One third of the population of Sierra Gorda in Central Mexico migrates to the USA for work. Bethan John meets a wildlife ranger supported by the World Land Trust (WLT) and finds out how a successful conservation partnership is providing employment in rural communities.
In the garden of his small bungalow, dotted with pink orchids, ranger Abel Reséndiz greets us with a handshake and a wide smile under his moustache.
Toddler’s cowboy boots stand on the window behind him, the property of Abel’s young son who clings to his shoulders. Coyly, the boy fiddles with the green badge sewn on the chest of his dad’s shirt. It reads: Keepers of the Wild – Ranger Programme, a simple statement that signifies a major change in Abel’s life.
Abel is a ranger in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, a one million acre protected area that spreads across Querétaro state in Central Mexico. World Land Trust supports Abel’s employment through its partnership with Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) and WLT’s Keepers of the Wild programme. I’m here to meet him with WLT’s Ruth Canning and Roberto Pedraza Ruiz from GESG.
We’re about to set-off on a trek through the forest with Abel as our guide. It’s a sight-seeing tour of these two organisations’ successful partnership.
But before we hit the forest trail, Abel is eager to show us the latest wildlife photos he’s captured on his camera: a fer-de-lance viper basking in the sun. The pride shines through Abel’s face as he flicks through the images, revealing his passion for wildlife and his delight at finally being able to capture the creatures of the forest on camera.
Abel’s new equipment is one of the perks of being a Keeper of the Wild; it not only allows him to document the reserve’s wildlife but also to record signs of illegal hunting and logging.
With his camera at the ready, Abel is soon leading us through the forest; it’s a biological melting pot where young pines, ancient oaks and towering sweetgums meet Strangler Figs, rare orchids, and tropical bromeliad plants.
We’re hiking towards a 370 acre nature reserve, the Cañón del Fresno (Ash Canyon), that was recently created by GESG thanks to support from WLT.
Man of the forest
As we trek through the reserve the forest closes in around us, the trail disappears and Abel swings his machete. But there is no question of getting lost; Abel is a man of these forests, he has mountain legs and never breaks a sweat.
His dedication to his work is clear: “I’m convinced the forests and animals are in trouble”, he says, “and they need all our help.”
But Abel wasn’t always in the position to protect his forests; instead, he had to leave his family to work in the USA, a story I hear from local people time and again during my month in Sierra Gorda.
“I’m glad I no longer have to work in the US,” says Abel. “I feel proud of my work now because we are protecting special places that were being destroyed.”
Big Give Christmas Challenge
Since 2011, Abel’s wages have been supported by WLT’s Keepers of the Wild, a ranger programme that you can support through this year’s Big Give Christmas Challenge (6 – 8 December 2012). By donating to the appeal, you will be directly supporting people like Abel who need a secure job and a sustainable livelihood.
WLT’s partner organisations across the world successfully run conservation programmes that directly benefit local people – but creating social change is far from easy and they need your support.