Our Environment

Serious Monkey Business

Jorge Fuentes is passionate about the environment. He has made it his life's work to restore and protect the region's native trees, plants and animals.

We paid him a visit at Uma La Vereda de Xcalacoco and discovered what he believes is his most important focus

Just north of the center of Playa, in the area known as Xcalacoco. Once home to a few small hotels in most recent years, the area has been developed with large all-inclusive hotels and residences. Tucked into a small, and still wooded, section of Xcalacoco is Uma La Vereda de Xcalacoco, a haven for native trees, plants and native animals, like the spider monkey. Run by the energetic and infectiously enthusiastic Jorge Fuentes, this haven allows spider monkeys to move freely, coming and going as they please, something that has become increasingly difficult for this species and other animals as large swaths of jungle are destroyed for development.

¨Any development of our geographic area has definitely had an impact on the ocean, the dunes, the mangrove and the jungle,¨ remarks Mr. Fuentes as we walk through the pathways watching the monkeys moving through the trees. Pointing to a new development next door, he sighs and explains, ¨They razed everything since their arrival. It isn’t my intention to interfere, but if anyone knows this land, it´s me. I arrived in 1973, and I got to know the lagoons, the jungle, the ocean, and the beach the way they were. I decided to set my life around it all. Today, they are still beautiful, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be in my good days.¨

As we continue winding our way through the property, we see the other animals that are in Mr. Fuentes’s care, including birds, many of which were confiscated and sent to him from PROFEPA (the Federal Office of Environmental Protection). We discuss the other animals for a bit, but the conversation always comes back to the monkeys as Mr. Fuentes believes they are his most important focus right now.

¨Ever since we started, we’ve been having increasingly more species, and each one of them requires a management plan. But to be honest, I want to reduce the scope a little bit and start focusing on the most vulnerable species. We don’t have as many exotic species as we used to, and we don’t want them. We want to work more with the monkeys and reforestation. Reforestation is the most important thing. If we have food and shelter, and by shelter I mean the trees, the animals will come by themselves.¨

Mr. Fuentes goes on to explain that many non-native trees, such as the coconut palm, are planted by hotels after they raze the land for building. When people picture a tropical beach, they picture coconut palms, but those trees are not native to this area and provide no nutritional value to monkeys and other native animals. They also don’t provide the shelter or ¨highways¨ monkeys need.

¨Monkeys have to survive, so they eat whatever they can find. Bananas and other fruit are not their actual food, simply because we are not a place where bananas grow naturally. Monkeys feed on the fruit provided by the endemic trees, such as zapote, huaya, almonds, and young leaves such as yaaxché and ramón¨.

He also explains, ¨They don’t usually come down to the ground level. They move through the trees. In the case of the younger monkeys who lack the knowledge or the ability, the mother builds them a bridge with the branches of two close trees. She ties them both up, so the little monkeys just walk along them¨. When you destroy the jungle, you destroy the monkey’s ability to move through their territories.

As he offers a banana to a female and her baby who have come down to investigate us, he says to me, ¨We do help them. I know it isn’t the right thing to do, but we must do something. What we have to do is to reforest with different kinds of fruit trees. There has to be several kinds because if you plant only one kind, you won’t have fruit all year¨. He takes the time to explain that tourists and locals should never feed any wild animal.

As we say our goodbyes, Mr. Fuentes reminds us ¨This is what a sanctuary should be like, animals free in their environment. I´m not their owner, and I certainly don’t pretend to be.¨

For more information, please visit Facebook/Uma La Vereda de Xcalacoco. Mr. Fuentes does accept visitors but it is best by appointment only. You can contact him via Facebook. Please note, he does not speak English.]

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Originally from Connecticut in the New England region of the United States, Rebecca has been living in Playa del Carmen for five years. While she misses her big, crazy family back in the States, she doesn´t miss scraping ice and snow off her car in the winter!

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