Tag Archives: Travel & Tourism

Ocelots

By Julie Etra

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis, ocelotes in Spanish) are beautiful animals found here on the southwest coast of Mexico. They are medium-sized cats (adults are 70-100 cm long – 28-40 inches – not inluding their tails). They resemble the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus), also called the tigrillo, which occurs from Central America to central Brazil.

Ocelots and People

The ocelot is endangered in the very small area where it lives in southern Texas and in Mexico, as a result of illegal poaching for their prized pelts (records show 566,000 ocelot pelts were sold in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s), along with habitat loss and fragmentation. Collisions with vehicles have become an increasing threat. Hunting them is now forbidden throughout their range, which runs from southernmost Texas, through Mexico and Central America, and across the northern half of South America (except in Peru, where it is regulated but not forbidden).

In the heyday of ocelot fashion, people kept them as pets as well, most notably the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who took Babou with him to all sorts of places, often to the dismay of the people in those places. He is reported to have told an upset diner at a Manhattan restaurant that it was just an “ordinary house cat,” painted up like Op Art.

In Mexico ocelots have been culturally significant since at least the Aztec (Mexica) civilizations, as depicted in their multimedia art and mythology, although whether the Aztecs distinguished between ocelots and jaguars is unclear – the Nahuatl word for jaguar is ocelotl. The ocelotl appears on the Aztec sunstone as the day sign for fourteenth day of the Aztec religious calendar (there was a different calendar to govern agriculture), and was considered auspicious for battle with success and valor.

Ocelots in Nature

Ocelots are cryptically colored in that they blend into their typically dense forest environment. They have a small, speckled brown head with two stripes on either side of the cheeks and four to five parallel black stripes along the neck. Their ears are short, wide, and rounded. Ocelot fur is spotted with elongated, irregular, rosette-shaped rings. Their bellies are dark, and tails are 26-45 cm (10-18 inches) and tapered with dark colored rings or spots. Individuals have their own unique pattern, making them easy to distinguish.

In Mexico, the ocelot’s distribution is discontinuous, but includes the coastal Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern slopes of the state of Tamaulipas to the Yucatán peninsula, and south from Sonora in northwestern Mexico. It is both diurnal and nocturnal, meaning it is active both in the day and night, but is more active at dusk and at night when it hunts. They are solitary, and make their homes in caves, hollow tree trunks and tree canopies for protection. In Mexico habitat includes tropical forests, tropical deciduous forests (which we have here on the coast), mangrove forests (also on our Costa Chica), temperate forests, and thorny desert scrub.

The ocelot is a predator, like other wild felines, but is opportunistic in its diet. It is an agile animal that climbs and swims as well as leaps after its prey, which includes small terrestrial mammals, reptiles, fish, and small birds, and even insects. In tropical Mexico, iguanas are a preferred quarry.

Litter size is typically between two and three kittens. Gestation averages two to three months, and they can reproduce year-round. Their life span has been observed to be as long as ten years.

Seeing Ocelots

Camera traps have been used for decades to monitor wildlife. In Mexico they have been used to study ocelots and other mammals in the Mexican states of Campeche, Veracruz, and Tabasco, and here on the coast of Oaxaca, Starting in 2016, the Huatulco National Park (Parque Nacional de Huatulco) installed at least three camera traps in different points in the Park to monitor native mammals as well as feral dogs (the latter have become problematic on the beaches of Huatulco where they have killed egg laying turtles as well as the hatchlings). The camera traps have captured images of ocelots as well as white-tailed deer, rabbits, anteaters, opossum, coyotes, and armadillos. My stepdaughter Joy caught one on film at her place on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Time to set up our camera again, as the back of our place faces the forest. So far, we have only captured photos of the ubiquitous opossum and the pygmy skunk, an endemic. I have my doubts, given the number of barking dogs in the neighborhood (including our own barky), but we will give it a try. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and see one while employing one of the local nature guides.

Year of the Tiger 2022: Big Bold Books to Devour

By Carole Reedy

In China, the tiger is considered the king of beasts, symbolizing power and a great deal of nerve. The authors below have proven their power, using the written word as a way to understand our mysterious world. These are the fresh voices of the 21st century exciting us about the future of books and keeping high the bar for fine literature. (Publication date in parentheses.)

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo (April 14, 2022)
Stuart stunned us in 2020 with his first novel, Shuggie Bain, richly deserved winner of the Booker prize that year. His story of a young boy growing up in Scotland has assured Stuart a place among classical writers. The ambiance of the place and time, the vivid endowment of the characters, and the raw emotion in the novel drew millions of readers who ended up loving little Shuggie.

Stuart may have another hit on his hands with Young Mungo, the tale of two young men, one Protestant and the other Catholic, growing up in Glasgow. Assuredly, it will generate some of the same emotion and tension that drew readers to Shuggie Bain.

Stuart has led a rag-to-riches life, growing up in Scotland, moving to England, and ultimately having a successful career as a designer in New York. With Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, his writing career is just beginning, and we can look forward to many incisive novels in the future.

Hanya Yanagihara: To Paradise (January 11, 2022)
A Little Life, the lengthy, imposing novel of friendship and pain, put Yanagihara on the map as a brilliant writer. Many of us thought she deserved the Booker Prize that year for her story of the very emotional journey of four young men.

A new twist, but surely another whirlwind of emotion, is presented in her new novel, On Paradise, which spans three centuries and covers three different versions of what the US becomes. Surely the themes of love and pain will dominate, as they did in A Little Life.

Olga Towkarczuk: The Books of Jacob (February 1, 2022)
Get ready for the literary ride of a lifetime. This book is being called the War and Peace of modern literature. Polish wordsmith Olga Towkarczuk has gifted us with books such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and taken us on philosophical journeys with her award-winning Flights.

Towkarczuk has clearly taken seriously the responsibility and implications of the Nobel Prize she was awarded in 2018. The Books of Jacob has already won the coveted Nike award in Poland for best novel.

Marcel Theroux of The Guardian explains: “It is a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece – long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable. Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes.” He compares it to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and calls the novel one that “will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it.” I hope to be among the first to try!

Emily St. John Mandel: Sea of Tranquility (April 5, 2022)
This young Canadian writer follows up her successful novels The Glass House and Station Eleven (available to stream as a limited miniseries on HBO Max) with her latest glimpse into the future.

The novel begins in 1912 on Vancouver Island and takes us 300 years into the future to a dark colony on the moon. That should pique your interest, but in addition to the metaphysics and time travel, St. John brings the delicate side humanity, as always, to the novel.

This is just the beginning of our 2022 review. In future issues of The Eye, we’ll explore the new books of our favorite and new authors. Perhaps, as I am, you are grateful for the hours of entertainment and contemplation brought to you by these writers.

Understanding Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

The best part of my morning swim in the Santa Cruz Bay is, after I’m done with the exercise bit, when I pull my goggles up on my forehead and lazily tread water while looking around. It is this very spot, this bay, that has always been the epicentre of Huatulco. Oceans battle their containment everywhere. Waves are relentless against rocks and beaches. But we land-dwelling creatures have always needed calm harbours, like this spot, to land and launch our boats (and to swim). This bay has been a gateway to the land and to the sea for centuries, well before the conquistadors made it a shipping and distribution port in the 15th century.

Until the 1980’s, when the Puerto Escondido to Salina Cruz highway (route 200) was constructed, the bay at Santa Cruz was the principal connecting point for this area to the outside world. And here I am, langorously sculling water, one of many of us from that outside world. How many times over the centuries, I wonder, have outsiders looked upon this bay and these hills and stopped to ask: What is life like for the people who live here? Although this is an open-ended question, this sentiment of curiosity about Huatulco remains among many of us outsiders. I seek to scratch that curiosity itch with three more specific questions:

(1) How are people here organised (governed)?
(2) What are the principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco?
(3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?

(1) Governance

What most of us foreigners know as Huatulco, is a coastal area within the Municipality of Santa María Huatulco. A municipio in Mexico is an administrative division comparable to what Canadians and Americans might know as counties. It is a constitutionally defined level of government within a state, in this case the state of Oaxaca. The municipality has the responsibility to provide its residents with the public services: water, sewage, roads, public safety (police), public transport, parks and cemeteries. It is also required to assist state and federal governments with fire and medical services, social and economic development, and environmental protection. The municipio has the authority to collect property taxes and user fees, such as business licenses. The boundaries of the municipality are shown on the map below.

The municipal area is 514 square kilometres (±198 sq. mi.), 211 sq. km. (±81 sq. mi.) of which is the coastal zone, known as the Bays of Huatulco (Bahías de Huatulco). On the map, this coastal zone is the area south of Highway 200 between the Coyula River on the west and the Copalita River on the east. This area was expropriated under a presidential decree in 1984 for tourism development under FONATUR (Spanish abbreviation for National Tourism Fund). This decree did not remove any rights or obligations of the municipality for this area, rather FONATUR became the legal property owner. As legal property owner, and developer, FONATUR planned to re-sell its property for specific tourism uses – these were spelled out in a development plan (more on this below). The federal government, through FONATUR, expropriated this land to further the federal objectives of social and economic development through large scale tourism projects, similar to those in Cancun and Ixtapa.

As of 2020, the municipio of Santa María Huatulco (MSMH) has a population of 50,862 people. The three largest urban areas in the municipio are La Crucecita (pop. 19 K), Santa María Huatulco (pop. 11 K), and Hache Tres (pop. 5 K); 30% of the population lives in or near one of the 93 small rural communities within the MSMH. The population of the municipio is increasing at an average rate of 30-35 people per week. People are migrating here in search of employment or to start small businesses. Many people who move here are finding few employment opportunities; the wages are low and Huatulco is relatively expensive. This results in people living in areas without adequate public services.

MSMH has neither the capacity nor the resources to keep up with the increasing demands of the public services they are mandated to provide. Of the $329 million pesos ($17 million USD) MSMH received in 2017, 26% was from local tax sources. Federal contributions were 58% and the state of Oaxaca contributed16%.

The federal funds do not include services for garbage collection, the municipal landfill, drinking water, or sewage treatment for La Crucecita and the Bays of Huatulco. These services, as well as area maintenance and cleaning of the coastal zone are provided by FONATUR. The federal government maintains Hwy 200, and most major arteries of MSMH are built and maintained by the state of Oaxaca.

Desarrollo, the Spanish word for development, is the key term in virtually all the documents relating to Huatulco governance. We outsiders enjoy the Bays of Huatulco, often without realizing we are in the second poorest state in the country; 13% of the population of the state of Oaxaca is illiterate (MSMH a bit better at 8%). In MSMH, 58% of the population has only a primary school education. Social and economic development for MSMH is of primary concern. In its development plan for 2019-2021, MSMH quoted a federal study indicating that in 2015, 49% of the population of the municipio lived in poverty.

Long term progress towards solving these problems relies on one principal industry in Huatulco – tourism. Tourism represents 90% of the direct and indirect economic activity of MSMH. There is no question that the investments by the Mexican government (through FONATUR) for the creation of Huatulco as a tourist destination have fundamentally changed this municipality. Before FONATUR’s “CIP” (Central Integrated Plan) for Huatulco, 2,500 people lived in MSMH. There were no paved roads, clean drinking water or sewage treatment. There were high incidences of malaria, dengue, and intestinal infections. Today progress seems obvious. Yet a central issue remains: to what extent will Huatulco develop as a tourist destination, and how will this impact the local population and environment.

2) Principal concerns (issues) for Huatulco

As centrally important as Huatulco-the-tourist-destination is to the people of the municipio of Santa Maria Huatulco, only the federation of Mexico or the state of Oaxaca has the resources or capacity to determine the future of Huatulco. This brings up the question of just how important is Huatulco to the tourism industry in Mexico, and in the state of Oaxaca?

Statistics from Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) in Mexico show that for 2019, Huatulco was the 22nd most popular destination for tourists in Mexico (8th most popular beach resort). In the state of Oaxaca, Huatulco is the second most visited destination for tourists. Oaxaca City (Oaxaca de Juárez) receives 24% of tourists visits in the state, and 32% of the tourism revenue. Huatulco sees 12% of tourist visits in the state, but 44% of the tourism revenue. On average, tourism in the state of Oaxaca comprises 97% national (Mexican) visitors, and 3% international visitors. In 2007, Huatulco hosted 83% national and 17% international visitors. .

Of the four large FONATUR CIP resorts in Mexico – Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos and Huatulco – Huatulco has struggled the most. And not for lack of investment through FONATUR. Between 1974 and 2015, FONATUR has spent $10 billion pesos (± $48 million USD) on CIP Huatulco (source OECD/DATATUR). This is more than what was spent on Ixtapa and Los Cabos combined, and second only to Cancun, where $14 billion pesos (±$672 million USD) were invested. Results, measured by hotel room capacity (re: 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda) were:

    Hotel Rooms                Annual Occupancy

Cancun 30,027 65%
Los Cabos 12,123 61%
Ixtapa 4,988 45%
Huatulco 3,409 49%

The last major injection of funds by FONATUR to develop Huatulco was under the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006 – 2012), under his “Relaunch Huatulco” plan (Relanzamiento del CIP Huatulco). This plan spelled out specific long term development objectives for each of the nine bays of Huatulco. The sum of this planned development adds up to 20,000 hotel rooms, a second golf course, and numerous residential and commercial properties. Some of the near term objectives of the plan were accomplished, including the expansion of the airport, the pedestrian walkway between Santa Cruz and Crucecita, and the Copalita Anthropology Museum. Yet the hoped-for commercial investment in Huatulco did not follow these initiatives.

Secrets, built in 2010, was the last major resort hotel constructed in Huatulco. Previous to that was Quinta Real in 1996. In 2014 Melia Hotels announced the construction of a 500 room resort, and in 2018 there was an announcement to invest $5 billion pesos ($256 million USD) for a hospital in Huatulco, primarily for medical tourism. Now, years later, neither of these two projects has begun construction.

Under the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), a review of the tourism sector was undertaken. The 2013 Tourism Competitive Agenda provided a detailed review of CIP Huatulco. This seems to have marked a change in the approach to development in Huatulco. The “build it and they will come” model, which worked for Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, wasn’t working for Huatulco. FONATUR was restructured away from a purely real estate sales model to a broader development model. Starting In 2016 FONATUR could act as a venture capitalist and invest up to 25% in a tourism venture. They were permitted to contribute land up to a value of $7 MM USD to a tourism project (as long as that did not exceed 49% of the overall project value). The gist of the numerous reports under the Peña Nieto administration seems to have been finding a way to market Huatulco strategically, in line with the specific realities of Huatulco itself, while avoiding further social and environmental problems.

The current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has committed approximately 250 million pesos (±$12 million USD) to Huatulco to improve deteriorated infrastructure, but nothing further. His tourism expenditure priority appears to be building the Mayan Train.

3) What is the plan for Huatulco in the future?
Alas, after a month of research and several interviews, I am forced here to quote Yoda: “Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.” Nonetheless, I offer up what I have distilled on this information quest.

-There appears to be a recognition among all three levels of government (municipal, state, federal), that the earlier FONATUR CIP Huatulco development model has not succeeded and a new approach is needed.

-It seems obvious to any observer of Huatulco over the years that growth is taking place despite the lack of large-scale resort investments. Tourism statistics show steady growth since 2008. I note a mention in one of the FONATUR planning documents a recognition of the demand in Huatulco for second residences. This seems evident in the construction of new condominiums.

-The state of Oaxaca together with the municipio of Santa María Huatulco have initiated a plan for 2019 – 2023 to Transform Huatulco (Desarrollo Turístico de las Bahías de Huatulco). This is an aspirational document, but with objectives outlined and steps to be followed (without mention of funding commitments). This document recognizes that commercial investment rather than large government expenditures is the path forward for Huatulco. The plan calls for a focused strategic marketing plan to differentiate Huatulco as a unique destination, calling for, among other things, bike paths, pedestrianisation of central La Crucecita, and an overall emphasis on the environment and sustainability. Here one could quote another movie figure, Jerry Maguire, in saying “Show me the money.” Noticeably absent from this Transform Huatulco document is the FONATUR logo.

-The autopista cometh. Connectivity has always been an issue for tourism development in Huatulco. A new highway that connects Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, and thereby Huatulco, appears to be near completion. This autopista is 17 years overdue, but it looks as if it will be finished in 2022. This shortens the drive from Oaxaca City to the Coast to two hours from the current six. This likely will increase the number of national tourists to Huatulco dramatically. In turn, this will, no doubt, exacerbate the poor social conditions with even more people living in marginal, unserviced areas.

So now, back in Santa Cruz Bay, treading water and watching the on-shore restaurant staff ready tables and umbrellas for the day’s tourists, I wonder what I have actually learned about Huatulco? To start with, things are more complicated and nuanced than I had imagined. There are no clear indicators of the path forward for Huatulco, and problems are many. But I’ve also learned that these problems are well understood and documented, and many people are seeking solutions to them. It occurs to me that Huatulco as a paradise, like any paradise anywhere, is a veneer. A thin strip of coastline with turquoise bays, where children play in the sand and people enjoy themselves. I think Yoda is right, the future IS uncertain for Huatulco, but for now, here we are in this beautiful place.

Learning to Surf

By Randy Redmond

The first thing I will tell you is this: you are going to hate it before you love it! (Remember these words …)

Here are the five things you need to do that help you succeed in starting your new life of surfing.

  1. Hire a surf instructor! Too many people feel that they can learn on their own, which only leads to learning bad habits and it’ll take you twice as long to get to the point of loving the sport.
  2. Start yourself on a soft top surfboard no shorter than 2 meters (7 feet).
  3. Do some beach training with your board. Using your board on the sand, learn how to pop up and stand up out of the water.
  4. Before entering the water, if your instructor has not already done so, please ask them to explain surf etiquette to you. There are rules of the road out there in the water – once you learn them you’ll avoid a lot of drama and possible injury to yourself and others.
  5. Have patience! It’s not gonna happen in one day. Let your surf instructor push you into waves – this is not humiliating- this is how you learn. You will eventually learn how to paddle into the waves yourself.

Surfing is not only one of the healthiest sports, it’s low cost and you get to enjoy nature! Every surfer I know remembers vividly the feeling of their first blue-water wave, in other words not riding the white wash anymore. Every surfer can tell you what board they were riding, where they were surfing, how they got there and who was on the beach. Your first blue-water wave is probably the most important step to your newfound addiction. This is the feeling that you’ll be chasing and cheering for the rest of the time that you enjoy this incredible activity!

I highly recommend that you watch the many YouTube channels that will further instruct you on technique, style, and basic logic of surfing. Once you have mastered the pop-up and stand up on your board and actually catch some blue-water waves, you can graduate to a harder board. I suggest a “fun board,” yes, that’s what the board is called. A fun board will allow you to take your surfing to the next level, staying on a soft top will only keep you from excelling. From there you can gradually work your way down sizes or upsize it depending if you would like ride a short board or a classic longboard.

Huatulco Surf Company is located in the shops at Tangolunda; you can visit them to obtain a list of professional surf instructors.

The Story of SusieJ – A Tiny Tigre de la Calle

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Much to the displeasure of the two cats we bring from Maine, many a Mexican street cat has tried to enter – over the wall, through the gate – our house in Santa Cruz.

But one of those Maine cats is supremely ungracious to the street cats, given that she herself was born in Santa Cruz, apparently in a giant pothole up at the end of Calle Huautla.

A Determined Tiny Tigre

SusieJ arrived like others, hopping up from the sidewalk and through the ironwork gate into a planter. And there she stayed, peeking out from the plants at the front of the patio. A few days later, however, there was another, smaller face beside hers. Apparently SusieJ had gone back up to Calle Huautla and brought her kitten to live in the planter as well.

Of course, a few days after that, there was another small face at the front of the yard. And once, again, a few days after that – another small face. This third kitten looked nothing like SusieJ or the other two, and was a good six weeks younger. Then SusieJ though it would be better all if they moved into the house. First we just thought they’d left, until we discovered them curled up on the chairs shoved under the dining room table.

We fed them and “fixed” them – the kittens went off to live in Pluma Hidalgo. As were preparing to leave at the end of the season, SusieJ was adopted by a woman who lived in Hache Tres. All was quiet, stuff was getting sorted for packing, we were looking forward to the cool weather of Maine. At 11 pm, three days before we were to leave, hubby comes in carrying SusieJ. Although he believes cats do no such thing, SusieJ had found her way back from Hache Tres.

SusieJ was replaced by two new, younger bonded (and fixed) cats; SusieJ spends her summers in Maine and her winters in Mexico.

The Sad Short Lives of Street Cats

SusieJ lucked out. This is not the fate of the overwhelming majority of street cats in Mexico. They are run over by cars (atropellado), torn apart by dogs, starved, felled by disease, poisoned intentionally or accidentally, and have hard short lives – most last less than a year.

Street cats (gatos callejeros) live in concert with humans – they are not entirely feral. Most would make happy house cats if they got the chance. They are in the street because, historically, Mexico has not had a “pet culture” – cats and dogs have been seen as utilitarian. Cats do in the rats, mice, and other small vermin, while dogs guard property and people. It is thought spaying and castrating a dog or cat would prevent it from being fierce enough to do its job.

This is changing, however. According to U.S. animal behavior consultant Steve Dale from Chicago, Mexicans, “often influenced by European, American and Canadian pet ownership in the community,” are increasingly thinking of cats and dogs as pets, and with this change of mind, sterilization of pets and strays is increasing across Mexico.

The Solution? Sterilization

Sterilizing dogs and cats that roam and street animals is the only proven – and humane – way to control these populations. The Oaxacan coast has a strong contingent of spay-neuter organizations. The first volunteering we ever did in Huatulco was at one of the earliest clinics put on by Snipsisters, an organization formed by Canadians who had homes in Salchi, the next beach town after Cuatunalco. (Cuatunalco is west of Huatulco, before Pochutla/Puerto Ángel, and has hosted multiple Snipsister clinics.)

Snipsisters has encouraged other organizations to conduct spay-neuter campaigns. In Bahías de Huatulco, that organization is the Mexican nonprofit Palmas Unidas de Huatulco; Snipsisters has supported many of the Palmas Unidas clinics. There is a Snipsisters chapter in Puerto Escondido, where they also support TNR (Trap Neuter Release) Puerto Escondido. Altogether, Snipsisters has sterilized over 5,000 cats and dogs in coastal Oaxaca. The independent organization Terre Xtra serves Pochutla and Puerto Ángel, as well as lending a hand with Palmas Unidas and anywhere else they are needed.

Palmas Unidas de Huatulco conducts 6 – 9 free sterilization campaigns a year. Last month, Palmas Unidas held a clinic in Hache Tres in La Crucecita, scheduling 154 surgeries – working into the dark, the surgeons sterilized 159 animals. Those slots were all taken and people were being turned away – unacceptable to Palmas Unidas. Overnight emergency fundraising funded a second clinic with 60 more sterilizations, for a total 0f 219; funds raised will cover another clinic to be held early in the new year.

It costs approximately 300 pesos (currently about $15 USD, $20 CDN) to sterilize a cat or dog. Long-time Huatulco resident Fran McLaren is the driving force behind fundraising for Palmas Unidas; if you are interested in helping, contact her at franmclaren@gmail.com.

Once They’re Gone, They’re Gone Forever

By Kary Vannice

As we come into a new year, many of us get rid of or eliminate things in our lives that no longer have a purpose to make room for the new. We’ve become accustomed to lightning-paced technology turnover as we willingly and regularly upgrade to the latest and greatest smartphone on the market.

We, in our plastic and metal world, have become so used to “planned obsolesence” that we now simply accept that in a few years, most of our everyday objects will be outdated and worthless. And we’ve started to see it as a sign of progress … out with the old and in with the new.

Unfortunately, in the natural world, there is no research and development team working on new species to replace the many that are rapidly being extinguished from our planet. New mammal, amphibian, and insect species are not coming online as fast as Apple comes up with a new version of the iPhone.

No, once a species is lost to us, it is gone forever, and with it a critical piece of biological biodiversity, which upsets the balance of an ecosystem forever. There are no replacements or upgrades in the natural world. Each species is integral to the healthy functioning of the whole.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes a yearly “Red List,” which lists most of the threatened and endangered species on the planet.

According to the IUCN, “Currently, there are more than 142,500 species on The IUCN Red List, with more than 40,000 species threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef-building corals, 26% of mammals and 13% of birds.”

In 2015, IUCN listed Mexico as the country with the most threatened or endangered mammals globally – 101. And of course, that number didn’t include any insect, amphibian, bird, plant, reef coral or reptile species, all of which are included in Mexico’s top threatened species.

In recent years, studies conducted in Mexico have confirmed the vulnerability of the monarch butterfly (insect), the leatherback sea turtle (reptile), the Mexican axolotl salamander (amphibian), the scarlet macaw (bird), elkhorn coral (reef coral), the white nun orchid (plant), in addition to several mammal species including the Mexican grey wolf, the jaguar, the ocelot, the Mexican long-nosed bat, along with dozens and dozens of other lesser-known mammal species here in Mexico.

Just a few months ago, The New York Times ran an article online titled “Here’s the Next Animal That Could Go Extinct,” and yes, that animal only exists in the waters of Mexico. It’s the vaquita, a small ocean porpoise. Only ten are known to be living in the wild, in the waters off the coast of San Felipe, a small fishing village on the Gulf of California.

One of the main reasons Mexico has so many threatened and endangered species is that its diverse landscape translates into high biodiversity. Mexico is number four in the world for the highest number of mammal species, boasting over 500 species. But the sad fact is, nearly a fifth of them are in trouble. Most are threatened because of habitat loss due to clearing to create agricultural land or commercial development.

Many of the species on the “Red List” are collateral damage from commercial activity, such as farming or fishing. Of the 101 species listed in 2015, 60 were rodents. At that time, the San Quinton Kangaroo Rat had not been seen since 1986 and was declared possibly extinct in 1994. However, in 2017 researchers caught one in a survey trap, proving that, while their numbers are small, they are still surviving on Baja California’s coast. That is encouraging news, but one species among nearly 100 just doesn’t seem like a big enough win.

Eighty percent of the threatened or endangered species on the IUNC’s “Red List” for Mexico are endemic, meaning that they do not exist anywhere else in the world in the wild, which means if they go extinct in Mexico, they are gone forever.

In nature, there is no such thing as planned obsolescence; all species strive to survive. It is only a system out of balance that causes extinction. And right now, man’s manipulation of nature is the number one cause of species loss both on land and in the sea. If you’d like to do your part to prevent extinction in your area, support local land conservation efforts and pitch in to keep green spaces clean and safe for all species.

Controversial Tigers

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Thousands of years ago, when the Chinese zodiac calendar was first formulated, the Tiger was selected to symbolize power and speed. Greatly admired as the King of Beasts (yes, the tiger, not the lion), the sign of the tiger evoked awe. Today, the tiger, whether real or fictional, is more likely to evoke controversy.

In the year that we were born, there were still an estimated 72,000 tigers roaming wild in India and Asia. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 tigers in the wild, mainly in India, and that number is rapidly diminishing. There are more tigers in captivity than free, including in Mexico – a territory where jaguars were indigenous but tigers were not. Some say that keeping tigers in captivity helps preserves the species. But naturalists caution that even tigers raised in state-of-the-art zoos cannot be released back into their natural environments because they lack survival skills.

Even more controversial is the practice of the raising of tigers as pets. Those cute little tiger cubs, such as the one the U.S. border patrol found not long ago being smuggled in a car crossing from Mexico, grow up to be dangerous and powerful beasts. When they slip from the control of their inexperienced owners in cities, including during the past year in Guadalajara, they cause panic and endanger their own lives as they are hunted down. And the owners of big cat parks who bill themselves as “experts” in the care and feeding of tigers appear to be themselves a breed apart.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, an eight-episode series released by Netflix in 2020, attracted a very large audience. Detailing the contentious history between a big cat park owner and an animal rights activist, the documentary literally had a captive audience, since much of the world was locked down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Given the wide-spread discussion about the series, we decided to watch the first episode and were so disgusted with the characters, the topic and poor quality of the video, that we became part of the controversy between those who breathlessly watched every episode and those who would prefer to be eaten by a tiger than to watch this series.

Even tigers in fiction can’t seem to escape modern-day criticism and controversy. The children’s book Little Black Sambo, written by the Scottish author Helen Bannerman and published in 1899, was based on an Indian tale, Little Babaji, the Boy and the Tigers, by Chibikuro Sampo. Both versions charmingly tell the tale of a little boy in India who was so brave he was able to fool fierce tigers into running so fast in a circle that they turned into butter or ghee. But recently there was a movement to ban the book in the U.S. as politically incorrect – equating Sambo with African Americans. And one small-city book store that placed the book in its shop window was virtually shut down while the community argued about racial insensitivity versus censorship.

The beloved character Tigger in Winnie the Pooh (Winny de Puh in Mexico) did not escape criticism and pushback. When a psychologist gratuitously analyzed the book’s characters, Tigger was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Ardent Tigger fans growled in outrage, especially when Ritalin and family therapy were prescribed.

Both the book Life of Pi and the movie of the same name – featuring as a main character a magnificent and possibly imaginary tiger – were mired in controversy. The author of the book, Yan Martel, was accused of plagiarizing the story from another author’s earlier book. The film tiger, who of course spoke Spanish in the version we saw in Oaxaca, was virtually created by the visual effects artists at VXF. The industry was in an uproar when VXF was not mentioned by Ang Lee in his Academy Awards acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for Best Director for Pi.

We hope the designation of 2022 as the Year of the Tiger does not portend twelve months of controversy. We have had enough polarization around the world in 2021. We have fond memories of our son as an infant and toddler, hugging his stuffed “tigger” until the plush fur wore thin and the stuffing appeared at the seams; for us the tiger represents the love of a child. Let us hope that for the world, the Year of the Tiger will be seen as originally projected – one of power and speed that can overcome conflict.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles

A year ago we were counting down to say goodbye to 2020, which most people felt was one of our worst years. A year later I am not sure we are doing much better. I have been struggling for a week or so contemplating what I would say in my editorial and even as I latched onto something positive it would quickly spiral in my mind and the reality of our collective malaise would come into view.

I am writing this on the eve of American Thanksgiving and coming up with things I am grateful for on a personal level is an easy task. I love most aspects of my life. I have a job that I am excited to go to, I work with dedicated and kind people who exceed my expectations. My daughter is a smart and loving person who is doing well in school and we say ‘I love you’ with the same ease we did when she was four years old. My house is an oasis and a delicious meal is never too far off in the future. This week I have seen the faces of customers who over the years have become friends and I am thrilled that people are traveling again. The sun continues to shine in Huatulco, the ocean is refreshing, the economy is slowly recovering from pandemic shutdowns and I have an amazing support network of friends.

But looking beyond my bubble I am less optimistic. Groups of displaced people continue to push against borders in an effort to improve their lives or even just to survive. Today marks the 100th day since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and much of the population is struggling just to get enough food to survive. Women’s rights in the US are being challenged as violence breaks out on the streets in Wisconsin. Delhi is on lockdown because of poor air quality, while British Colombia is battling mud slides and heavy rains. This year saw record-breaking natural disasters from erupting volcanos, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Nearly two dozen species of birds, fish and wildlife were declared extinct this year.

So what can we do beyond recycling, eating less meat and all the other little acts that we do to make us feel like part of the solution instead of the problem? What can we learn from this coronavirus experience? We are interconnected. There is so way to move through the world bouncing only on the walls of our personal bubbles.

Our resolutions for 2022 should be to spread empathy and compassion all across the globe. To learn to have civilized conversations with people who don’t have the same political views as our own. Our goal should be to ensure everyone is safe from persecution, has food and shelter. We need to get kids out of immigration detention centers where they are held like prisoners without a place in the world. It’s no longer enough to resolve to exercise more and eat better in 2022- these are drastic times that call for BIG peaceful and loving action.

Let us embrace our interconnectedness and see the suffering of one as the suffering of all as we strive to make our world more inhabitable.

See you in 2022,

Jane

Ruben Orozco Loza’s Hyperrealistic Art

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Rubén Orozco, a Mexican hyperrealist artist, recently caused an international sensation with his latest installation, Bihar: Choosing Tomorrow. Bihar sends chills down your spine as you look at the head of a girl, eyes staring into the sky, placidly drowning in the River Nervión in Bilbao, Spain. The installation, created by Orozco and his co-artist Clara Inés Alcántara Dávalos, is an over 260-pound sculpture created from fiberglass and resin and embedded in underwater concrete and iron. The girl is submerged daily by the river tides. According to the BKK Foundation that sponsored this extraordinary artwork, Bihar is a plea for a sustainable future, “An expression of expectation for the decisions that we will make and that will determine if we live sunk or stick our heads out.”

Although Orozco has won international fame, acclaim and notoriety, he is a true Tapatío. Born in Guadalajara in 1979, his formal education took place in that city. He attended the University of Guadalajara majoring in visual arts. At age 27 he was awarded the State of Jalisco Prize for Youth. More recently he was given an honorable mention for the Juan Soriano Sculpture Award, named after the famed artist who was also a Tapatío. And he was selected to provide the city with a sculpture of Rita Pérez de Moreno, one of the heroes of the revolution; the statue was installed in Guadalajara near the Rotonda de Jaliscienses Ilustres in 2010 on the 149th anniversary of her death.

Orozco was born in the same decade (the 1970s) as hyperrealistic art first began to appear in art galleries. Drawing its roots from hyperrealistic photography, the art form in its earliest stages often reproduced photos of commonplace, everyday settings such as city streets, emphasizing details, such as gutter trash, that realistic artists ignored and romantic artists rejected. Orozco often draws from photos of celebrities to sculpt both his larger-than-life figures and his smaller sculptures. But his renditions incorporate, in many of his sculptures of men, a myriad of minute imperfections that are naturally occurring over time in humans. His sculptures that are larger than life size and small sculptures of women tend to portray hyper realistic beauty with each strand of hair (often real hair) in place, each eye lash long and perfectly aligned and each eyebrow consisting of perfectly symmetrical filaments. For one example, his bust of the actor and later princess, Grace Kelly, appears to radiate perfection.

The media used by Orozco vary from sculpture to sculpture, seemingly dependent on the tonal quality and emotions he is striving to evoke. Clay, wood, latex, resin, plasticine, and silicone are among the materials he uses to construct, shape and finish his works. The hyper attention to minute detail requires hours of painstaking labor. Even the smallest sculpture commonly requires close to two months of working 12 hours a day.

The work that goes into Orozco’s sculptures has been recorded in a series of videos that are available on Instagram and YouTube. It is fascinating to watch the process of his creations – including the Bihar installation from initial stage to final placement in the river. The videos allow one to witness how a slight adjustment, such as a minuscule change in the position of an eye, can radically change the overall appearance of a sculptured face.

Many of his works replicate the appearance of people who have achieved extreme international celebrity status including Frida Kahlo, Pope Francis, and David Bowie. Among his works are a sculpture of a fellow artist from Guadalajara, Guillermo del Toro, the film director, from who won four Oscars including those for The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth. He also captured the likeness of the great Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco, probably not related to Ruben through familial descent, but definitely related in dedication to depicting reality through a large lens.

Although some people have found the works of Ruben Orozco to be “eerie” in their verisimilitude, to Orozco the detail of representation is just a way of providing insights into human nature. In an interview with Microsoft News he said, “The most important detail of my work is not the portrait but capturing the essence of being. I want people to reflect on the greatness of being human despite the adversities.”

One of his most touching sculptures is not of a celebrity but rather a young African American child. The boy’s stance and expression indicate vulnerability. Yet he is carrying a sign advocating for humane actions. He literally stands for the causes that Orozco is attempting to promote: peace, human rights, and a sustainable world.