Mexico, especially in areas of the Yucatán Peninsula. Patryk Kosmider/Getty Images

Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.

From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples.

When I was there in March, there were hardly any other visitors. Calakmul was once one of the largest and most powerful cities of the Maya world, but now it stands in ruins, hours from the nearest urban center and enveloped by the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of the biggest swaths of unbroken tropical forest in the Americas.

It was early evening, and the black howler monkeys were waking up. From under the forest canopy came the guttural, trash-compactor roar of the loudest land animal in the world, one of many endangered species that live here, along with pumas, toucans, spider monkeys and coati-mundis. Perhaps most crucially, the jungle of Calakmul is home to the highest concentration of jaguars in Mexico.Jaguars are elusive animals that, if threatened, can lacerate a skull with a single bite. Even highly skilled trackers need many days, if not weeks, to find jaguars in the wild, and I knew it was unlikely I would come face to face with one. The main goal of my trip to Calakmul was to explore the habitat where the jaguar was newly thriving, to get a better understanding of its significance and the environmental pressures it’s facing, and to talk to some of the important players behind efforts to save the species.

Still, I stared down into the vegetation, hoping for a flash of black and gold, for any flicker of the great jungle cat that has enthralled this part of the world for thousands of years.

The Maya, like other ancient civilizations of Mexico, worshiped the jaguar as a deity, believing that it ruled the underworld and could move between worlds at will. Across pre-Columbian cultures, jaguar images appear on masks, thrones, reliefs and sculptures. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. For 3,000 years, no animal was more symbolically important…

Read the whole article here.

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