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IS HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF AT THE MAYAN BIOSPHERE RESERVE?
by Vida Amor Nicol De Paz

I recently overflew the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in a Helicopter for two whole days, filming for Discovery Channel's PSA spot which you all have probably seen since it is presently being aired. I returned in a state of shock seeing how rapidly the miles and miles of lush jungle that I had seen five years ago in a specific area, had completely turned into a almost barren land, looking in part like some kind of a desert. Now, some may say you cannot find deserts in this region of Central America, the optical illusion must have played tricks on me. Part of the Reserve looked desolated. I could only describe the site to the most horrific nightmare, since it practically looked like airport cement or landing airplane strips. I must admit I returned with tears in my eyes. If we don´t do anything to try to supply for alternatives to the locals, and do a lot of raising of awareness to the rest of the people provoking forest fires, we won´t have the Mayan Biosphere Reserve alive in the years to come!

Most people around the world do not realize that the closest and most important tropical rainforest to North America is not the Amazon, but located right in front of our eyes, here in Guatemala!

If you have not yet gone to the Mayan Rainforest, I suggest you fly into Flores, the gateway to Tikal, which takes you to one of the most spectacular rainforests, which together with the pyramids, is a sight you will see nowhere else in the world. In 1995 the Mayan Biosphere Reserve still had six million acres of pristine rainforest, but today, no one dares to give precise information on what is still left.

The Mayan Biosphere Reserve is full of historic background. It remains a mystery why this intriguing civilization disappeared from the earth nearly a thousand years ago, leaving temples, palaces, and pyramids behind. There are different theories on why this occurred. One of the most popular theories accepted by many scholars and scientists around the world and published in several editions of the accredited National Geographic magazine, is the one proposed by the renowned American archeologist Arthur Demarist. Dr. Demarist has done thorough studies at the site of Dos Pilas in the territory of Petén at the Reserve. His investigations have led him to believe that the Mayans felt a need to battle against one another, in order to gain power and control over other Mayan groups.

You might feel intrigued to learn one important reason for the decay was Polygamy ( as incredible as it may sound). Polygamy was widely practiced, as the kings and their successors had many children with multiple wives, fostering competition within families. Each of the princes wanted to gain more power than his brothers, and turned to fighting against one another to gain more territory. While there was little problem with overpopulation among the commoners, the elite class grew very quickly. They all desired palaces and riches, and this put pressure on the society. The wars kept them isolated to small tracts of land where they had to build strong walls for protection. Isolation and pressure on the small tracts of land they could use for agriculture led them slowly to starvation. Agriculture was practiced only within those walls and the land was rapidly overused. Refugees also caused overpopulation in some areas due to the wars. This caused the rainforest to begin to disappear, and the civilization began to collapse.

Power and control became the princes' highest aims. They began to ignore one of their great secrets, that had provided agricultural success within the rainforest. Back in the old days, The Mayans' main asset was their ability to grow food within the rainforest in a sustainable manner. Although, due to the unending wars, survival became their most important goal and the Mayans placed sustainability of the rainforest at a lower or nonexistent priority.

Some archeologists attribute other causes to the collapse of the Mayan Civilization, and some even give different reasons for the collapse of different cities within the same region. However, one thing we do know is that the Mayan Civilization practically disappeared only a few years after the wars began. The pyramids and temples were all abandoned and the people were nowhere to be found. Furthermore, due to the fact that this large area of land was left uninhabited for several centuries after abandonment, the soil resettled, and the rainforest grew back, to yield the lush rainforest we find covering the area. Today, this rainforest produces much of the world's oxygen and is proudly, commonly called by Guatemalans, "The Second Lung of the World."

Some say that a single tree in rainforests such as this one holds more biodiversity than in the entire country of England. Whether true or not, it is a fact that we find this rainforest, an enchanting place.

Although the rainforest was declared a protected area in 1989 by the Guatemalan government, recent fires are destroying the forest in the most accelerated manner. Most of them are being provoked by locals who are careless of their ancient slash and burn practices when planting corn. Some people who raise cattle are also creating the fires for invasion reasons, to expand their cattle fields. In addition to this, the El Niño Phenomena has enhanced the danger and has furnished the appropriate elements for fire expansion into the rainforest.

Even though with the 1996 Peace Treaty, the war ended, and Guatemalan refugees were able to return to Guatemala, many of them were placed within this amazing rainforest. There is now a great density of people in the rainforest, most of them doing slash and burn. This overpopulation is simply destroying it.

Is history repeating itself? Shouldn´t we then analyze the similitude of the effects done by the refugees of war in this past few years, and the refugees of war during the Mayan Collapse? Didn´t that overpopulation, that overuse of land, cause the Mayan Civilization to collapse? Is this happening once more? Why in the world, with all the technology, all the great communications, all the economical resources at our feet, all the organization of new modern governments, nothing can be done to stop it? Will it be too late when we finally realize what the effects of this destruction will do to the rest of the Planet?

About six years ago, some scientists which attended a Conference in Paris mentioned that when the first oxygen "lung" was destroyed, we would begin suffering its consequences. Climate change is in our doorstep. Do we need any further proof?

Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala Museo de Historia Natural - Jorge Ibarra CONCYT PAFG Conama

Tropical Rainforest Foundation
TRF c/o Act Production
1220 Collins Ave. Suite 330 · Miami Beach FL. 33139
Tel: 305.538.3809 · Fax: 305.538.3814
Email: world@terra.com.gt
Fundación del Bosque Tropical (FBT)
5 av. 12-31, Zona 9. Edificio El Cortez, 3er Nivel
Guatemala City, Guatemala. Central America
Tel: +502 3325313,+502 3310581 · ext. 4 · Fax:+502 3312658
Email: world@terra.com.gt

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