2013 Recap: Turtles, rangers and our MacArthur award!

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Check out our Cofan biodiversity video!

2013 has been a year of many challenges for Cofan Survival Fund, but we’ve faced them with determination, never “dándonos por vencidos,” or giving up. Here are a few highlights of our accomplishments this past year:

FSC wins MacArthur award

Fundación Sobrevivencia Cofán was one of only 13 nonprofit organizations around the world to win this year’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions! The award recognizes exceptional grantees who have demonstrated creativity and impact, and invests in their long-term sustainability with one-time grants.

Baby charapa turtles in the Charapa Project

As a way to make the Charapa Turtle Project sustainable, FSC created a business plan that would make half of the year’s turtles available to be purchased in local and international markets and used to repopulate other Amazon rivers.

Ranger zipline

September 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of the Cofan Ranger Program. In a world where the destruction of our remaining wilderness areas approaches 2% per year, and where even the Ecuadorian National Park System has lost over 15% of its pristine areas during the past ten years, our rangers have accomplished the incredible feat of ZERO DEFORESTATION in over 1,000,000 acres of forest during the same time period. That is an area the size of the entire state of Delaware.

We understand that only reading about a vast, biodiverse forest is not enough, so please enjoy this video about Cofan territory, which will take you on a visual journey through the windswept highlands, misty cloud forests and tropical jungles, not to mention the endangered plants and animals found within, that Cofan Survival Fund has played a major role in protecting for almost 15 years.

Today, we are facing even greater threats than ever before. Government policies promote large-scale infrastructure projects, including huge pit-mining operations, mega hydroelectric projects, and intense exploration and exploitation of petroleum reserves. Colonists continue to view our territories as empty lands not being “used,”and which should be opened to them to exploit and destroy. And while understanding and support for the intact forest as a source of environmental services is on the increase within Ecuador, short-term economic interests continue to exert pressure with little concern for future impacts.

We know how many organizations are asking for your donations right now, and each and every one tells you how important your donation is to them. We are a small organization that puts our programs first when it comes to funding. Without outside support, we will not be able to continue our work, and Cofan forests will begin to disappear along with the other forests of Ecuador and Amazonía as a whole…

You can be part of the solution. Don’t think of yourself as too far away to be concerned. Together, we can ensure that at least this million acres of forest continues to provide carbon sequestration, watershed protection, biodiversity protection and erosion control for all of our futures.


Become a member of the Campaign for 5000 and receive the “Sounds of Zábalo” audio file, five minutes of soothing jungle sounds recorded right in the Cofan’s backyard!

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Friday Foto

Park guard station at Gueppi

Cofan rangers analyze a water sample at the Gueppi ranger station in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon. / Guardaparques cofanes analizan una muestra de agua en la estación Gueppi en la Reserva Cuyabeno.

Northeastern Ecuador’s forests have some of the world’s highest species counts for plants and animals, are at the heart of the tropical Andes “hotspot” zone and are instrumental in Ecuador’s status as a mega-diverse country. However, their conservation presents a major challenge. Mining, petroleum exploitation, lumber extraction, mega-infrastructure projects and colonization are major threats, and even within national parks, agricultural expansion continues with little control.

A notable exception is forest within Cofan ancestral territory (CAT). CAT covers about 430,000 hectares (1 million acres) of some of the richest, best-conserved forests in Ecuador ranging from Andean highlands to cloud forest to tropical rainforest.

As a first line of defense, FSC trained and fielded a professional, effective force of Cofan rangers in 2003. This group, 60 members at full capacity, carry out on-the-ground protection and management of Cofan lands to ensure territorial security and zero deforestation. The Cofan Ranger Program (CRP) has trained over 100 Cofan men and women in the protection and management of Cofan territories, as well as people from other indigenous and non-indigenous groups.


Los bosques del noreste del Ecuador tienen algunas de las cifras más altas del mundo de especies de plantas y animales, están en el corazón del “hotspot” andino tropical y son escenciales para la designación de “país mega-diverso” para Ecuador. Sin embargo, su conservación es un gran reto. La minería, explotación petrolera, extracción de madera, proyectos de mega-infraestructura y colonización son amenazas importantes, y incluso dentro de las reservas nacionales, la expansión agrícola sigue con poco control.

Una excepción importante es el bosque dentro del territorio ancestral cofán (TAC). TAC cubre alrededor de 430.000 hectáreas de bosques bien conservados y muy biodiversos en Ecuador, desde páramos andinos hasta bosque nublado y bosque tropical.

Como una defensa para este territorio, FSC entrenó y un grupo de guardaparques cofanes profesionales y eficaces en el 2003. Este grupo, 60 miembros en total, realizan la protección y manejo de tierras cofanes para asegurar seguridad territorial y cero deforestación. El Programa de Guardaparques Cofanes ha entrenado más de 100 hombres y mujeres cofanes en la protección y manejo de territorio cofán, además de personas de otras comunidades indígenas y no-indígenas.

Why should you support the Cofan?

Why should you support the Cofan?

Check out our Cofan biodiversity video!

With the holiday season almost upon us, we at Cofan Survival Fund are reaching out to our supporters and asking for their help to keep our organization going.

We started formal Cofan conservation activities with almost nothing in the late 1980s, and spent several years doing the best we could with the funds we could access from ecotourism, village collections and the like. As threats escalated and pressures increased, we formalized Cofan Survival Fund in 1999, learned how to access more funding and gratefully accepted help from others outside the immediate Cofan sphere. With this, we became far more effective both in protecting our forests and culture and making a difference for the world.

Cofan biodiversity video

As funding has become harder for us to access, we have had to make difficult decisions about what to cut and what we can most easily afford to lose, both internally as an indigenous people and as caretakers of a global heritage.But the bottom line is, we can’t afford to stop doing what we are doing: we MUST adjust and figure out how to make do. What makes us different from the average NGO is that we don’t have the option to quit. We’re in this because it means survival for our people, our culture, our forests and our future. I am convinced that it is also an important part of the answer for survival of the globe as we face climate change, water shortages, extreme weather emergencies and the like, and that our contribution to our planet’s sustainability is very important. But as the Cofan, we don’t have the luxury of ending conservation activities because we don’t have enough funding.

Cofan biodiversity videoSo, we will continue to field as many Cofan rangers as we can afford to protect the most vulnerable locations in the best possible manner we can afford. We will continue collecting Charapa turtle eggs, caring for babies and releasing them into the wild. We will continue sending as many young Cofans as we can to quality schools and universities so they can grow up and take leadership roles for the Cofan Nation.

I want to encourage each of you to be part of the solution. Don’t think of yourself as too far away to be concerned. Take a look at this video to see exactly what your gift will help protect.

Please, become a partner with the Cofan in our mission to save one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

Take care, and thanks for your support!


Randy Borman to speak in San Francisco

Randy with members of the Cofan community of Zábalo

Randy with members of the Cofan community of Zábalo

Randy Borman was born only months before his parents, missionaries and linguists, ventured into the Ecuadorian rainforest to live among the Cofán natives. This set in motion a life that, over five decades, has helped shaped the Cofán community into a model for success in the struggle for biodiversity conservation and indigenous land rights.

Borman and the Fundación Sobrevivencia Cofán are fighting hard to save the rainforest and their culture. Watch his recent TED talk here:

On the eve of Nov. 25th, Randy will speak in San Francisco about the Cofán’s rich culture and their ongoing battle to preserve it, then open to a Q&A discussion (Randy is perfectly trilingual: English/Spanish/Cofán). With an encyclopedic knowledge of Amazonian culture, ecology and Ecuadorian political landscape, Borman is a pioneer of the Save the Rainforest movement and one of the most fascinating humans you are likely ever to meet. Please come, bring a friend, and help us spread the word!

WHERE: Activate McCoppin. McCoppin Street and Valencia Street, San Francisco, California.

WHEN: Monday, November 25

TIME: 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Read more about the Cofán here: www.cofan.org

**Please note** This event will be outdoors.

We’ve been busy! Cofan ranger course, GIN conference keynote speech, turtle news and more!

The end of September/October has been a busy time for Cofan Survival Fund! Read on for a roundup of some of the projects we have been working on this year:

Cofan Ranger Program

Cofan rangers taking a refresher course in Quito

First up is the Cofan Ranger training course. In September Cofan Survival Fund carried out a 2-week Cofan ranger training course with support from the Institute for Conservation and Environmental Training (ICCA in Spanish). Ten experienced Cofan rangers, four women and six men who have been working as rangers for years, came to the FSC office in Quito.
Cofan rangers taking a refresher course in Quito
This course, funded by USAID, was a refresher for these experienced rangers, and topics covered GPS use, environmental law, professional ethics and first aid among others, and also focused on the implementation of a new control and monitoring tool from the Escuela Latinoamericana de Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica (ELAP). This tool is a way for Cofan rangers to systematize, organize and generate products from activities that Cofan rangers, FSC and FEINCE carry out in protected areas. This tool will make it easier for Cofan rangers to manage and present the data they collect in the field and organize and report on their field activities. The rangers left Quito anxious to try out their new knowledge and ELAP tool in the field.

Randy at the Global Issues Network Conference

Randy was invited to participate in the Global Issues Network (GIN) 2013 Conference, which this year was held in Quito at the American School from October 18th to the 20th. GIN Conferences empower young people to develop sustainable solutions to address global problems and to implement their ideas with the support of the network. The key ideas are based on the book, High Noon- 20 Global Problems, 20 years to Solve Them by Jean Francois Rischard. Hundreds of high school students from around the world converged on Quito to attend the conference. One theme students can choose to focus on is “Sharing our planet: Issues involving the global commons,” and centers on global warming, biodiversity and ecosystem losses, and deforestation, so Cofan Survival Fund fit right in!
Randy was one of several keynote speakers, and also conducted a workshop entitled How to save the rainforest: An indigenous community’s struggle against destruction and the conservation model that emerged” about carbon footprints, how the Cofan rangers stop deforestation and help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and how all of us can do our part to lower our own carbon footprints. Cofan Survival Fund also set up a table at the conference’s NGO fair. You can watch his keynote speech here:

Socio Bosque (Forest Partner)

Zabalo territory

Another project we have been working hard on is applying for more Cofan territory to be included in the Socio Bosque Program. The Socio Bosque Program is a government initiative that pays landowners for maintaining their forest intact through 20-year contracts. Cofan Survival Fund has already successfully gotten three Cofan territories contracts in this initiative: Rio Cofanes Territory, Zábalo and Dureno. We have been working to include the Cofan Bermejo Reserve, the Cofan-managed zone of the Cayambe Coca Reserve, and the Sinangoe community.For the last two rounds in May and October of this year, for reasons outside our control (which were very frustrating) we were unable to include more Cofan territories in the initiative. This would have meant almost 150,000 hectares would have been earning funds for their environmental services, which would have gone to the Cofan for conservation and development projects.

We were pretty disappointed when we found out that our three applications couldn’t be approved…but, seemingly out of nowhere Socio Bosque officials contacted us to submit paperwork for an additional 40,000 hectares of the Zábalo territory to be included! This would raise Zábalo’s annual budget to almost $120,000 total, a significant sum which would cover pretty much all of our control and vigilance activities in addition to providing administrative and community development funds for the community, essentially making Zábalo autonomous in protecting its territories. So, currently we’re waiting to hear official word if our application was approved or rejected.

The Charapa Project

Baby Charapas, by Esteban Baus

In our last update about the Charapa Project we told you about the $20,000 grant we got from Petroamazonas to support the project and the business plan we turned in to the Ministry of Environment to be able to sell part of the Charapa harvest, funds which would finance the project.Well, we have gotten another, smaller grant from Petroamazonas that was given directly to the Zábalo community to finance the upcoming harvest, specifically the bonus that will be given to the families who will find and monitor the turtle nests. This will be enough for about 10,000 baby turtles.

We still don’t have the permit to be able to commercialize a part of the Charapa harvest, but it hasn’t been rejected yet, so that’s good news. Stay tuned for future updates!

Friday Foto

Today’s Friday Foto comes from ICCA, the Institute for Environmental Conservation and Training and its project monitoring the mountain tapir, a highly threatened species in Ecuador and the world.

“Now we’re going to tell the story of the little mountain tapir named Leo. Leo, approximately 2 months old, was with his mother and presumably three other members of his species, in the high montane forest in the Antisana Ecological Reserve (REA in Spanish) during a harsh winter in August 2012, in the Salva Faccha ravine, close to the Quijos river in the Cuyuja community in the Los Cedros sector. Coming down a winding stretch, Leo got tangled up in his mother’s legs and the legs of the other members of the group, who kicked him and separated him from the group, so he got left behind.

Within the animal world, especially mammals, we know mothers stay with their offspring for at least one year before they can develop the skills necessary to survive on their own. In this case if the baby tapir is abandoned, it would be defenseless against predators, harsh weather and wouldn’t know how to find food. It’s chances of survival would be practically zero. Through direct observations for two years in our Andean tapir study, we discovered a special behavior in this species. For the first three months of life, a baby Andean tapir stays close to its mother, but is hidden in the forest while the mother leaves to search for food, and they communicate through a system of whistles so they can find each other again. After three months, the baby, a bit bigger now, accompanies its mother in her search for food, learning about the forest, the highlands, their potential predators and how to survive in its environment.”

This foto is part of the Tapir Monitoring Project, with funding from EcoFondo, which ended a few months ago. The project also received support from the Ministry of Environment through the REA manager and its park guard team.

Find ICCA on Facebook at “ICCA Ecuador” and find more blog posts about tapirs HERE.

Baby mountain tapir

Baby mountain tapir

La Friday Foto de hoy viene de ICCA, el Instituto para Conservación y Capacitación Ambiental y su proyecto del monitoreo del tapir andino, una especie altamente amenazada en este país y en el mundo.

“Ahora les vamos a contar la historia del pequeño Tapir Andino llamado Leo. Leo, un tapir de aproximadamente dos meses, se encontraba con su madre y presumiblemente con tres miembros de su especie, dentro del bosque montano alto de la Reserva Ecológica Antisana (REA) en un crudo invierno de agosto del año 2012, en la quebrada Salve Faccha, cerca al Río Quijos en la Comunidad de Cuyuja en el sector Los Cedros. Al bajar todo ellos por un estrecho y sinuoso camino, Leo se enredó en las patas de su madre y los otros miembros del grupo, lo que provocó que Leo fuera golpeado, apartado del grupo y dejado atrás, mientras el resto de miembros del grupo se marchaba.

Dentro del mundo animal, y en especial el de los mamíferos, es conocido que las madres acompañan a sus crías al menos por un año antes de que estas puedan desarrollar las destrezas necesarias para sobrevivir por sí solas. En el caso que la cría, por algún motivo quedara sola, ésta estará indefensa ante los depredadores, la inclemencia del clima y sin saber cómo obtener alimento todavía; es decir prácticamente sus probabilidades de sobrevivir son casi nulas. Mediante observaciones directas por dos años, a través de nuestro estudio sobre el Tapir Andino, descubrimos un comportamiento especial en esta especie. Los tres primeros meses de vida de la cría del tapir andino permanece junto a su madre; pero, esta lo oculta dentro del bosque mientras ella sale en busca de alimento, y se comunican mediante un sistema de silbidos permitiéndoles reencontrarse. Después de estos tres meses la cría un poco más grande acompaña a su madre en las labores de búsqueda de alimento, conociendo el bosque, los páramos, sus potenciales depredadores y como sobrevivir a ellos y al medio que lo rodea”.

Esta foto es parte del Proyecto de Monitoreo del Tapir Andino, con el apoyo financiero de EcoFondo, que se finalizó unos meses atrás. El proyecto también recibió el apoyo del Ministerio del Ambiente a través del Administrador de área de REA y su equipo de guardaparques.

Encuentra ICCA en Facebook en “ICCA Ecuador” y encuentra más blogs sobre el tapir andino AQUÍ.

Friday Foto

Rangers in the classroom! In Septemeber Cofan Survival Fund carried out another Cofan ranger training course. During this 2-week course carried out by the Institute for Conservation and Environmental Training (ICCA in Spanish), ten experienced Cofan rangers, four women and six men, came to the FSC office in Quito. This course, funded by USAID, was a refresher for these experienced rangers, and topics covered GPS use, environmental law, professional ethics and first aid among others, and also focused on the implementation of a new control and monitoring tool from the Escuela Latinoamericana de Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica (ELAP). This tool is a way for Cofan rangers to systematize, organize and generate products from activities that Cofan rangers, FSC and FEINCE carry out in protected areas. This tool will make it easier for Cofan rangers to manage and present the data they collect in the field and organize and report on their field activities.

Cofan ranger course 2013

Cofan ranger course 2013

Cofan ranger course 2013

Cofan ranger course 2013

¡Guardaparques en el aula! En septiembre la Fundación Sobrevivencia Cofán realizó otro curso de capacitación para guardaparques cofanes. Durante este taller de 2 semanas coordinado por el Instituto para la Conservación y Capacitación Ambiental (ICCA), diez guardaparques veteranos, cuatro mujeres y seis hombres, vinieron a la oficina de FSC en Quito. Este curso, financiado por USAID, era para retomar algunos materiales para estos guardaparques experimentados, y los temas incluían GPS, legislación ambiental, etica profesional y primeros auxilios entre otros, y también se enfocó en la implementación de una nueva herramienta de control y monitoreo de la Escuela Latinoamericana de Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica (ELAP). Esta herramienta ayudará que los guardaparques cofanes pueden organizar y generar productos de las actividades que ellos, FSC y FEINCE realizan en las áreas protegidas. Esta herramienta facilitará que los guardaparques cofanes manejan y presentan los datos que colectan en el campo y organizarlos para reportar sobre sus actividades.

Happy 10-year anniversary to the Cofan Ranger Program!

Cofan ranger taking GPS points in Rio Cofanes Territory

Happy 10-year anniversary to the Cofan Ranger Program!

We just finished up a ranger course here at Cofan Survival Fund with ten veteran male and female Cofan rangers. Since they already know their stuff, we focused on teaching them a control and monitoring tool from the Latin American School of Protected Areas of Costa Rica (ELAP in Spanish), which will allow the rangers to systematize, organize and generate products and reports from the raw data they collect in the field. During this course I was reminded of our very first ranger course and I got to reminiscing…

It is exactly TEN YEARS since we fielded our first three patrols of Cofan rangers, freshly trained during an intensive three-week course and geared to go. The three selected patrols, each with five people, were sent to begin the work of cutting physical boundaries of Cofan lands and to take on the increasing number of gold miners, hunters and lumbermen who were encroaching on Cofan lands. They came back excited but tired at the end of September 2003, and the next group left for the forest…

First rangers graduation

The first training course involved 33 Cofan men and women, ranging in ages from Eliseo Descanse at 65 years old to Duglas Yiyoguaje at only 15. Our first rangers were organized into five-person patrols, and for our first couple years, most of our efforts were dedicated to establishing our borders, regulating the entrance of outsiders, and doing long-range environmental monitoring. As time passed, we realized we needed a long-term stable presence in certain high-intensity locations, and so we began to implement two-person teams whose duty was to maintain the ranger stations. Our network of stations eventually grew to cover eight locations in four of our territorial areas (Rio Cofanes, Zábalo, Cofan Bermejo and Cayambe Coca). (Read about our Pizarras station in Cayambe Coca.)

We trained more people and established the Institute for Conservation and Environmental Training (ICCA in Spanish) as a separate institution dedicated to giving local conservation workers the necessary tools to manage and maintain their local lands. Over 80 Cofan men and women have passed through at least the first level courses we have offered, and an additional 100 or so individuals from other indigenous and campesino groups have also been trained at our center. These include people from the Chachi, Waorani, Kichwa, Witoto, and Secoya nations, as well as non-indigenous.

Of our original 33 candidates, 30 passed the first course. Of these, 16 continue to work with the program today.

On the edge of a waterfall
During the past ten years, our rangers have faced off with armed miners, been held for ransom by irate colonists, narrowly escaped death while crossing wild rivers, and suffered life-threatening illnesses in deep forests far from help. They have cut trail across unexplored mountain ranges high above the vegetation level and surveyed boundaries in chest-deep swamps. They have taken GPS points on sheer cliffs and climbed active volcanoes. They have seen nature’s marvels—spectacled bears crossing an icy torrent, endangered spider monkeys pouring out of a still unexplored cave, huge jaguars lolling in the sun right in the middle of their camp, and the delicate wings of the rare Silver Morpho butterfly as it soars over the high montane forest. Adventures never dreamed of by past generations of Cofans have been theirs, along with the dangers and the difficulties.
Ranger zipline

In the process, Cofan rangers have left their home communities and environments, working side by side with people from other communities in forests very different from what they’re used to. The result has been a tremendous change in attitude as people realize they are part of a nation, not just a local village.  Our rangers are now the backbone of the Cofan Nation, with knowledge and experience that cuts across all the barriers created by the outside world, and with solid friendships and relationships that cut across family and village attitudes.

Cofan ranger badgeBut above and beyond all this, the Cofan rangers have accomplished their mission. In a world where the destruction of our remaining wilderness areas approaches 2% per year, and where even the Ecuadorian National Park System has lost over 15% of its pristine areas during the past ten years, our rangers have accomplished the incredible feat of ZERO DEFORESTATION in over one million acres of forest during the same time period. That is an area the size of the entire state of Delaware. The bottom line is that the program WORKS. This, in spite of intense threats, which increase rather than decrease as time goes on.

Today, we are facing even greater threats than ever before. Government policies promote large-scale industry and infrastructure projects, including huge pit-mining operations, mega hydroelectric projects, and intense exploration and exploitation of petroleum reserves. Colonists continue to view our territories as “empty lands” which are not being “used,” and which should be opened to them to exploit and destroy. And while understanding and support for the intact forest as a source of environmental services is on the increase within the country, short-term economic interests continue to exert pressure with little concern for future impacts.

All of these threats are manageable, however. The Cofan rangers have dealt successfully with each during the past ten years, and will be able to continue into the future, IF a final threat can be met. It is this threat that scares me the most as I look at the next ten years of Cofan ranger activities. 

This is the threat of apathy.

What the Cofan rangers have accomplished during the past ten years is not only for the benefit of the Cofan Nation, nor even for the country of Ecuador. It is for the benefit of the entire world. We are long past the time when the best defense for conservation is merely maintaining wilderness areas because they are pretty. We now are beginning to understand the deep dynamics of a world where one million acres of rainforest directly affects the intensity of a hurricane in the Caribbean or flooding in Colorado. Take away our million acres of forest and all of the rest of world suffers. But on a global level, it is hard to make people care about something so geographically far away.
Ranger river crossing

Without outside support and funding, the Cofan rangers will not be able to continue their tremendously competent work, and Cofan forests will begin to disappear along with the other forests of Ecuador and Amazonía as a whole…At this ten-year mark, I want to reiterate how proud I am of the Cofan rangers. They have accomplished even more than I could have ever imagined when we started in 2003. At the same time, I want to share my deep concern that, as international funding for this initiative has slowed, we will not be able to continue, and all of our hard-won victories will be for nothing. I want to encourage each of you to be part of the solution. Don’t think of yourself as too far away to be concerned. Together, we can form the virtual community I have talked about before in my letters, and together, we can continue to ensure that at least this million acres of forest continues to provide carbon sequestration, watershed protection, biodiversity protection and erosion control into the next ten years…

Please, join the Campaign for 5000 and become a partner with the Cofan in their struggle to protect an important global resource. 

Executive Director

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Happy World Tourism Day!

Today is World Tourism Day! In the mood for an Amazon adventure in the heart of an indigenous community? The Cofan of Zábalo have been welcoming tourists since 1978 and offer a unique experience for every visitor. Want to hike jungle trails and learn about medicinal plants? Want to spend a day cruising the rivers, looking at wildlife? Want to see a community turtle conservation project first-hand? You can do all that and more during a stay in the Zábalo village.

Here are some facts about Zábalo, located in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve:

Zabalo Cuyabeno facts

Zábalo/Cuyabeno facts. Courtesy Esteban Baus

Hoy es el Día Mundial del Turismo! ¿Se te antoja una aventura amazónica en el corazón de una comunidad indígena? Los cofanes de Zábalo han estado recibiendo turistas desde el 1978 y ofrecen una experiencia única para cada visitante. ¿Quieres hacer caminata en la selva y aprender de las plantas medicinales? ¿Quieres pasar un día viajando por los ríos, viendo la vida silvestre? ¿Quieres ver un proyecto de conservación comunitario de tortugas? Puedes hacer todo eso y más durante una visita a la comunidad cofán de Zábalo.

Arriba puedes leer información sobre Zábalo, ubicada en la Reserva de Cuyabeno.

Pizarras Cofan ranger station is a strategic point for protecting 1 million acres of forest

Cofan Ranger Pizarras Station

Cofan Ranger Pizarras Station

Ever wonder how Cofan rangers manage to protect over 1 million acres of biodiverse, pristine forest? One of their most important tactics is to build ranger stations in strategic areas, and use them during their month-long stints in the field.

The first of these stations, Pizarras Station, was built in 2005 and is still in use almost 10 years later.

The Cofan Nation has aggressively sought to reclaim control of its ancestral territories during the past two decades. Treaties with Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, gaining land titles and actual property purchase are all strategies we’ve applied in the process of regaining rights to approximately 430,000 hectares (1,000,000 acres, or about the size of Delaware) of mountains, montane forests, and lowland tropical jungles. To manage this legacy, the Cofan Nation, working through Cofan Survival Fund, established the Cofan Ranger Program in 2003.

The Cofan rangers are a trained group of Cofan men and women who work continuously to patrol and monitor Cofan territories, maintaining boundary trails, confronting invaders, monitoring water and ecosystem quality, and enforcing both environmental and community regulations. Equipped with radios, GPS, and other modern tools, rangers spend a month at a time in the field, carrying out their various tasks and serving as the “front line” for conservation of Cofan territories. Originally, the rangers worked as patrols—five-person teams who camped on the trail and responded to threats in Cofan territories wherever they occurred. However, team administrators quickly realized certain areas were constant points of friction, and merited a much more permanent presence than patrols provided.

Rangers crossing the Aguarico at Pizarras
The station

The Pizarras Station is located on the south bank of the Aguarico River on the northern border of Cayambe-Coca National Park. Built in 2005 by Cofan Survival Fund, it was the first of several similar permanent stations established to control and monitor friction points within Cofan ancestral territories and protect the area from would-be settlers, miners, commercial hunters and fishers and lumbermen. Puerto Libre, a mestizo town established in the mid 1900s, is directly across the river from the site, and despite both Ministry of Environment and Cofan legal rights to the area, individuals and organized businesses represent a constant threat to the area’s integrity. The station was thus created to serve as a solid and permanent residence for at least two full-time Cofan rangers, and to present a clear image of official protection to those thinking about entering the territory without permission.

Capuchin monkey at Pizarras station

Capuchin monkey at Pizarras station

Pizarras directly controls over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of forest, and includes the watershed of several small rivers as well as the Cofanes and Aguarico Rivers. Despite this formidable mandate, it generally takes only two people per month to maintain the status quo. Once a year, a patrol will spend a month in the area to clear boundary trails and help with local activities.

Logistics for visiting Pizarras Station is very straightforward. By car you can arrive to Puerto Libre, and about one kilometer past Puerto Libre a sign indicates the entrance to the Pizarras site. A short drive on a secondary gravel road through a couple of cow pastures puts you at the edge of the Aguarico. After parking your car, move down to the river and call the station located directly across the river, at which point the rangers will paddle across to pick you up.

From the station, trails fan out to provide access for the daily patrols of the station managers. The trail following the Aguarico—constantly in use to keep miners at bay—features incredible views of the river; a cave with resident nests of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock; frequent chances to see monkeys, toucans, and other local wildlife; and sport fishing for dorados, a famous game fish, if the river is low. Other trails lead up into the mountains. A three-day hike leads to the Rio Cofanes via high cloud forest passes where spider monkeys, Spectacled Bears, and other rare mammals abound. Going downriver, one catches a third trail which takes you in to the fabled Ccuccono, a small river renowned for its millions of fish. Tapirs, giant otters, and even a mystery animal as of yet still not identified add to the excitement of this area.

Cock of the Rock, by Alvaro del Campo

Cock of the Rock, by Alvaro del Campo

Baby tapir, by Leo Gomez

Baby tapir, by Leo Gomez

The station was designed for both impressiveness and for low-maintenance. While the normal staff of a station is only two rangers, it’s not unusual for a station to be a temporary home for one or two full patrols. Likewise, stations serve as camps for visitors from the Ministry of Environment, donors, scientists, and other legitimate guests. Because of this, we built the buildings spacious, with plenty of room for sleeping bags.

The station’s loft, a second story protected by a galvanized iron roof, serves as the ideal way for patrols coming in from camps on boundary trails or working in the mountains to dry clothes and equipment in a climate where rain is a constant.

Cement posts and foundations speak to the need for permanence. In the rain forest, the first and most vulnerable part of a house is always the posts—subject to moisture, direct contact with the soil, and the bacteria, fungi, insects and other menaces, no wood lasts more than ten or 15 years in the ground. So while it’s not even something most outsiders would even notice, concrete foundations speak very strongly to local people of permanence and strength. 

A frame construction with planed wood combines with paint to make a similar statement. Use of already fallen trees or trees which are at risk—lightning struck, hollow, or otherwise compromised—means a low environmental impact.

Aguarico River at Pizarras

Aguarico River at Pizarras

Since Pizarras’ establishment, commercial hunting and fishing activities in the area have virtually ceased, farming settlers have stopped all activities, and lumbering is a thing of the past. However, gold miners continue to pressure the area, sneaking across using inner tubes to pan and escaping when a ranger appears. With the present high price of gold, this is a problem that won’t disappear, but Cofan rangers have been able to minimize its environmental impacts.

During its first years, Pizarras Station was subject to multiple attacks from the neighboring mestizo communities and from commercial interests resentful of being monitored and excluded. These included armed attacks. One in particular demonstrates how the rangers work and how threats are handled:

At the time, Roberto Aguinda, head of CSF’s activities in Sucumbios, and Randy Borman, CSF director, were in Peru for meetings involving several different indigenous organizations and NGOs. They were eating dinner when they received a cellphone call from the Pizarras Station team. In Cofan, the rangers told them that a group of six armed men had just crossed the river, and were sneaking up on the station. They told the rangers to get out and sneak our boat across the river to the mestizo side and wait while they made more calls.

From Lima, Peru, they called the military command post at Lumbaqui, the closest Ecuadorian armed forces to Pizarras, and within five minutes, an armed patrol was on its way. Meanwhile, our rangers had crossed the river and were waiting, and 45 minutes after our rangers called Randy and Roberto, a military patrol armed to the teeth was in position. The would-be attackers had by then moved up to the house and were yelling for the rangers to come out and preparing to set fire to the station. The military patrol moved in at that point; the assailants fled, leaving their guns and machetes behind. Two were captured and held for questioning, although political ties eventually resulted in their release. But none of that particular group has threatened the area again.Cofan Pizarras station, cloudy day

Most of our stations have become relatively peaceful assignments during the past three years. The “bad old days” of people shooting at our rangers from across the river or trying to force their way in to clear fields or cut down trees are gone, and instead, there is a respectful attitude which reflects an acceptance that there will be rules and regulations and that these Cofan lands are truly off-limits for extractive activities. 

However, we recognize very clearly that this peace is fragile. At our Gueppi station in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, for example, it took only two weeks of ranger absence for commercial hunters to invade. This applies to all of our stations, and especially one facing as many constant threats as Pizarras. Without this station, we would quickly lose control of the region, with miners, lumbermen, hunters, fishers, and settlers moving in rapidly. 

New Station
At present, we operate four full time and three part time stations. We hope to increase our coverage to include three new sites during the coming years 2013-2014, with a pledge for funding from Off the Mat, Into the World for a new station in Rio Cofanes Territory.We hope to acquire more funding to be able to keep full-time teams in all ten of these key locations. At stake is the health of over 430,000 hectares of pristine and well-cared for rain forests, mountains, and highlands.