National Geographic : 1990 Mar
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICMAGAZINE:GEOGRAPHICA MIKE KIRKPATRICK,PROFILESWEST,1986; JOHNECHAVE,NGSSTAFF,1980 (BELOW) Acid Rain Attacks Mexican Maya Sites isitors to ancient Mexican sites along La Ruta Maya (GEOGRAPH Ic, October 1989) should be fore warned: Acid rain and other environ mental factors are seriously affecting Maya monuments. Art historian Merle Greene Robertson, who studied Maya sites in Mexico with support from the National Geographic Society, calls acid rain "the number one man-made problem" affecting Maya ruins. It is especially nota ble, she says, on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Maya painted their structures a brilliant red or blue so that they were "ablaze in col or." Due to acid deposition, algae, bac teria, and microscopic organisms that thrive in the jungle, the painted Maya cities "are almost lost to us today," Dr. Robertson reports. Much of the acid rain that affects the Yucatan Peninsula, home to such major Maya sites as Chichen ItzA (above), and the lowlands of Chiapas is caused by oxides that come from oil-field smokestacks and uncapped oil wells not far away. But at an other major site, Tulum, buses are parked directly in front of the entrance with their engines running for hours while tourists are inside, adding pow dery black soot and dirt to painted murals already damaged by acid rain. "There's no excuse for that," says Dr. Robertson. Illegal Fur Coats: For Sale in Nepal o Larry Barnes "it was like an open drug trade." Barnes is a California-based wildlife biologist. What he was see ing in tourist areas of Kathmandu, Nepal, was the virtually open sale of coats made from skins of animals listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Such animals are considered dan gerously threatened with extinction and therefore banned from any inter national commercial trade (GEO GRAPHIC, March 1981). But Barnes, with the aid of female acquaintances who posed as potential buyers, found furs of listed animals for sale in 31 of 36 shops he visited in Kathmandu in 1988. Coats were made from the skins of the leopard cat, the common leop ard, the clouded leopard, and even the extremely rare snow leopard (GEO GRAPHIC, June 1986)-all of them listed in Appendix I. Barnes says that these shops selling furs are known in Nepal as "Kashmiri stores" because they are owned by natives of Kashmir, across Nepal's bor der with India. The furs apparently were also tanned and sewn in Kashmir, he says. Their sale, with few excep- NICOLASCHOW tions, violates Indian and Nepalese law as well as the CITES treaty. The government of Nepal has called Barnes's study "very useful" but says Nepalese enforcement efforts alone will not be enough. It urges tourists not to buy illegal furs and to "abhor rather than adore" those who wear them. Tracking Life in Prehistoric Times " t's like finding a complete encyclo Spedia about life from 280 million Syears ago." That's how Jerry P. MacDonald describes his discovery of fossil track ways, or series of footprints, in the rug- JERRYP. MACDONALD ged mountains not far from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Preserved in slabs of the rock that MacDonald has pried out of several mountains, the trackways contain evi dence of all sorts of life, particularly land animals, in the early Permian peri od. These forms include giant reptiles that were the dominant creatures of their time. And among them were mammal-like reptiles that were fore runners of dinosaurs that would rule the earth many millions of years later. MacDonald also has found tracks of horseshoe crabs and scorpions, centi pedes and millipedes, cockroaches and worms-in all, more than 50 different animals. There are even the impres sions of raindrops and plants, including the branches of conifers and smaller ferns. "We have a small ecosystem that shows the whole range of the food pyr amid," MacDonald says. The site was a tidal flat at the edge of an ancient inland sea. The tranquil deposition from the tides gently buried the footprints, helping preserve them, MacDonald thinks. Scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the Carne gie Museum are poring over his find ings for clues that will tell us about the animals 280 million years ago: how they moved, what they ate, and what the climate was like.