Walter Gaona works as a forest guardian in the Copalinga Nature Reserve in southern Ecuador. Rainforest Trust and our local partner Fundación Jocotoco founded Copalinga in 2018, with an ecolodge for tourists already in place. Walter spends much of his time maintaining trails for visitors to enjoy and “learning how life unfolds in the reserve.”
But the more trying aspect of Walter’s role is monitoring the 370-acre property for harmful activities. Rainforest Trust Guardians strive to safeguard the protected areas we help create across the tropics. They are essential in this region of Ecuador, where premontane forests hold the greatest concentration of biodiversity in the country. Logging, mining, agriculture and human settlements threaten the region.
“In a healthy forest, you can find many things, among which I like to find very rare bird nests,” Walter shared. At least 432 bird species have been recorded in Copalinga, along with monkeys, endangered frogs and butterflies. But the illegal wildlife trade threatens animals there, and Walter said the most difficult part of his job is blocking poachers and their dogs from entering the reserve.
But Walter is now armed with more skills in combating illicit activities, along with the authority to take legal action against forest exploiters in Copalinga. In January, Walter attended a two-day training session to become an honorary inspector by the Ecuadorean Ministry of the Environment.
“Being an honorary inspector means that I can act in cases of extraction and/or transport of wild species in the reserve and other places,” Walter said. “After the training, I have legal tools to prevent these activities from happening.” He learned tactics to handle poachers and other threats, and received a license that underpins his work in Copalinga.
Walter shared his appreciation of being recognized for his work to protect the rainforest: “For me it is an honor to have been taken into account in this space. I am also grateful for this designation because I can contribute to taking better care of our ecosystems.”
Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.
Header image: The Vulnerable Military Macaw, found in Copalinga. Photo by Michell Leon.