Toh Festival

​In a two-day trek around the Yucatan Peninsula, a team of seven young people from Yaxunah, all native Yucatec Maya speakers, Pedro Alfonzo Ay Mex, Astrid Caamal Chan, María Canul, Betzaira Canul Chan, Neysi Canul Tamay, Angel Uicab Canul and Andi Canul Tamay, beat out stiff competition from experienced international birders to win the 11th annual Festival Toh bird identification competition in Mérida, Yucatán, México, November 26 and 27, 2011. The team was accompanied by adult village member, Santos Esteban Chuc Caamal, himself an accomplished amateur naturalist. According to the Festival rules, they also were allowed to have a professional guide, Alex Dzib, along with them. The team reported identifying 194 different aquatic and terrestrial species of fowl according to competition guidelines, though in reality they spotted 205 types. In fact, the young people saw so many different birds that some of the adult long-time birders were skeptical of their results. However, their guide, Alex Dzib, had the proof in his camera – a photograph of each bird they saw with date and time on it.
We continue to be very proud of all the team members. Their win demonstrates that Maya young people, when given the opportunity and tools to explore and respect their own environment, can accomplish great things.
​Each year, and for the past 11 years, this bird identification competition and count – the Festival Toh – is conducted in the State of Yucatán, México. The fame of the competition, and the fact that the Yucatán sits at the convergence of all North and South American migratory flyways, means that highly qualified and experienced birders from México, the United States and other parts of the world take part regularly.
​As a part of the Sense of Place learning experience the young people of Yaxunah have been engaged in through the Cultural Community Center here, they created their own local birding competition. We rounded up a bird guidebook and one pair of binoculars for each local team, and in October, five teams of 8 young people went out into the village’s communal lands morning and evening for two days to see how many birds they could learn to identify. Through funding from Pronatura and some private donations and assistance by Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán Anthropology Professor, Elias Alcocer Puerto, we were able to enter the local winning team in the International Festival Toh competition.
​This unprecedented win has given these seven young people a great sense of pride and accomplishment and has demonstrated to them that an intimate knowledge of the natural resources in their own local region can help protect this unique and remarkable environment and can potentially bring any and all of them future employment. You can help enter a future Yaxunah team in the international festival by sending a designated donation to Maya Research Program, and we’d also love to have pairs of binoculars and bird guidebooks of North America and México. You might also want to keep track of the Festival Toh website with an eye toward entering this fantastic competition or taking part in the numerous workshops that accompany it next year.
The second year young people from Yaxunah participated, there was as much luck. Festivals organizers decided to make a special category for Maya youths, and our group came in second. Participating were: Leyli del Carime Chan Canul, Lucy Margarita Chuc Ay, Victor Manuel Mazun Tec, Andy Emanuel Canul Ek, Edduer Armin Ay Chan, Rosa Maria Moo Cuxin, Abiel de Jesus Tec Canul. Don Francis Canul Poot was the accompanying adult, and again we were very lucky to have Alex Dzib as the guide.