Thursday, January 31, 2013

What do Imperial Woodpeckers and Apaches Have in Common?

The answer is that the Sierra Madre Occidental was the final stronghold and sanctuary for both of them. The Apaches in many ways were the protectors of the Imperial Woodpeckers—or at least protectors of the habitat the birds needed to survive. For more than two centuries, the Apaches' ferocious defense of their domain in the mountains of northwestern Mexico deterred the settlement and exploitation of the vast old-growth forests where the Imperials lived. 

In the photograph above, Geronimo (at right) poses with three of his warriors at a time when they were still at war with the United States and Mexico. After their skirmishes with cavalry or settlers, they would often vanish into the high country of the Sierra Madre, leaving their pursuers in the dust. When Geronimo finally surrendered in 1886, some Apaches refused to join him and fled back to their Sierra Madre stronghold, where they fought a losing battle well into the 1930s, trying to preserve their traditional culture. It was only after the Apaches were subdued that logging companies were able to fully exploit the old-growth timber in their vast domain.

An interesting sidenote about the photograph above: In the mid-1930s, Yahnozah (the warrior on the far left), led Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad on a lengthy search through the Sierra Madre, hoping to locate some of his fellow Apaches who had fled there nearly half a century earlier. They saw several Imperial Woodpeckers during the expedition.

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