Yucatan Dispatch 3 October 3, 2009 from Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

In late September, I spent eight days in and around the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve which, together with adjacent habitat in Guatemala and Belize, forms one of the largest tracts of protected forest in Mesoamerica. My mission was to try and capture the variety of wildlife that inhabit this important rainforest region.

The truth is, tropical forest is always a challenging environment in which to work : the light is bad, the wildlife secretive, often nocturnal, and there is a host of bugs and parasites all enthusiastically trying to make a new home under your skin. (I’m not bragging, but I came home with about 200 angry red chigger bites all over my body – the price of spending a lot of time lying on the ground…)

As is so often the case when working in remote areas, there were some long stretches of hard slogging, and minimal results – interspersed with some exciting, even breath-taking, moments. Examples of the former include sitting motionless in a small blind trying to catch animals at a waterhole – with little success – and wading through a fetid, snake-ridden swamp in search of frogs.

But the challenges were balanced by some fantastic sights, like being surrounded by clouds of up to five million bats pouring out of a limestone sinkhole at dusk, as falcons dived out of the sky trying to pick them off.

To be honest, I think my search for wildlife in Calakmul was made more challenging by the fact that the reserve is only marginally protected – a vast, unwieldy area with little or no budget for management and protection. Many of the animals I saw, including spider monkeys and birds, showed signs of being hunted – they were frightened and aggressive in a way I have not seen in other parts of the Yucatan. Indeed, we heard many reports that hunting goes on here on a regular basis. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.

In the end, my time in Calakmul was too short to approach anything like a comprehensive photo collection from this vast and complex area. But combined with the efforts of other RAVE team members, it should provide a glimpse of this vital natural treasure on the Yucatan Peninsula.