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Preserving Pink Flamingos in Mexico

Visitors to Celestun are Treated to a Colorful Spectacle

I was lured to Mexico's Celestun to spend some months in this fishing village helping with a local ecotourism project involved with the pink flamingos that feed in its mangroves. Celestun is located on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it is the only place in the Yucatan that has flamingos practically year-round, peaking in the winter months when none are breeding elsewhere.

Travelers can come to marvel at the intense colors of the flamingos, and their visits will add economic value to the mangrove swamps, creating an increased incentive to preserve them. This is a fragile eco-system, however, and care must be taken so that tourism does not destroy the very wildlife it promotes.

Flamingos need to spend a large part of their day feeding, and if they are disturbed too much they can become undernourished, impacting their breeding habits. In an extreme case, they might be chased away from Celestun. And the reality is that there are no alternative feeding sites with Celestun's advantages and for such large numbers. The local tourist boat owners are becoming increasingly aware of this, as exemplified by their recent outrage when a boat roared straight at the colony causing the flamingos to take flight in panic.

So what does a volunteer do here, apart from learning a lot of Spanish and enjoying a tropical climate, cold beers, beaches, and the company of friendly Celestunians? Teach English for one thing. Then there is a good bit of computer data entry and interpretation of survey and nature research. General guiding skills and nature are other subjects that I teach and learn.

I am working with the organization Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan whose aims are to carry out research, protect the natural riches of the Peninsula, raise awareness about preserving them, and build skills for preservation among local communities.

There's a group of Celestunian fishermen turned nature guides who have become real bird enthusiasts (these are my students and teachers). They can identify innumerable species from sound alone and discuss—in a scholarly fashion and with the aid of state of the art fieldguides and binoculars donated in part by foreign birding associations—the one of two very similar species of flycatcher, gull, or woodpecker we are observing. Travelers interested in a bilingual expert birding and nature guide beyond the basic flamingo tour, can ask at the estuary boat launch site for a member of the Peregrinos Guiding Group.

In Celestun any visitor can see the spectacular flamingo, and even those with limited interest in nature are likely to enjoy themselves. For the serious nature lover, especially the birding enthusiast, this is a fascinating eco-system with more than 300 documented bird species.

Potential volunteers, especially those with relevant studies or some experience in ecotourism or teaching, can contact Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan: www.pronatura-ppy.org.mx, costa@pronatura-ppy.org.mx.

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