Simon is in Mexico to research the health of thick-billed parrots. Read his previous post, Thick-billed Parrots: My First Encounter.
We got stuck in the mud. Well, actually, the truck did, but we put it there. Photographic evidence is provided courtesy of our wonderful Mexican colleagues, who refused to help us get it out until we had been suitably humiliated. And not being in a position to really argue with this, we stood gallantly in front of our trusty yet debilitated steed while they froze the moment in perpetuity.
It took nearly four hours to get it out. I thought we had broken free at hour two, but the dream was short lived as we reversed straight into a waiting patch of fresh mud. I mean, why not? We had such fun digging out the wheels with our bare hands for the first two hours, why not do it all over again? One reason might be the torrential rain clouds that appeared to be gathering, but who am I to start introducing sensibility to the mix?
Karma is, of course, a beautiful thing, and during the last desperate push to free the truck I was able to stand back and watch as two of our Mexican colleagues were turned into walking sticks of mud. The wheels spun, the mud flew, and it covered them so perfectly from head to toe with splatters of wet sticky sludge, that Jackson Pollack himself would have been proud. And, we were finally free!
One of these walking works of art was Javier Cruz, who heads up the Mexican field team. He has been working in these mountains for many years now, trying to understand more about the thick-billed parrots and the best ways to conserve them. It is truly amazing to see what they have been able to achieve with very little funding, just humbling amounts of dedication and hard work. For the past 14 years, Javier has spent the summer months nomadically moving throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental, recording the number of nests and the number, size, and weight of any chicks.
Over the years, he has seen some nest sites collapse because of forest fires, logging, or disease, but has worked to ensure that others have remained productive. One of the most significant achievements was the designation of large areas of forest as protected land. Local ejido communities own much of this land, so this action is largely a testament to his ability to develop significant relationships with the local people and convince them of the need to conserve this land, and with it, part of their biological and cultural history.
Javier is dedicated to these parrots, but his vision is refreshingly broad. He sees the conservation of thick-bills as being concomitant with the conservation of the Sierra Madre ecosystem itself. After all, there are plenty of other species that are found here, including the golden eagle, military macaw, tufted jay, jaguar, and American black bear. Protecting this land helps to protect all of these species.
And talking of bears, we were out only the other day at one nest site when I saw my first evidence of bear activity. A small area of hillside had been torn up, which Franscelia (another member of the Mexican team) explained was the work of a black bear. Only moments later, Javier came out of the trees exclaiming that he had just seen the bear not five minutes from where we were! So close to wildlife!! Yes. Bear-style wildlife. Bears with big-claws and very sharp teeth sort of wildlife. It was lucky that the truck was no longer stuck in the mud.
I have recently started questioning some deep philosophical topics. How is it we can send a man into space but have yet to make tents that DO NOT LEAK?
Simon Anthony is a research fellow with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.