The Common Good, Part 1: El Refugio de Potosí
By Lola (AKA Lydia Gregory)
My stay in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is going wonderfully, thanks for asking. But apart from the sun and the fun aspect of it (no complaints here), I have to say this trip has come with some major added value. Over the past few days, we’ve met some truly amazing people who are not only working hard on their own personal dream, but who have made it their business to expand that dream to encompass their community and beyond. In other words, they see the big picture. I’m going to introduce them to you one blog at a time over the next few days. I think you’ll feel the same way I do.
El Refugio de Potosí
On a very hot Guerrero morning we headed south from the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo resort area, stopping some 15 miles down the road to Acapulco at El Refugio de Potosí (Potosí Shelter). Built on about 17 acres of coastal tropical dry forest in the region of Barra de Potosí, it’s a private, non-profit center for wildlife conservation and education. We were greeted by co-founder Pablo Mendizabal, who introduced us to his partner, Laurel Patrick, an American expat who left the corporate wilds of Oregon far behind. Their goal: not only to preserve and exhibit a slice of the local flora and fauna, but to create a “center for exploration and investigation” with a strong focus on education.
Officially established last year, the park just recently opened its doors to the public and is still very much a work in progress. The main building—an open-air structure with a main office and space for displays and educational gatherings—was dominated by several glass enclosures, which housed a variety of local reptiles and insects. These included a batch of baby iguanas, a pencil-thin green snake (and his cousins of varying colors), a very hairy tarantula, a selection of scorpions and other assorted critters. I have to confess some of them gave me pause, especially the scorpions. There was a female with scads of babies carefully arranged on her back. Not something I’d like to find in my slipper.
Nearby, a large man-made pond stood filled with fish and turtles. Pablo threw in a couple of tidbits of feed and caused an immediate underwater stampede, with the turtles paddling madly to try to grab a snack before the fish gobbled them up. A draw for the kids, for sure, but he explained it also doubled as a watering hole for the local wildlife. I watched from the shade of the big parrot palapa just a few feet away, where five large green macaws were carefully making their way around their perches in anticipation of their own treat. Like many of the animals that currently call the refuge “home”, the two older birds were donated to the park by a private party.
Phase I includes a loop through the native forest that takes you to a beautiful iguana enclosure, a coatimundi habitat, a butterfly exhibit and breeding facility, a bird pavilion and the “Hummingbird Commons”, an area planted with native flowering bushes and hung with feeders (this should be called hummingbird central—it’s literally buzzing with activity.) Some of the animals will find a permanent home in the refuge for a variety of reasons (one of the birds of prey we saw was missing a wing, for example), but the idea is to begin breeding programs to help supplement their dwindling numbers in the wild. Many of these enclosures were still under construction, but we could see where they were going. This is the tip of the iceberg: future projects include an endangered bird breeding facility, a night house for bats, a crocodile habitat, etc. and that’s just for the animals. Humans can look forward to a research support facility, housing for visiting students and volunteers, multiple local training programs, and much more.
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is only $40 pesos (that’s less than $4.00 USD) with children under ten paying $20 pesos (or less than $2.00 USD). You can get to the park by taxi (about $250 pesos each way) or leave Zihuatanejo via any local bus that stops at Los Achotes, then take the collective to the park. You’ll spend about $20 pesos. Local tour operators are also being encouraged to include the park in their tour offerings to visitors.