Our conservation team just came out of the field after two weeks in the Concepcion and Amambay states of Paraguay. One minute we are on a bone jarring dirt road, and the next we are standing next to pavement catching a red-eye bus to the capital city, Asuncion.
On that 7 hour cold and dark ride, I thought of all the ranches we had visited. They began to blur together, some with lots of parrots, others with almost none, some a bit boring, and one that kept us especially alert.
We didn’t know until we got there that the ranch administrator had been tied up and robbed, and the main office of the ranch had been robbed just last week - both during the day. Also, a security guard had been killed just 7 months ago here.
The ranch's roads were full of beauty, and well as stories of hardship we shared about when harm had come to us working and living in Latin America
The workers were anxious, and so we had to pay attention to our plans. Because of this, and the recent violence, we could not move around as much as we wanted. We thought it best to hide our money and identification. I then told the volunteer that if she saw armed men coming our way, to take out the camera memory chips so we could at least save the pictures of the of the illegal deforestation, and of course, of the beautiful birds. We stayed long enough for two bird counts, and although we left this ranch, we stayed in the area one more day.
Illegal deforestation (photo taken quickly so as to not attract attention)
My companions think I was a bit of a target, but we were moving fast enough that the nefarious elements couldn’t track our position or plan anything. I don’t know if it helps that our chauffeur was armed. He put his hand on his pistol several times as we drove into the local town after we left this area. There were lights on the road ahead and as he slowed down we all peered intently to discern what the lights meant. Were they the guerrillas that visited the same ranch we camped out only 2 weeks earlier, or could they be narcos or bandits? The reality of what most of the lights was almost as bad. They didn’t mean violence for us, but for life. The lights were from logging trucks, my companions suggesting that supposedly they moved at night to diminish attracting attention to illegal logging.
Logging truck on ranch roads during the day (photo taken quickly through windshield so as to not attract attention)
I don't think conservation in this part of Paraguay is any more dangerous than parts of New York City near where I live, or what my son went through in Charlotte, North Carolina as a police officer last week. The people there are protesting against systemic violence and oppression, and that is what we are also doing in parrot conservation. We show up to witness and to love, seeking to defy the assumption that it is okay to live this way where violence is the norm. It is not acceptable that people have to carry guns to be safe, and live in fear, or that parrots are torn from the wild, threatening their species existence on the planet and causing individual parrots to wallow in inadequate captive situations. In areas where parrots are hurting, so are the people, and from the same root causes. If we can help the parrots, we help the people, and if we can cherish the people so that they can flourish, so will the parrots.
Testing my bed out for the night - it will be a cold one!
Parrot conservation can be risky, but mostly the possible harm to conservationists is not of the physical kind, except as it plays out as hot, long days, and cold nights. It is about braving the constant heartache, and forgetting the beauty that flies in the midst of such tragedy and loss. The real danger is in giving up, or turning off so as to escape the reality and the pain. This too is not acceptable. Testimony must be given. Life must be guarded. That is why we do parrot conservation. (and of course we do it for the birds and the privilege to see them flying free).
Hyacinth macaw seen during our two weeks in the field (photo taken quickly because, well, she was flying fast!)