Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve

Emerald and crimson resplendent quetzals, called most spectacular bird in the New World, drape extraordinary fringed tail feathers from high limbs in Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, largest expanse of pure tropical rain forest in Mexico and North America.

Fierce harpy eagles, world’s strongest raptors, rise to yard-long height (1 m) to peer from huge crested heads, powerful talons ready to seize and carry off a spider monkey. Keel-billed toucans delicately pluck ripe fruit with enormous, colorful (but feather-weight) bills.

Diversity in just 2.47 acres (1 ha) of this 1,278 square miles (3,311 km2) in the state of Chiapas includes on average 30 different tree species, 50 kinds of orchids, 40 kinds of birds, 20 mammals, 300 butterflies, and more than 5,000 insects.

The reserve is home to spotted jaguars, ocelots, tree-climbing tamandua ant-eaters, noisy howler monkeys, and handsome little grisons (weasels) with black and white masks, among some 167 mammal species which find jungle homes, often amid Mayan ceremonial ruins. Crocodiles are among hundreds of aquatic types in 1,000-foot-deep (305-m) Laguna Miramar.

Many species are endemic, including the strange Lacandonia schismatica, only higher plant possessing a single male reproductive organ surrounded by female ones.

Montes Azules feeds and protects the Usumacinta River which carries 20 percent of the water in Mexico. It is threatened by illegal logging and destructive slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as political unrest. Imaginative projects would channel funds for local use from sustainable forest programs such as handicrafts and butterfly ranching.