Mexico

More than seven million birds of prey of more than 20 species—eagles, falcons, harriers, hawks—soar through the air every fall over Rio de Rapaces—River of Raptors—on the Mexican coastal plain. That’s more than anyplace else in the world.

Mexico has over 1,000 bird species—more than some whole continents. Jaguars prowl the jungles, along with spotted ocelots and margays, pumas, and dark, secretive pantherlike Jaguarundis. Primitive tapirs, close relatives to rhinoceros but looking more like elephants, teach striped babies to swim. Howler monkeys howl, proclaiming forest territories.

Glittering resplendent quetzals, emerald and crimson, called most beautiful birds in the world, preen feathery tails as long as their bodies in MONTES AZULES BIOSPHERE RESERVE. Fierce harpy eagles, world’s most powerful birds of prey, peer out from under angry-looking crests, talons ready to seize and carry off a spider monkey.

Tens of thousands of bright flamingos feed and nest along the Yucatan Peninsula with storks, anhingas, frigate birds, masked boobies, and thousands of seabirds. Endangered sea turtles lay eggs on beaches.

Endangered manatees graze in shallows protected by 70 miles (113 km) of the world’s second longest coral reef in SIAN KA’AN. CALAKMUL, together with adjoining reserves in Belize and Guatemala, is the second-largest mixed tropical forest in the western hemisphere, surpassed only by the Amazon.

Millions of birds of prey fly over Veracruz in an autumn “RIVER OF RAPTORS” unequalled anywhere else.

Up to 100 million orange-and-black monarch butterflies winter on wooded mountain slopes at EL ROSARIO MONARCH BUTTERFLY SANCTUARY west of Mexico City, in a natural marvel still unexplained.

Great gray whales wind up the longest migration of any mammal, 6,000 miles (9,600 km) from summering grounds off Alaska, to give birth to 20-foot-plus (6+ m) calves in saline coastal lagoons at EL VIZCAINO on Baja Peninsula, mothers and young buoyed by highly saline waters.

Yucatan may hold a secret of dinosaurs’ extinction. Dinosaurs died out, one theory now holds, because of a natural event 65 million years ago when an enormous comet or asteroid hit here. Dust resulting from the collision may have obscured the sun, causing plants to die and cutting off dinosaurs’ sustenance. Satellite pictures show a huge perfect semicircle, the crater’s edges, outlined by cenotes (or sinkholes) over the region.

Mexico has 45 national parks and 230 biosphere reserves. Smaller ones are called “Special Biosphere Reserves,” a U.N. designation protecting pristine ecosystems having species that are endemic, endangered, or at risk of extinction but with buffer “cooperation” zones that can include use in research, tourism, and by local communities to cull natural resources that do not endanger ecosystems.