Colombian and Congolese wildlife guardians were ambushed
RONCESVALLES, Colombia; VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, Democratic Republic of Congo––Simultaneous sad reminders of the human cost of wildlife conservation came on January 10, 2021 from the Reserva Loros Andinos in southwestern Colombia and Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Reserva Loros Andinos and Virunga National Park occupy comparably embattled regions of mountainous equatorial cloud forest in South America and central Africa.
Both the Reserva Loros Andinos and Virunga National Park have been recognized as habitats of unique conservation value for more than 100 years. While Virunga has been a protected region at least on paper since 1925, however, simultaneous efforts to document and preserve the parrot habitat now within the Reserva Loros Andinos disintegrated during the Great Depression and did not resume for approximately 70 years.
(See When parrot “conservation” consisted chiefly of shooting them.)
Gonzalo Cardona Molina
The Reserva Loros Andinos confirmed the murder of Gonzalo Cardona Molina, 55, by unidentified criminals believed to be either cocaine growers and traffickers, wildlife poachers and traffickers, and/or would-be revolutionaries.
Nicknamed “Gonza,” Gonzalo Cardona Molina was the first forest guard hired by the Fundación ProAves. He was assigned to protecting yellow-eared parrots soon after the species, believed to have been extinct, was rediscovered in April 1999 after a year-long search by a team jointly funded by the American Bird Conservancy and Fundación Loro Parque.
The team found 81 individual parrots in the cloud forests of the Andes near Roncesvalles, Colombia, not far from where Gonzalo Cardona Molina grew up on a farm near the village of Tolima.
A place of last stands
The community, ironically, is named for the place in the Pyranees region of Spain where in the year 778 the Frankish folk hero Roland made a heroic last stand to save the emperor Charlemagne’s retreating army from a Basque ambush.
When the Reserva Loros Andinos, headquartered in Roncesvalles, was dedicated in 2009, Gonzalo Cardona Molina was promoted to conservation director. The reserve is the hub of an 18,000-acre Threatened Parrot Corridor that spans both slopes of the Central Andes, funded by ProAves Colombia, Fundación Loro Parque, the American Bird Conservancy, the Rainforest Trust, and Chicago philanthropist Frank Friedrich Kling, who bought more than half of the land involved.
Gonzalo Cardona Molina was reported dead two days after he was reported missing, having last been seen near the village of La Unión, in Valle del Cauca county.
He had completed a national census of yellow-eared and Fuertes’ indigo-winged parrots in December 2020, Fundación ProAves said, documenting the existence of 2,895 yellow-eared parrots, reportedly the most seen since the early 20th century. Historically yellow-eared parrots also ranged into northern Ecuador, but were poached out decades ago by trappers serving the exotic pet trade.
Gonzalo Cardona Molina and fellow forest guards and researchers frequently encountered “life-threatening situations” from the armed factions in the vicinity, but had nonetheless been so successful in promoting parrot conservation that the yellow-eared parrot was downlisted from “critically endangered” status to merely “endangered” in 2010 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Some of the success in conserving yellow-eared parrots was accomplished by public relations activities, including a brightly painted “parrot bus,” described by Forbes as “a mobile classroom that visits hundreds of schools around the country,” reportedly reaching more than 150,000 children.
As important, Gonzalo Cardona Molina and team learned that yellow-eared parrots feed chiefly on the fruits of Quindio wax palms, designated the national tree of Colombia in 1985.
Gonzalo Cardona Molina was reportedly among about 350 field biologists and forest guests killed by armed factions in Colombia in 2020 alone.
Six rangers massacred in Virunga
Approximately 7,000 miles straight east along the equator, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 10, 2021 confirmed the deaths of six park rangers.
The six, and a seventh ranger who was wounded but survived, were shot in an early-morning ambush attack by one or another of the armed guerrilla factions haunting Virunga since 1994, when Hutu militia members fled into the park from neighboring Rwanda after massacring about 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribal faction, along with Hutu moderates.
The seven rangers were “on foot patrol inside the park,” according to the Virunga National Park web site, “near Kabuendo, in the central sector, between the villages of Nyamilima and Niamitwitwi.
“No opportunity to defend themselves”
“Preliminary investigations indicate that the rangers were taken by surprise and had no opportunity to defend themselves,” the Virunga National Park announcement said.
The dead rangers included Surumwe Burhani Abdou, 30; Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda, 25; Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa, 27; Eric Kibanja Bashekere, 28; Innocent Paluku Budoyi, 28; and Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro, 27.
They were the first Virunga National Park ranger deaths of 2021, following the murders of 14 rangers in 2020. More than 200 rangers are believed to have been killed in Virunga National Park during the past decade, from a ranger force currently numbering 689.
Anthony Marr says
Given the savagery unleashed within America by the ex-so-called-president, it is not impossible, not unlikely even, that such murderous violence could be unleashed against front line activists across the nation. Don’t say it can’t happen. In the anti-hunting movement, for example, both Steve Hindi and Anthony Marr (me) have been physically assaulted (google). It could be worse, much worse. Not for the faint-hearted. But somebody has to do it. Take some Gung Fu.
Terry Coakley says
Keep up the fight. Safari Club International must be STOPPED. Trophy hunting and Traditional Chinese Medicine must be ABOLISHED.
Merritt Clifton says
Terry Coakley probably means that the use of animal parts in Traditional Chinese Medicine must be abolished. Most Traditional Chinese Medicine is herbal, much is vegan, and very little actually involves harm to animals. Unfortunately, the small part that does involve harm to animals has had a grossly disproportionate effect on wildlife worldwide.
Anthony Marrwww. says
I share your sentiment about trophy hunting 100%, as well as use of animal products in Traditional Chinese Medicine, especially those of endangered species. For those who know nothing about TCM, it has a history of over 4,500 years, and was vegan until maybe 500 years ago. It has cataloged over 3,000 species of PLANTS, and invented thousand of combinations of them for treating specific ailments. Its principle, however, is more prevention than cure. I was brought up in a traditional Chinese family and was treated with Chinese herbs as a child. I’m 76 now and of good health. In some ways, I much prefer it than big Pharma.
Diane Randolph says
This story is unbelievably sad.
Susan Libby says
I would like to donate to any funds that are set up for the families of these murdered eco warriors. At least for any young man or woman thinking about taking such a job, they could rest assured that their families would be taken care of.
Merritt Clifton says
Such an organization is the British-based Fallen Rangers Fund, https://virunga.org/support-us/donate/fallen-rangers-fund/?fbclid=IwAR2wzxwbnJIJlnUFfPFRvUoUbPsw2yJil7iPFdMh1OwjYSv9LY7-EJvKsH4#:~:text=After%20the%20tragic%20loss%20of,full%20salary%20to%20his%20widow.
Explains the Fallen Rangers Fund web page, “After the tragic loss of a Ranger, a private fund is immediately established to garner support from our community and all donations towards that fund are given directly to the Ranger’s widow.
For six months after the Ranger’s death, the Park continues to pay the Ranger’s full salary to his widow. After six months, the widow receives a pension to provide additional support as the family adjusts to their new way of life. Widows and their children receive free medical services and schooling which are provided through Park facilities.”