PUEBLA, Mexico – Mexico’s Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Valley, a unique site harboring enormous biological, geologic, cultural and historical wealth in a country of great biodiversity and contrasts, is a candidate for being named a United Nations World Heritage Site.
The valley is a valuable preserve of cacti and endangered species, including the golden eagle.
Juan Diego Hernandez Cortes, a guide at the Helia Bravo Hollis Community Botanical Garden, calls it “one of the strangest forests in the world,” where “about 1,500 cacti have been registered within one hectare” (about 2.5 acres).
The Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Preserve covers 145,255 hectares (some 363,000 acres), although the whole biosphere is almost 3.5 times as large and distributed among 30 municipalities in the southern state of Oaxaca and 21 in Puebla.
Researchers have documented 2,700 plant species, of which 12 percent exist only in the preserve.
“They don’t exist in other parts of the world. They are very long-lived species, living for hundreds of years,” Hernandez told EFE.
The high temperatures, touching 40 C (104 F) in summer, and the lack of rainfall create ideal conditions for the development of all sorts of cacti. In fact, 45 of the world’s 75 cactus species are to be found in the preserve, some of them reaching heights of 12 meters (almost 40 feet).
“These species have adapted, they can live up to a year without water since they have the ability to store water in their stalks,” Hernandez said.
With regard to the local fauna, studies report 18 species of fish and 25 of amphibians, which – compared with the North American and Australian deserts – shows very high diversity.
At least 78 species of reptiles – lizards, iguanas, rattlesnakes and others – along with 336 species of birds, including eagles and owls can be found in the region.
And there are 131 species of mammals, of which 11 are found exclusively in the preserve. “We see mammals like coyotes, white-tailed deer, puma and jaguar in the highest mountains. Also wildcats and wild boars,” Hernandez added.
The Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Preserve has been a protected area since 1998, and it also contains indigenous peoples who have adapted their way of life to the local conditions.
The area’s candidacy to become a World Heritage Site will be analyzed during the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in June-July 2018.
If approved, the valley will join the large number of emblematic sites in Mexico that are already on the favored UN list.
Currently, Mexico has 51 World Heritage Sites, including 12 natural areas, 37 cultural sites and two mixed sites.