Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Coati, Agouti, Iguanas, and Captive Animals on a Mexican resort

     In December 2014, I spent a week in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The majority of this part of Mexico is undeveloped. To give you an idea of the landscape, the main highway that runs along the cost is primarily bordered by jungle, secondly by resorts and adventure parks, and fourthly by the occasional city (Cancun, Peurto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum). I was just a few miles south of Playa del Carmen. Zoom in on the map below to get a sense of the geography of Quintana Roo, if you're into that. My time here was limited to a few days, and most of my wildlife-seeking occurred on and around the resort I visited. Consequently, I got a good sense of how wildlife were using human-dominated areas (and how humans were using formerly-wildlife). 

     Looking at the map of the resort (which was akin to a map of an amusement park), I noticed icons labeled Monkeys, Deer, and Flamingos. These were first on my agenda. The restaurants, buffets, open bars, and swimming pools were secondary. After finding the howler monkey enclosure empty, I checked out the deer exhibit. I didn't know what species of deer were found in Mexico. I was hoping for some small forest-dwelling deer that I couldn’t see at home. However, the enclosure contained the familiar white-tail (Oddocoleus viginianus), which apparently is found from Northern Canada all the way to Southern Peru. 

Captive white-tailed deer - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     Some coati were lounging by the deer feeding station. I suspect this was a group of wild individuals who found life to be a little easier inside the deer exhibit and climbed on in. They are a raccoon-relative, but are diurnal and have some different features, including a longer snout and a longer tail.

Coati in deer exhibit - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     Making my way down a path on the outskirts of the resort, I came across an anole (anole refers to a type of lizard of which there are very many species in multiple genera). I believe this was a brown anole (Norops sagrei). This is a small lizard that resembles its relative, the green anole (often seen in Florida and pet stores across the US). To give a sense of scale, this lizard would have fit in the palm of your hand, much unlike the iguanas that I’ll get to later. It was calm, and let me get my camera lens quite close before darting away into some plants.

Brown anole - Quintana Roo, Mexico

Captive flamingo - Quintana Roo, Mexico
     Cutting back through the resort, I came across some captive flamingos. Something doesn’t sit right with me when animals are captive for their aesthetic value only. The pen they were fenced into was small, and so was their pond. At night, the few flamingos here were put in a small building attached to their enclosure and I could hear them squawking. I also suspect that their flight feathers were clipped to keep them from flying away. I’ve never seen flamingoes in the wild, and have appreciated seeing them in captivity a few times. Given their small enclosure, I would prefer these birds not be forced to live in captivity- particularly when the purpose of their existence has been stripped down to evoking "oohs and ahhs" from tourists.

     In search of some wild animals, I set off down a trail bisecting a patch of jungle in the resort. I came across two large iguanas basking in a small field. By the next day, I was slightly numbed to the presence of iguanas... they were all over the resort, all over the archeological site of Tulum that I visited, and presumably all over this part of Mexico. There were even iguanas lounging by the poolside beside drunk tourists, and on the beach, and on walkways outside of the hotel lobby. But, this was my first encounter with wild iguanas and I was thrilled. I come from a state that has one species of lizard (the five-lined skink) that neither I nor >99% of Connecticut's residents have ever seen.
     Anyhow, this was a good fist iguana encounter because they were active. The larger one noticed me watching him, and picked his head up to keep an eye on me (photo below). Then, to my surprise, he actually started moving toward me. I wasn't sure if he was trying to intimidate me or to get a better view of what I was doing. But, he saw that I was maintaining my distance and relaxed. He even started munching on the plant he was lounging next to, which was cool to see (bottom photo below). The smaller iguana in the photos below was between the large one and myself. 

Iguanas - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     Continuing down the trail through iguanaland, I passed another basking on the side of a tree, and then encountered one on a walkway who let me get close enough for one of the best wildlife photographs I have ever taken (rivaled only by some lucky shots of lions in Africa):

Iguana - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     This lizard was right outside of an open part of a building adjoining the lobby. Here, there were at least 6 scarlet macaws perched and on display. These are very beautiful and intelligent birds. I don't wish to start a rant, so I'll just say I don't think they should be enslaved by the resort and forced to sit on one perch from which they can't get down for most of every day. 

Captive macaw - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     Next I found the baby of a guinea pig and a deer. This is an animal called an agouti. It's not a hybrid, just a typical Central/South American rodent. I saw them often, but they were always skittish and evaded me. Thus, I didn't get any great photographs of one, but the photos below should give a good sense of what these look like. 

Central American agouti - Quintana Roo, Mexico

     My best guess is that agouties use human-dominated areas to (1) avoid predators such as wild cats, large snakes, and birds of prey that tend to avoid humans, and (2) perhaps to take advantage of food sources not available in the jungle. There are several species of agouti found in Central and South America. The animals I saw were Central American agouties (Dasyprocta punctata).     
     Next, I made my way to the coast, which was further away from the resort. I discovered a much wider array of native Mexican animals along the wild coastline than on the resort. 

Ocean view - Quintana Roo, Mexico


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