In episode two of Mexico: Earth’s Festival Of Life, Forests Of The Maya, we take a journey through the seasons in the forests of the Maya, where ancient temples still tower over the forests of the Yucatan, and where jaguars, monkeys and vibrant tropical birds now make their home.
It’s a forest full of secrets, with a vast watery underworld that is still being explored, and which holds the key to how animals and people survive the dry season.
In Mexico’s far south lies an unusual peninsula: The Yucatan. Swathed in a forest stretching for 50,000 square miles, this land was once ruled by the mighty Maya Civilisation, where a geological feature poses a challenge for those who live in the forest: all of the Yucatan’s rivers are underground, and for six months of the year virtually no rain falls. In this episode we follow a young Morelet’s crocodile who is in search of prey in a shrinking pool, alongside other animals including jaguars and agouti, and the Spider monkeys near to the Maya temple who benefit from a lasting legacy of ancient gardens cultivated more than a thousand years ago.
But the success of the ancient Maya poses a question: how did such a great civilisation arise without a river? A direct descendant of the ancient Maya reveals the key to the success of his ancient ancestors is in his back garden, where a huge natural well gives access to the underground rivers. There are over 8,000 of these cenotes across the peninsula, offering the Maya plenty of food and protection from predators.
Many of these cenotes are the result of a dramatic event that changed the history of life on earth, when 65 million years ago a meteorite collided with what is now the Yucatan’s north coast, with an effect so catastrophic it’s believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Cave divers visit the Yucatan from across the world, drawn by the unparalled potential to explore in the largely uncharted flooded labyrinth. They’ve discovered more than 350 underwater caves, and nearly 1,000 miles of interconnected passageways, including the two longest underwater cave systems on the planet. Many of these caves have seen fewer visitors than the surface of the moon.
The labyrinth of caves also provides the perfect roosting habitat for bats. In the heart of the Yucatan is a cave the locals know as El Volcan de los Murcielagos – the bat volcano where more than three million bats live.
Pictured is Catbej Cenote and its strangler fig Near Valladolid Yucatan state
Mexico: Earth’s Festival Of Life – Forests Of The Maya Episode 2 (of 3) airs on Sunday 14 May 2017 from 8.00pm-9.00pm on BBC Two.