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The Maya forest

11/3/2009

By Jacqueline Jones

We’ve all heard about the Amazon rainforest, its beauty, breathtaking array of species and its global impact on the environment yearly, however, did you know that there is another rainforest that is hot on the heels of the Amazon?

The Mesoamerica’s Maya Rainforest, otherwise known as Selva Maya in Spanish, or Maya Rainforest for short, is the second largest rainforest on the planet. It is a massive expanse of dense tropical flora, fauna, species of animal and insects, which while it is mainly spread across Mexico, stretches outside Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (south-eastern Mexico which separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico) borders, into Guatemala and Belize. In short, it is 13.3 million acres of rainforest, mangrove, savannah and wetland. Amazing!

This rainforests is often a buzz of activity, as along with the thousands of species of plant-life, there are 400 species of bird, five species of large cats, including the puma and jaguar, sea turtles and even endangered species like the howler monkey, just to name a small portion of what exists here.

The sometimes forgotten rainforest isn’t just home to animal and plants however. Co-existing within the forest’s impressive diversity of species and ecosystems, there is a culturally diverse population of over six million, from the 13 linguistic groups of the indigenous Mayan people. These peoples bring their own flair to the rainforest, as their thousands of years old histories, can be easily seen through their archaeological remnants.

This little piece of ecological wonder has not been spared from the effects of climate change and the effects can be seen through various occurrences. One of these are the dried up Chicozapote trees, which once abundantly dripped chicle, which is a natural gum that is traditionally used to make chewing gum. This has caused a dent in the finances of the peoples of the forest, as this was a means of income. Another financial setback comes in the form of the Mahogany, the cost of which has plummeted drastically, due to the fallen trunks scattered across the forest floor and subsequent easy access to the material.

In light of all this, it is difficult to envision tourist activities and urban life buzzing within and outside the forest's borders, containing any similarity to the jungle, but it is this very forest that supplies water to all of the 3.3 million inhabitants of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is in short, their lifeline.

That said, while the importance of the Amazon and the challenges it also faces can never be forgotten or omitted, it is important that environmental attention be focused on this place of cultural and biodiversity, the Maya Rainforest.

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