Take a walk on the misty side: Q&A with Guanacas’ rangers SEARCH NEWS

A person rides a dark brown horse in a grassland surrounded by woodland.

Forest Ranger Henry riding a horse in Guanacas. Horses are important to the operations in the reserve. Credit: Andrea Ferreira.

Rangers are often said to be the eyes and the ears of the forests. In Guanacas, rangers employ all their senses to monitor, and patrol the mist-cloaked cloud forest. These people spend each day protecting this threatened habitat, and the wildlife it supports. Here, we delve into the daily lives of rangers in Guanacas Reserve who you can support by donating to our Colombia’s Forest of Mist campaign.

Biodiversity conservation, forest protection, and reforestation don’t happen on their own. Rather, they are possible because of the efforts of rangers working ‘behind the scenes’, often getting on with their roles quietly and without much limelight. But they hold fascinating stories and insights into life in the cloud forest. So, we had a conversation with three of the Fundación Guanacas team who are integral to nature conservation in the Guanacas Reserve. They share with us what it means to work in one of the world’s most biodiverse cloud forests.

A bird's eye view of a dense forest from above.

Guanacas Reserve, Colombia. Credit: Andrea Ferreira / WLT

WLT: The cloud forest of Guanacas Reserve is a highly threatened ecosystem disappearing across Latin America. Alongside its biological importance, it also holds great cultural value for humans. Founder and Director of Fundación Guanacas said in the past that the forest in Guanacas “are joy, they are tranquillity and peace; they are soul and poetry as well”. Can you take us on a walk through the emotive landscape of Guanacas?

Alba Escobar, Forestry Engineer: As you walk through the cloud forest, you become immersed in the mist, feeling the water clinging to your eyebrows and eyelashes, trickling down your skin.

Henry Londoño, Forest Ranger: Yes its marvellous, in a single word. With steep mountains, lush towering trees, and crystal-clear waters, the constant sound of water trickling over the stones fills the air. The water on your face as you step into the mist falls from your skin like tears.

Juan Carlos Macías, Forest Ranger and Field Coordinator: When I explore the cloud forests, I feel intrigued by the why, when, and how of everything… I would like to understand every single point or place in the forest! I stay until 6 in the evening, until there’s no light left.

Two people stand outside surrounded by scrubland with a book that they are both looking at.

Working in the field in Guanacas Reserve. Credit: Andrea Ferreira.

WLT: As rangers, you work intimately with the habitats that Fundación Guanacas is conserving. Are there any memorable encounters you have had with wildlife in the many hours you spend in the cloud forests?

Henry: There have been many joyful moments during my time here, but my favourite was the day I encountered a monkey. I was monitoring the Magnolias with my dog, Lucas, who sensed something was amiss. I had the opportunity to capture a video, and I was filled with excitement because, despite having lived here for 15 years, even before the foundation was established, I had never seen one before. I was so surprised that it took me a while to capture the video. The monkey was hopping from tree to tree, almost as if it were leading the way!

A path cuts through dense forest. The sun shines through gaps in the trees, making the soil appear to have a soft orange glow.

A path into the dense cloud forest where the sounds and sights of animals delight the Guanacas staff. Credit: Andrea Ferreira.

WLT: Have you ever seen the Antioquia Brushfinch? How would you describe the experience?

Henry: I saw it a while ago; it’s a very beautiful bird, like all birds. It’s not easy to spot; it’s complicated, probably scared of people, and prefers to stay hidden. Birdwatching is always a matter of time, patience, and luck.

Juan: Well, I’ve encountered it several times. It’s a threatened bird, and I’ve seen it spontaneously because in Guanacas the habitat is extensive and it’s a bird that roams in small numbers

A person crouches on the floor of a forest to adjust a camera trap attached to a tree trunk. The forest is covered in leaf litter.

One of the tasks carried out by the staff at Fundación Guanacas is to monitor camera traps throughout the forest for animal activity. Credit: Andrea Ferreira

WLT: Andean cloud forests have been described as the most diverse, fragile and complex cloud forests on Earth. But in Colombia, they have faced significant loss over recent decades. They are also vulnerable to the warming temperatures that come with the climate crisis. What brings you hope for the future of the cloud forests in Guanacas?

Henry: The people that I work with here in Guanacas. Our working group is composed of incredibly dedicated individuals. It’s a wish that my children can be part of the ongoing protection of Guanacas. I’ve already heard them passionately defending the animals of Guanacas, and it’s clear that their commitment to the forests runs deep.

Juan: Let’s see… what gives me hope? I believe that when you start planting trees, it’s like when you have a child; you want to see them grow. The same thing happens to me as an individual, and I would dare to say it happens to all my fellow forest rangers. I think we plant a tree, and the hope is that this tree lives, and everything we do, we do it with love and a lot of dedication to see it grow.

Alba: It excites me to see that change in coverage, from a pasture to a secondary forest; it feels like significant progress. My skin tingles when I see the before and after. It’s incredibly exciting to achieve results and witness all that we’ve accomplished. We all dream of seeing these lands covered in forests.

Four people stand in a plant nursery handling plant pots and talking to eachother.

The plant nursery is a central place of work for Guanacas’ staff and is where the saplings for reforestation activities are cared for. Credit: Andrea Ferreira.

WLT: What motivates you to continue doing this work, day in, day out?

Alba: What motivates me is expanding forest cover, which ensures habitat and food for wildlife, as well as the ecosystem services it provides, like maintaining the water cycle, purifying the air, and conserving the soil. Forest cover can address a multitude of problems, and it’s one of those critically important ecosystem services that can easily go unnoticed due to its intangible nature.

We live in a fast-paced world, and forests offer us tranquillity and peace. Walking through the grass on foot is a simple therapy that helps us disconnect and reconnect. We have these forests here, and even though they’ve been altered, we see the results. I want to keep planting and witnessing restoration, assisting in these processes, and observing how wildlife returns in short periods, hearing the sounds of birds that didn’t have perches before.

Henry: Yes, seeing with my own eyes the patches of forest that I know were once pastures. It fills me with joy when I walk through the mountains and come across a nest, a bird with its chicks, in a place I know used to be a pasture and is now a forest. It makes me feel like I’m taking care of their home, and they appreciate it.

A person manouveres a wheelbarrow through an open grassy path that is bordered with trees.

Credit: Andrea Ferreira

WLT: This place and its wildlife must have much value and importance for the Fundación Guanacas team. How do you see the forest as being important for the neighbouring communities in Antioquia?

Henry: For me, it’s a home where my roots, my childhood, and my youth are. I was born here in Guanacas. My past and my present are here, and I would like my future to be here too. I think there is a lot of benefit for the communities, especially in terms of the value of water and the species that are valuable for the region, Antioquia, Colombia, and even the world. I highly value the waters of Guanacas, and from what I’ve seen and heard, these waters are among the best in the world in terms of their quality and richness. I believe that everything in nature, no matter how small, has its purpose for being there.

By sharing what we have and what we protect, it helps raise awareness among people about being conscious of the privileges nature provides us. I make an effort to share and teach my neighbours about how to manage their farm animals to reduce Puma attacks. Despite the challenges, we’ve noticed a change in many of our farming neighbours, and they now collaborate with the reserve.

Three people are sat on a blue bench in a porch of a building. There are two doors, each either side of the bench and are painted red. The people appear to be discussing a book that one is reading.

Three rangers have a conversation over a bird identification book they are reading. Credit: Andrea Ferreira.

Our Colombia’s Forests of Mist appeal will offer employment to four additional rangers who will add to the efforts to secure a thriving future for the cloud forest and surrounding habitats. Fundación Guanacas urgently need these extra hands to do the groundwork to restore lost forest, and to safeguard wildlife and habitat.

Learn more about the appeal here