May 14, 2008

The white rats of Catemaco

It is almost impossible to see a collection of photos of beautiful downtown Catemaco, Veracruz without a closeup photo of small white herons. And it is also almost impossible to walk along the shore of Catemaco without personally encountering some of the habits of these lovely birds.

Dozens of benches invitingly placed to enjoy the spectacular views of the lagoon are now wrapped in white. Many previously green trees now resemble scenes of snow in Minnesota. Hundreds of feet of walkways previously colored a pretty terracotta color are now covered in white effluent. And so are the Malecon railings presumably designed to stop visitors from chasing after the poor birds and wringing their necks.

These so-called garzas (cow birds, garza ganadera, bulbulus ibis), were originally blown in from Africa to the Caribbean in the early 1950's and by 1963 had established a foothold in Mexico. By now these illegal immigrants have occupied most of tropical humid North and South America.

These birds love nesting along open water, but do not like to eat fish. Their main diet is small insects and anything that moves, including small lizards and mice. Although relatively small, about 20 inches tall and weighing less than a pound, the bird's digestive system would proudly belong to an ostrich.

Ranchers love these birds because they spend their days hanging out around cows catching insects and picking off ticks of their livestock. They nest communally and rear between 2 and 3 chicks once a year.

And they have become a plague in Catemaco.

The Catemaco community has made numerous efforts to control the garza population, ranging from the importation of squirrels, long strings attached to branches to shake the birds out of trees, firecrackers, bells, etc. The only practical solution has been to reduce their nesting trees. I will not say that is the reason for the horrible deforestation of Los Tuxtlas, but it certainly is one of the reasons for the disappearance of trees on properties near the shore of Laguna Catemaco.

I am personally being affected by these little monsters. One crapped on my head yesterday. And today one dumped on my Popoluca.

I intend to get even!

Here are some inexpensive proposals for the local government to consider and implement:

1) Nutritional Studies have been conducted of these birds, and although meagerly fleshed, their nutritional value should be promoted as a welcome addition to the pots of the many poor people in Catemaco. At present no one eats these birds, just their gummy eggs. The larger Chachalaca wild birds are the preferred choice of local gourmets. Local chefs should seriously consider promoting the garzas as local specialty dishes such as "garza a la tachagobi, garza Veracruzana, and even garza tacos in a mole sauce. After all there are 1000's making a living here selling fake monkey meat and slimy snails.

2) The competing drug & political cartels expending their ammunition in most communities of Veracruz should be invited to Catemaco for target practice. Hopefully that will improve their aim and decrease the bird population.

3) All small boys instead of being stuffed with teeth rotting candies and other sweets on Children's Day should receive personal slingshots. There are enough pebbles along the laguna shore to provide ammunition. And little boys require no training in the use of these inexpensive tools.

4) Nesting trees should be replaced by plastic folding trees as used in some of the Apocalypto jungle scenes. Perhaps Mel Gibson could donate a bunch.

5) The local government is lately hell bent on throwing parties on the streets of Catemaco. These parties should be moved under nesting trees and the SUV-sized loudspeakers should be turned skyward to disturb the resting communities of garzas.

6) Ultralight aircraft should be used to intercept Garzas returning from their feeding grounds and chase them back to Africa, or maybe San Andrés Tuxtla.

7) More tree branch hanging ropes should be installed and the hundreds of shills lining the Malecon accosting tourists with boat tour or brujo spiels, should be compelled to forcefully yank on a rope to shake some branches after each uttering of "lancha, lancha."

8) Politicians bus in hundreds or thousands of poor neighboring villagers to attend glorification events. These events should be relocated underneath nesting trees and the villagers should be invited to bring pots and pans to bang on. The political speeches will probably stun the birds and after falling off the trees can then be stored in the pots and carried back home.

9) Down pillows are the preferred luxury head rests of those who can afford them. At present cheap Chinese labor produces them. The federal and Veracruz government which are falling all over each other trying to create sustainable development should seriously spend some of the zillions of pesos being mostly wasted and teach the poor crowds how to pluck garzas, preferably the little ones before fledging which have the softest down. A Catemaco Pillow factory would be a welcome addition on the economic front of Los Tuxtlas.

10) Fidel, the Veracruz governor is apparently handing out free red paint (his party color). Catemaco has already applied hundreds of gallons painting lampposts and railing to better show off the color combination of white poop on red. The next step should be to paint the nesting trees red. This should confuse the garzas and will possibly redirect them to other places.

Meanwhile, I strongly advise you to wear a hat in Catemaco and not to park anywhere where the black or grey pavement is actually white. Then you will have a very enjoyable visit to our paradise.

Photo: misplaced source


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