Almost all animals that were worshipped by the ancient Aztecs are now under some kind of threat in Mexico, according to biologist Carlos Galindo, director of science communication from the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio).
The quetzal, jaguar, hummingbirds and the golden eagle are some of these animals, which long before being endangered left their mark on Mexican civilization, forming part of their customs and being an essential piece in their worldview.
On the occasion of World Animal Day, Galindo shared stories that surround these species and warned that “the main problem is that they are forgotten in our minds”.
“It’s a pity that these animals that were so important 500 years ago have been losing the value they had. They almost look like mythological animals,” he said.
One of these emblematic animals is the jaguar, nowadays in danger of extinction and that in the prehispanic era “represented the night”.
The jaguar was also linked to the god Tepeyotlotl, which in the Nahuatl language means “the heart of the mountain.”
The tlatoani, as the Mexica rulers were called (founding culture of the Aztec empire), had the habit of dressing in jaguar skins or sitting on their thrones tucked in the fur of this emblematic feline from America.
“It was one of the offerings that were brought to the governors,” Galindo added.
Another of the offerings that the Mexica frequently used were the feathers of the quetzal, a bird also in danger of extinction and that garnished the iconic plume of the emperor Moctezuma.
In addition, in some Mexican pyramids – such as those of Teotihuacan or Cholula – there are guides that assure visitors that when they step in front of the ancient steps, the acoustic creates an echo with which, mysteriously, is the squawking sound of a bird.
Another bird of equal or greater importance, which is also under threat, is the golden eagle, whose meaning “was equivalent to the sun, one of the main deities”.
It is the largest eagle in the center and north of Mexico and that the flag of the country shows an illustration with the imposing raptor perching on a nopal, a plant in which the birds stopped to point out to men the place where they could communicate with the gods, it was believed.
Also in the Mexican flag you can see a rattlesnake. Mexico is the country with the most rattlesnakes in the world and several species are threatened.
Centuries ago they also meant a lot to the Mexica culture. They were highly represented sculpturally and aroused “a high religious esteem”.
“The vipers are related to the fertility of the land and the rains,” Galindo said.
The expert mentioned the Templo Mayor of Mexico City, which is surrounded by a snake and serpent heads.
“In the case of the Mexicas, the sculptures they made are impressive, because they showed the serpent not only above but also below,” he observed.
The hummingbird is another one of those venerated by the Mexicas and, currently, of the 57 species that exist, some are at risk.
It is curious that the name of Huitzilopochtli, the principal god of the Mexicas, means “left-handed hummingbird or hummingbird on the left side”.
“In addition to its color, which is really impressive, when the temperature drops, they enter a state of torpor, their metabolism drops and they seem to die. When the temperature rises, they recover and it is as if they resuscitate. These characteristics related them to the main deity,” he explained.
To the species mentioned, we must add the Mexican wolf, which years ago was declared extinct in the wild in Mexico – this subspecies of the gray wolf still clings to survival in the southern United States – which was also relevant to civilizations pre-Hispanic times.