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A New Model for Yucatan

Located in the Bolonchen District of the Puuc region of Yucatan, Mexico, the Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve is a privately owned entity managed by Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. It consists of 4,000 acres of dry tropical forest and contains within it the ancient Maya center of Kiuic as well as the remains of the historic community of San Sebastian (map of region). The abundant and diverse flora and fauna found within the reserve make it one of the best remaining zones of dry tropical forest in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ecological and cultural resources of the reserve are protected, and 50 hectares of the Maya center of Kiuic have been officially donated by Kaxil Kiuic to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Kiuic is one of the first archaeological sites that has been acquired officially by the INAH in Yucatan and will be preserved in its entirety within the protection of the biocultural reserve that surrounds it. This initiative represents a new model for development in Mexico to manage its ecological and cultural resources.

History of the Reserve

The reserve was created through the purchase of a number of privately owned parcels of land that had originally formed a single territory. This land had been privately held by a single family since at least the late 18th century, which is one of the reasons that it has been so well preserved. The land was divided into parcels after the death of the patriarch, Mr. Canul, in the mid 1990's. The process of deforestation and increasing exploitation of the natural resources threatened the future of the forest of Kiuic. Recognizing the significance of this area, several local Maya, including Sr. Mario Magana of Oxkutzcab, approached individuals who were to form Kaxil Kiuic with their concerns about this endangered landscape. Over the next several years, with the support of
Millsaps College and Edward and Helen Moyers, efforts were successfully made to purchase the parcels and reestablish the original Canul holding. Kaxil Kiuic, an international nonprofit organization based in Mexico was established to manage the reserve, again with support from Millsaps College and Jay and Julie Lindsey. Already in the top third of privately owned reserves in Latin America in size, efforts continue to raise funds to purchase remaining areas of well-preserved dry tropical forest that extend beyond the boundaries of the Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve . It is hoped a larger zone of some 9,000 acres will eventually come under the protection of Kaxil Kiuic.

Major Resources of the Reserve

The Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve is the home to one of the best preserved remaining tracts of dry tropical forest in the Yucatan peninsula. Situated in a zone of rolling hills and narrow valleys the dense forest supports a wide range of flora and fauna. Although baseline inventories of the forest are in their early stages, it is already known that the forest of Kiuic has the most major animal species of the region, including some that are highly endangered. These include jaguar, puma, jaguarundi, javelina, coatimundi, miniature and white tailed deer, and a wide variety of bird species. The reserve is known to be the home to over 20% of all known species in Yucatan and has been declared "...One of the great remaining areas for bird watching in Yucatan". In addition, the reserve is a major sanctuary for small mammals, reptiles, butterflies, insects, and spiders.

The dry tropical forest is healthy and well-preserved and includes some rare stands of 'precious' woods. Much of the area is medium to low caducifolia forest. Common tropical hardwoods and softwoods are found abundantly in the forest.Some of these include Balché, caoba, chacá, chichibé, zapote, ceiba, and ramón. Xerophytes and orchids abound as do most known flowering plants of the region. Native cedars (Kulinché, also Astrovium graviolens), a species in danger of extinction, were common and though heavily extracted in recent years, are being successfully reestablished in the reserve through a program of selective reforestation. A species of palm leaf known as 'chit' considered to be a 'menaced species' is also found in the reserve.

The archaeological and historical resources within the reserve are magnificent. Situated in the center of the reserve is the archaeological zone of Kiuic, a major Maya center with a history covering from 600 BC until AD 1000. Extending over several kilometers, the site is characterized by its elegant vaulted buildings, many of which are still standing, and its wonderful hilltop settlements. The Maya in this area farmed the flatlands and built many of their beautiful palaces and stone buildings on the tops of hills providing the ancient Maya with striking views of the countryside.

The reserve also includes the historic ruins of the town of San Sebastian (also known as Rancho Kiuic). This community of Maya was founded at least by the late 1700's and continued to be occupied up until the 1950's. This community lived on the periphery of Mexican society, a true frontier community whose leadership was Maya. San Sebastian was also the town where Stephens and Catherwood stayed when they visited Kiuic in the 1840's and in fact the remains of the Casa Real where they spent the night are still standing and the focus of one of the research initiatives at Kaxil Kiuic. The Research and Learning Center is located within the ruins of this historic community near the ceiba (tree of life) that marked the location of the center of town.

Goals of the Reserve

Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve
is a living laboratory where research and education are carried out in an effort to not only acquire knowledge but help sustain the reserve's ecological and cultural resources. The goal is to provide an international setting where a wide range of disciplines work and study together exchanging ideas and information both formally and informally. It is also a place designed to provide support to the neighboring Maya towns as they confront the challenges of sustaining their own culture and identity.

The reserve supports a growing number of research projects, educational programs, and efforts to contribute to the development of long-term productivity and sustainability for nearby communities.




© 2005 Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. All rights reserved.