Saving threatened habitats worldwide

From hunter to protector: a life-changing conversion

25 October, 2013 - 09:45 -- Bethan John
Jesus Recalde in a mountainous landscape

Keeper of the Wild Jesus Recalde tells Bethan John why he stopped hunting animals and now dedicates himself to their protection.

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As we look out across Cerro Candelaria Reserve and the Rio Pastaza valley, the forest spreads out  below us and up over the surrounding mountains. Though it's hard to believe, this small, specific region of the Andes supports higher plant endemism – species found nowhere else on Earth – than the Galapagos Islands.

Ranger Jesus Recalde has spent the day showing me around part of the reserve and I’m still reeling from the excitement of seeing my first Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, a male showcasing his brilliant orange plumage. Although this is a regular sighting for Jesus, who spends his days trekking here, he still shares in my joy and I’m keen to know where this passion comes from.

“I’ve always said that someone created all of this”, explains Jesus, “and everything has an equal right to share in it. Just by looking at how an ant works, by watching a butterfly, by seeing how a hummingbird sucks nectar, and by watching all the other birds… it’s all incredible. No bird, no animal, no insect is worth less than the other. We are all equals.”

Jesus clearly loves working for Fundación EcoMinga, one of World Land Trust’s (WLT) conservation partners in Ecuador, but the part of his job he takes greatest delight in is tree planting. He painstakingly names all the species that’ve been planted recently, he relives the moment he found tapir tracks in the reforestation area, and mentions that he’s dedicated a piece of his own land to plant trees for the birds.

Giving back to nature

Jesus is from a small village, a poor, farming community near Baños in central Ecuador. So why did Jesus – who relied on agricultural land to feed his family – dedicate a section of his holding solely to keep the birds happy?  “Before I began to work as a ranger here, I was 100 per cent a farmer”, says Jesus. “All around here we work the land. We create grassland and plant crops. When I was a farmer I cut down lots of trees that provided food for the birds and animals, so now what I plant is for them.”

Jesus explains that he started thinking differently about the natural world after an encounter with a monkey and her baby. “I’m ashamed to say that I was a hunter”, says Jesus. “Hunting is part of what we do here when we live off the land. I’ve done things that I shouldn’t have, ever since I was a child.

“One day, I shot a female monkey when she was with her baby. When I went to see her as she was hurt on the ground, she was moaning, whining and crying just like a person. It was very sad. That is when I stopped hunting. From then onwards my life changed. I began to think differently.

“A few years after this, I met Lou Jost [co-founder of Fundación EcoMinga] and he discovered that I planted flowers and trees for the birds. So he contracted me to work with him because he knew that I was no longer a hunter and that I really respected the flora and fauna.”

“Thanks to my present job my economic situation has improved so that I can feed my family, my children and support their education”
(Jesus Recalde, Keeper of the Wild, Fundación Ecominga)

Now Jesus and his three brothers work as a team to protect Cerro Candelaria and other Fundación EcoMinga reserves from illegal hunting and logging. This has been a dramatic change for the family. For generations they’ve farmed this land but are now successfully creating an alternative livelihood. “I always wanted to bring tourists to the area”, says Jesus. “Unfortunately, my economic situation prevented me from doing this. But thanks to my present job and thanks to everyone who supports us – to Lou, to World Land Trust and to everyone else – my economic situation has improved so that I can feed my family, my children and support their education.”

Watch a video of Jesus Recalde describing his experiences (the video includes footage of Woolly Monkeys) »

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