Rodrigo Medellin, Mexico’s Bat Man

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Feb 192015
 

Rodrigo Medellin, a Mexican expert on bats (Mexico’s Bat Man) was the winner of the 2012 Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award for his on-going work to study, raise awareness and highlight the importance of Latin America’s bats. The award reflects Medellin’s outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

This short video narrated by Sir David Attenborough, summarizes Medellin’s work:

Medellin, an ecology professor who, among many other achievements, has found bat species previously thought extinct, was the subject of an episode in the 2014-2015 season of the BBC series Natural World. The documentary won the 2014 Panda Award for Best People and Nature Film.

As a child, Mexico’s Bat Man kept vampire bats in his bathroom and some of his own blood “in the fridge so that I could feed them every night”.

Little friend: Rodrigo with one of the Lesser Long Nosed Bats his hard work has helped to conserve

Rodrigo with a lesser long nosed bats Credit: Amy Cooper, BBC2.

Bats are more important to ecology, and Mexico’s economy, than you might think. For instance, the lesser long-nosed bat is the main pollinator of the agave plants from which tequila is produced. Medellin’s research has involved tracking and understanding the extraordinary migrations undertaken by bats such as the lesser long-nosed bat, which pollinates the agaves during its annual migration. (Worldwide, bats also propagate at least 500 other economically important night-flowering species).

The bats’ journey covers 1500 kilometers (almost 1000 miles) from southern Mexico to the Sonoran Desert straddling the Mexico-USA border, via the so-called ‘Nectar Corridor’, the coastal lowlands between the Western Sierra Madre and the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, in the desert region, the lesser long-nosed bat is responsible for pollinating the distinctive saguaro cactus (which is incapable of self-fertilization), the key to the whole Sonoran ecosystem.

Elsewhere, bats can be a tourist attraction, as at Bracken Cave, Texas, home to an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats. in addition, fruit-eating bats help stimulate the regrowth of rainforests, by distributing five times more seeds per square meter than birds.

Medellin has devoted his life to ensuring the conservation of bats in Mexico and, fortunately for all tequila lovers, appears to have been successful. Because of his work, the Tequila Bat is now off the endangered species list. Over the past three decades, Medellin has campaigned tirelessly for people to appreciate the value and beauty of bats, creating a network of bat-friendly ‘safe caves’, and pioneering conservation techniques that are now being copied around the world.

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Feb 122015
 

The largest salt-making facility on the planet is near Guerrero Negro on the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It produces about 9 million metric tons of salt each year. The salt here is not mined, but extracted from ocean water by evaporation. The salt fields cover 33,000 hectares (acres), including 28,000 ha of collection ponds and 3,000 ha of crystallization ponds.

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

The major locational advantages are:

  • the large flat area close to the coast, a former marine floor
  • the dry climate; this is a desert region with very low precipitation
  • the high solar radiation (direct solar powered evaporation!)
  • regular strong winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean
  • the net result of the climate is a high evaporation index

Disadvantage? Since the salt working got underway around the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon, the entire area has been designated part of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve on account of its importance as a habitat for endangered species and breeding ground for gray whales. The salt lagoons are also located on major flight paths for migratory birds.

Brief history of salt-making in Guerrero Negro

Prior to the 1950s, salt extraction in this area was small-scale and methods were rudimentary. In the 1950s, San Francisco ceased supplying salt to the US west coast paper industry and an alternative source of salt was needed. Daniel Ludwig (who would later build the famed Acapulco Princess Hotel) set up a company at the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon near Guerrero Negro in 1954; three years later, salt was exported to the USA for the first time. Ludwig sold the company in 1973. Exportadora de Sal (Salt Exporter) is now jointly owned by the Mexican government (51%) and the Japanese Mitsubishi corporation (49%).

Plans to expand the company by building another evaporation plant for salt further south along the Baja California Sur coast were thwarted by officials after a lengthy and acrimonious campaign by environmentalists angered at the probably environmental consequences. (For discussion of some of the issues, see “Mitsubishi and Laguna San Ignacio“, “Mexico’s Friendly Whales” and “The Laguna San Ignacio Conservation Alliance conservation plan“).

What does the landscape look like?

This short, 3-minute Postandfly video shows what the landscape and salt working operations look like from the air:

The salt-making process

The salt-making process is fairly simple. Seawater is pumped into a series of collection ponds. About 700 million tons of seawater enters the system each year. As the water in the ponds evaporates, the salt concentration increases. The collection ponds are controlled by dikes and gates. At a critical level of salt concentration, the water is pumped into the next point, and so on.

Salt trucksEventually, more than a year later, the water becomes saturated with salt, and the mineral salt (almost entirely sodium chloride) begins to crystallize out. The pond is then drained and the salt collected. The harvesting of the salt is done by giant graders which scrape off only the uppermost layer, leaving a hard saltpan below as the future floor of the pond. Giant gondola trucks collect the mounds of salt and carry it to a cleaning plant. The salt is then washed with a salt water solution to purify it still further, before being shipped.

Initial shipping is from the Chaparrito Port (where the washing plant is located) near Guerrero Negro. This port can load barges carrying up to 10,500 metric tons, which take the salt to the much larger port of Morro Redondo, on the southern tip of Cedros Island, a short distance to the west and just inside the state of Baja California. The Morro Redondo facility has additional inspection, storage and packing facilities and handles ocean-going vessels.

Salt bargeIn 2014, Mexico exported slightly over 9 million tons of salt, worth 164 million dollars, making it the world’s fifth largest salt exporter, after the Netherlands, Canada, Germany and Chile.

Each year, Exportadora de Sal produces about 9 million metric tons of salt of various grades, and is reported to be expanding its operations to boost annual production to 9.5 million tons by 2020.

It sold 8.98 million tons of salt in 2014, 87.4% of the national total. 60% of the output of industrial salt (for use in pulp and paper, and chemical industries) is exported to Japan. The company also exports salt to many other countries including USA, Canada, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand. Almost all the 100,000 metric tons of table salt produced each year is sold on the domestic Mexican market or elsewhere in Latin America.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published here in February 2012.

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Slight decrease in the number of “Los Ninis” in Mexico

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Feb 092015
 

Los ninis are young people (aged 15-29) that “ni trabaja, ni estudia” (neither work nor study). They have become the focus of much press attention in the past few years, often accompanied by the phrase “Mexico’s lost generation”.

nini-logo

According to a recent OECD report, “Education at Glance 2015”, two out of every ten Mexicans in the 15-29 age group neither studied nor worked in 2013, the latest year for which there is data. The report found that 22.3% of Mexican in that age category were ninis, a slight decrease compared to 25.0% in 2011. After population increase is taken into account, Mexico has about 200,000 fewer ninis than in 2011.

Mexico’s percentage of ninis is above the average for all 34 OECD member countries, and is the fifth highest among OECD members, after Turkey (31.3%), Greece (28.5 %), Spain (26.8 %) and Italy (26.1 %). Very few of Mexico’s 7.3 million ninis (only 3.8%) are technically “unemployed”; most ninis have not actively sought work and are therefore considered “inactive”.

In Mexico, most ninis are female. For example, in the 20-24 age group, around 10% of males are ninis, compared to 40% of females.

The figure of 7.3 million will no doubt again be disputed by Mexico’s Secretariats of Education (SE) and of Labor and Social Welfare. In 2011, the Secretariats issued a joint rebuttal of the OECD figure, and claimed that 78% of those reported by OECD as ninis were young married women, with children, who dedicated themselves to home-making. The Secretariats emphasized that the figures revealed a gender inequality in access to educational and economic opportunities, linked to cultural patterns where many young women still saw marriage and motherhood as their preferred or only option.

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Ground subsidence in Mexico City threatens 10,000 homes

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Feb 052015
 

The local authorities in Iztapalapa, in the eastern section of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, and one of the most interesting locations in Mexico in which to witness Easter celebrations, calculate that around 10,000 homes are in the area are at “high risk” of serious damage due to ground subsidence. Some parts of the city are falling in elevation as the ground contracts by up to 40 cm/yr.

Low-lying Iztapalapa is one of the most densely populated parts of the city, and is also prone to frequent flooding. Experts say that the severe damage evident in many buildings in the area has been occasioned by ground subsidence, due to the excessive volumes of water being pumped out of the subsoil to satisfy the insatiable demand of Mexico City.

In a short 3-minute news video in Spanish that is linked to in this recent article, Lourdes, a local resident offers us a tour of her home, showing us the damages caused by subsidence. She describes how “the crack that started from outside the house has widened every day and is now almost the width of a hand.” The video shows how the walls of her home are separating; the house is clearly in danger of collapse. Lourdes lives in this house with her four children; some rooms are already far too damaged to be safely used by the family.

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Where are the mining concessions in Mexico?

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Feb 022015
 

A series of graphics prepared by Mexico City daily El Universal includes a map showing the details of all the mining concessions in Mexico. According to the newspaper’s analysis, one fifth of Mexico’s total land area is subject to mining concessions belonging to one company or another.

The six companies holding the largest areas of concessions are:

  • Altos Hornos de México (364 concessions totaling 3208 hectares)
  • Fresnillo PLC (1009; 1953)
  • Industrias Peñoles (922; 953)
  • Minera Fresco (779; 889)
  • Cascabel (116; 749)
  • and Grupo México (711; 607).

The map is probably the single most interesting graphic in the series. Zooming in (top left of map) allows the details of each concession to be viewed, including the concession holder, size of concession, minerals involved and whether or not the concession is “active”. Is there a mining concession near you? You might be surprised. Even in an area of Mexico that I have known intimately for many years, there are two concessions that I have never previously heard of!

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The geography of Mexico’s beer industry

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Jan 292015
 

In a previous post – The emergence of two major beer-makers in Mexico – we looked at how Mexico’s beer industry came to be dominated by two large players: Femsa and Modelo, both now owned by foreign corporations.

The map below shows the location and date of inauguration of all major breweries in Mexico.

The location and inauguration dates of Femsa and Modelo breweries in Mexico

The location and inauguration dates of Femsa and Modelo breweries in Mexico

How large is Mexico’s market for beer?

A 2010 report from the national beer industry claims that the average annual consumption of beer in Mexico is 60 liters per adult, a figure that has not changed significantly in the last 20 years. The equivalent figure in Germany is 120 liters a person, so there is still considerable potential for growth. Mexico’s breweries provide about 80,000 jobs directly and a further 800,000 indirectly.

Total beer sales each year are worth as much as 20 billion dollars. The value of sales has risen sharply, at about 5% a year, due mainly to higher exports. Mexico has become the world’s second largest beer exporter, after the Netherlands, and is the world’s sixth largest producer and consumer of beer, brewing over 8.6 billion liters a year.

The USA is the main export market. Five of the 25 most popular brands in the USA are Grupo Modelo beers: Corona, Modelo Especial, Corona Light, Pacífico and Negra Modelo. This has helped Grupo Modelo, Mexico’s leading brewer, become the world’s sixth largest brewer. Modelo’s Corona beer has been the #1 imported beer in the USA since 1997. It is one of the world’s top five beers in terms of sales, even though it is not especially popular in Mexico!

One of Modelo’s fastest growing export markets is China, where it has rapidly become the second most popular imported beer. In Mexico’s domestic beer market, Modelo and Femsa face increased competition from imported beers such as Budweiser, Miller and Heineken.

There are several other smaller breweries in addition to those owned by Femsa and Modelo. One significant trend, echoing other regions in North America, has been a marked upswing in the number of small, specialist, boutique breweries, such as Cervecería San Angel and the Santa Fe Beer Company in Mexico City and Minerva Brewery in Guadalajara. Other popular brands of craft beer include Perro Negro from Guadalajara, Insurgente from Tijuana, Libertadores from Michoacán and the varied products of the Baja Brewing Company from Los Cabos.

These smaller “craft” breweries produced 10.5 million liters of beer in 2014, according to the Mexican Beer Makers Association (Asociación de Cerveceros de la República Mexicana, Acermex), and account for only 0.16% of the total market, but their share of the market is growing at more than 40% a year. The association hopes that smaller breweries can enjoy as much as 1% of the market by 2016.

The rise of craft beers has seen a corresponding proliferation of specialist pubs that stock pale ales, pilsners, porters, stouts and wheat beers in the trendier districts of all the major cities, including Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Querétaro.

In Guadalajara, in 2008, two local craft breweries – Cerveceria Minerva and  Cerveceria Revolución – co-founded the Guadalajara Beer Festival to showcase Mexican their products and introduce previously unavailable European import brands. The festival is now a three day event that attracts as many as 30,000 visitors a year; it claims to be Latin America’s largest beer festival.

Mexico’s economic geography is analyzed in chapters 14–20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy of this invaluable reference guide today!

Mexico has seven of the world’s 100 best hotels

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Jan 262015
 

A survey of more than 75,000 Condé Nast Traveler readers placed seven Mexican hotels in the world’s top 100.

Location of Mexico's Top Seven Hotels

Location of Mexico’s Top Seven Hotels

Mexico’s top hotel (#15 in the rankings) was the Viceroy Rivera Maya hotel, in Playa del Carmen (Quintana Roo). It was joined in the top 100 by Rancho La Puerta in Tecate (Baja California), St. Regis Punta Mita Resort (Nayarit), Las Alcobas hotel (Mexico City), Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), Hotel Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas (Baja California Sur) and the Excellence Playa Mujeres (Quintana Roo).

In related news, Grupo Posadas is investing one billion dollars over the next three years to open 49 new hotels, many of them in the firm’s Fiesta Americana chain. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the hotel spectrum, Motel 6, the “McDonald’s of the hotel industry”, which has 1,200 locations in the USA and Canada, is opening 30 hotels in Mexico within the next three years.

The operator of the Motel 6 chain, G6 Hospitality, will introduce both its brands: Motel 6 and Estudio 6 (designed for extended stays) during its first foray into Latin America. The first of the new hotels will open in Salamanca (Guanajuato) in late-2015, with additional locations to follow, including Mexico City, Monterrey and several resort destinations.

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Christmas in Mexico, according to one news agency

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Jan 252015
 

According to its website, “The QMI Agency is French and English Canada’s leading news reference for daily, intermittent and event-driven needs. Its offering most notably includes texts, images, videos and other interactive content.”

QMI’s Facebook page promotes its graphics department which “creates infographics for use throughout our chain” and boasts that “QMI Agency provides reliable, complete and up-to-the-minute news coverage over a full range of platforms.” And, indeed, many of the infographics shown on its Facebook page are very well designed, interesting, colorful and informative.

QMI-Christmas

Infographic from Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014

However, this infographic attributed to the QMI Agency, published in the Niagara Advance newspaper for 25 December 2014 (which Geo-Mexico happened to see while admiring Niagara Falls) was far less convincing. Entitled “Christmas around the world”, this particular infographic  took a “look at various traditions and customs”, and opened with a description intended to summarize Christmas in Mexico:

Mexico: Christmas dinner consists of oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables. Instead of receiving their gifts on Christmas Day, they get presents on Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night.”

Hmm… really? As we have noted many times on Geo-Mexico, Mexican cuisine varies regionally. Even so, if any reader knows where “oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables” is the typical menu for Christmas, please let us know, to add to our list of regional delights.

As for presents being received on “Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night”, err… no. The Mexican tradition of gifts on Three Kings Day involves Mexican children stuffing shoes (or a  box) with straw, and leaving them outside their bedroom door on the night of 5 January, in anticipation of finding gifts (new toys) the following morning, the morning of 6 January, Three Kings Day.

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Tourist numbers for Cancún, 2000-2014

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Jan 212015
 

The table shows the number of tourists (national and international) visiting Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2000-2013.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

From 2000 until 2011, tourist numbers fluctuated between 2.8 and 3.3 million. Since 2011, tourist numbers have risen sharply, to 3.6 million in 2012, 4.1 million in 2013 and a preliminary estimate of 4.3 million for 2014.

YearNumber of touristsYearNumber of tourists
20003 043 00020083 265 591
20012 986 00020092 878 811
20022 826 00020103 015 690
2003n/a20113 115 177
2004n/a20123 642 449
20053 072 00020134 093 942
2006n/a20144 300 000 (estimate)
20073 004 8022015?

Cancún currently has more than 3000 condominium units and more than 35,000 hotel rooms. According to the first draft of the Programa de Desarrollo Urbano del Centro de Población Cancún 2014-2030, the city could have as many as 46,000 hotel rooms by 2030.

This projection is well below the earlier estimate, made in 2013, of 64,000 rooms by 2030, but the new figure is claimed to be more in line with planned improvements to local water supply. The development of Cancún has often been criticized for paying insufficient attention to considerations of urban density, water supply and environmental impacts.

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The Codex Mendoza, a key resource about Aztec times, can now be viewed online

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Jan 192015
 

The Codex Mendoza, which we have referred to in several previous posts, can now be viewed via an amazing online interactive resource organized by INAH, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, in association with Oxford’s Bodleian Library and King’s College, London.

Compiled in 1542, and richly illustrated, the Codex Mendoza is one of the key primary sources from Aztec times. It was completed at the instigation of Spanish viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and provides exquisite details about Aztec history, the expansion of their “empire” and the territorial tributes that they received from every quarter of their dominions. The Codex also chronicles daily life and social dynamics.

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

The interactive online version has images of the entire document and allows viewers to mouse-over the original text for translations into English or modern Spanish. Clicking on individual images offers more detailed explanations and information.

The digital codex can be viewed online, or downloaded through Apple’s App Store as a 1.02-gigabyte app.

The original Codex Mendoza resides in the library of Oxford University.  (The ship carrying it from New Spain (Mexico) back to Spain in colonial times was attacked by French buccaneers. The booty was subsequently divided up, with the Codex eventually reaching the university library.)

The online Codex Mendoza is  a truly amazing resource. Hopefully, some of the other Mexican codices that currently reside in Europe, too also be “virtually repatriated” in the near future, making it much easier for Mexican scholars to consult them.

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