t the wet border of Mexico and Guatemala grows a florid jungle called the Lacandon. In its dark interiors, somehow, jaguars still hunt tapir and red macaws and pouty-lipped howler monkeys still pass through canopies thick with vines and flowering bromeliads. Where the trees halt and waterways converge, swamp crocodiles still grin and yawn in its rich, silty mud.
“The Lacandon is the last real rainforest in Mexico,” says Lucía Ruiz Bustos
’13 M.E.M., a biologist with Mexico’s National Commission on Natural Protected Areas who once lived in the forest. “It’s as similar to the Amazon as you can get.”
Like the Amazon, the Lacandon is disappearing — at a rate of about five percent of its area each year, largely to slash and burn agriculture. By 2011 the Lacandon covered just 10 percent of its original expanse. In the pieces that remain live indigenous communities descended from the Maya, fully one third of all Mexican bird species, a quarter of all Mexican animal species, and one tenth of all Mexican fish species.
The Lacandon now also hosts a small part in one of the planet’s largest experiment in conservation, an experiment being led in Mexico, at each step, by a young cohort of F&ES alumni.