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Jungle of the Maya

Jungle of the Maya
Foreword by Archie Carr III

A stunning photographic portrait of and popular introduction to one of the Western Hemisphere’s most abundant yet fragile tropical forests.

January 2006
148 pages | 8.25 x 10.5 | 227 color photos, 2 maps |

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The Selva Maya (Jungle of the Maya) is one of the world's most magical yet least appreciated places—an enormous tropical forest that encompasses much of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. At 9,000,000 acres, it is the largest contiguous tropical forest north of the Amazon in the Western Hemisphere. Within its borders, the Selva Maya provides habitat for an astonishing diversity of plants and animals—more than 500 species of birds alone. The forest also contains the fascinating ruins of ancient Maya cities, which attract visitors and researchers from all over the globe.

Jungle of the Maya presents a stunning photographic portrait of this irreplaceable natural treasure. Nature photographers Douglas Goodell and Jerry Barrack capture the living wonders of the jungle—jaguars and other cats; spider and howler monkeys; hummingbirds and butterflies; and snakes, amphibians, and insects—as well as the region's hallmark Maya sites, including Tikal, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Tulum. Environmental writer Jim Wright invitingly describes the Selva Maya's natural and human history, helping visitors and residents appreciate the riches to be found in the forest and the need to protect and preserve them for generations to come.

Because human activities are encroaching more and more on the Mayan forest, Jungle of the Maya is a beautiful book with a timely message. As renowned naturalist Archie Carr III sums it up in his foreword, "Today, the Selva Maya is at risk again. As modern beings, can we manage the forest better than we believe the ancient Maya did? We should. We have the archaeological record to draw from. We have modern science. And we still have inspiration whispered to us by spirits in the great plazas of Tikal and beyond. Turn the pages, and witness."

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • 1. Welcome to Eden
  • 2. At the Jungle's Edge
  • 3. Hummingbirds and Butterflies
  • 4. Howlers and Spider Monkeys
  • 5. In the Jungle
  • 6. Jaguars and Other Cats
  • 7. By the Water
  • 8. The Maya Presence
  • 9. Camouflage and the Art of Seeing
  • 10. Cool and Unusual
  • 11. The Future of the Forest
  • Further Reading
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

Douglas Goodell, Jerry Barrack, and Jim Wright previously collaborated on the books In the Presence of Nature and Duck Enough to Fly. Doug Goodell, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, is a specialist in avian photography who teaches and lectures on wildlife photography. Jerry Barrack has been a nature photographer since the 1980s. He lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Jim Wright, of Allendale, New Jersey, is deputy editorial page editor of The Record, northern New Jersey's leading newspaper. He writes extensively on land conservation, nature, and other topics.


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Jungle of the Maya celebrates one of the world's most magical yet least appreciated places, the Selva Maya, an enormous tropical forest that encompasses much of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. At nine million acres, it is the largest contiguous tropical forest north of the Amazon in the Western Hemisphere.

"Selva Maya" is Spanish for "forest of the Maya," named after the civilization that dominated this region for more than a millennium and influences it still. The region is home to thousands of remarkable plants and creatures and archaeological sites.

To capture some of that splendor, we have made repeated visits to the region for several years, in all seasons. Aided by expert local guides, we worked in some of the forest's best-protected areas, including the 140,000-acre Tikal National Park in Guatemala, the 1.3 million-acre Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, the 100,000-acre Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Refuge in southern central Belize, and a 390,000-acre parcel in northwestern Belize comprising the Programme for Belize's Rio Bravo Conservation Area as well as the privately owned Gallon Jug parcel with Chan Chich Lodge.

These swaths of forest represent the Selva Maya at its most vibrant. They harbor amazing creatures that most people get to see only in magazines or on TV, including creatures imperiled almost everywhere else they exist, from howler monkeys to jaguars.

To show further examples from the Maya civilization, we also worked in Mexico's Yucatan region at Tulum, Chichen Itza, and Uxmal. Although they are not moist forest, these areas were also part of the ancient Selva Maya.

The Maya forest is crucial to the long-term well-being of the entire Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, far too many people are ignorant of or just plain misinformed about this fact. On one Web site, some skeptics claim that nobody should worry about destroying a jungle because it's only good for mosquito-borne diseases and deadly snakes and spiders. Others insist that protecting the Selva Maya is somehow "evil" because it defies God's command to Adam to subdue the earth.

Our goal is to show why it would be a far greater evil for humankind to continue on its current path of destruction. Noah didn't build his ark solely for humans. All living creatures are in the same boat, but humans will be the ones who save or sink it.


In an effort to reflect the essence of this great forest, we took more than 20,000 photographs. All but a few of the animals were photographed in the wild. The exceptions are several cats (the jaguar, puma, jaguarundi, and margay), two endangered birds (the scarlet macaw and the harpy eagle), and a few butterflies. The cats are extraordinarily difficult to see in the wild, let alone photograph. The scarlet macaw and harpy eagle are extremely rare, and a couple of butterflies proved elusive as well. Only after many, many unsuccessful attempts to photograph these butterflies in the wild did we choose to use images of them in captivity so that readers might see them close up.

Finally, we wish to note that Jungle of the Maya is neither a guidebook to the entire region and its wondrous creatures nor a treatise on the huge challenges that threaten it. Our book touches on these elements, but it is more a celebration of the wild beauty that awaits those with eyes and mind wide open.



“This enchanted land, steeped in history and sheathed in forest, is so exquisitely photographed and engagingly described in Jungle of the Maya you can almost hear the bellow of howler monkeys above and the rustle of army ants below as you turn the pages. Great book.”
Pete Dunne, nature writer and Director for Natural History Information, New Jersey Audubon

“This beautiful and informative book provides a wealth of information and inspiration for any traveler to Belize, Guatemala, or the Yucatan. The land, which once supported a vast civilization, is now the most critical stronghold of the region’s spectacular wildlife. Jungle of the Maya underscores all the reasons why this precious tropical forest must be saved.”
Gerard Bertrand, noted conservationist and honorary president of the World Land Trust