Friday, April 30, 2010

What They Do For Love

Rony Telemetry

 Rony Garcia, Head Biologist, WCS - working with video nest monitoring equipment. (Scarlet macaw chick on screen in real time in her/her nest and Rony is below nest)

I have not visited the Wildlife Conservation
Society’s project in the Mayan Bioreserve since this time last year.  The biologists  then were organizing their strategies for
studying and managing the dwindling population of Scarlet Macaws and I joined
them for a month sharing what I know about wild parrot nest and chick

Their dedication and focus appears ever more apparent.   I’m
impressed with what they are accomplishing including collaborating with other
agencies to protect the birds, guarding and checking nests regularly, and
continuing with nearly weekly chick exams. 
I shared with one member of this conservation team how wondrous it
was to see what they were doing for this species (and hence, for the whole
forest) and he replied – “We are able to do what we do because of love of the

Melvin,Kinder cooking

Kender and Dr. Melvin Merida frying plaintains for breakfast before a morning full of climbing macaw nests. 

A few days later out on a long ride into the area of
La Corona I was interviewing members of the conservation team for a
ethnoornithology study.  It’s nearly 5
hours each way along a dirt road, hot, muddy, slippery, and with deep gashes in
the surface in some areas.  So they are perhaps
glad of the diversion my questions provide. I know I am because their answers
provoke me into seeing what is happening here as a beautiful, sacred act.  I asked them what they thought and felt when
working with the birds. One member, a climber of parrot nests, said that when
he is up on top of a tree at a macaw nest with the parents flying around him
and the chicks down below being studied by the avian conservation medical team,
he wonders if others love the birds as much as he does

Challo telemetry

Challo Cordova prepared to do a morning's flight of checking location of Guacamayas (macaws) with radio telemetry equipment. 

I think I get what he means.  Seeing these bright beauties, holding them
and touching them, loving them, I scarce can believe that others can feel the
wonder that I do.  If they did, how could
we ever get anything done, being so drunk on flying rainbows. Wouldn’t we all
just wander aimlessly in the forest, looking up into trees, waiting for visions
to confirm that we are whole?  That the
only instructions we need to teach our children is to love? In the words of
Mary Oliver, we are here to love what is mortal, hold it against our breastbone
as if our life depended on it, and when the time comes to let it go, let it go.

Chick with Melvin

Why they do what they do for love - a young Guacamaya 

I am glad to witness this work of WCS, Balaam,
Arcas, White Flight, Conap, the military and a host of others.  It gives me hope that I won’t forget what I have
done for love, and allows me move in the world so I won’t regret what we do for
love, together.

Me with chick

Me, grateful to be sharing this work with the parrots and people of Guatemala 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Teaching and Reaching the World

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Santiago and Tezla teaching and learning bird identification 

There are many teachers
in conservation and environmental justice. During our review of macaw nests in
Honduras we each took our turn teaching one another.  Hector Portillo Reyes, leader in conservation
education in Honduras and of this trip, chose students to accompany us and
taught them as we went from nest to nest.


Hector and Maria Eugenia 

Maria Eugenia Mondragon Hung, professor of
English at Universidad Pedagogica Nacional Francisco Morazan (UPNFM) taught me
Spanish when I got stuck and spent her late evenings teaching and practicing
English with Hector. The people of La Mosquitia, such as Gerzon Sanchez, taught us their language as we
danced between us the trilingual waltz.

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Gerzon and Mary  Eugenia

Hermes Vega, our botantist, taught us about plants, Santiago
and Pascacio taught us about roads and pathways on their lands, I taught about
nest and chick health, and Tomas taught us of pain and loss.  In reality, I suppose we all helped one
another learn of loss through our stories of the relentless habitat destruction
in our lives.  These stories gave us
purpose as we walked through grass and creeks, grazing only the surface into the
beauty that flows with us into the one great ocean of being


Hermes hiking with his plant press

Tegucigalpa I was the “featured” teacher for a talk on avian conservation at
the University and later the presenter for a 2 day symposium at the zoo on
rescue, rehabilitation, and liberation of parrots. In my mind I was the one who
learned the most, such as from the dedicated zoo veterinarian, Dr. Diana
Echeverria.  She shared with me her
veterinary practice among the realities of Honduras politics and
resources.  The zoo workers, the
biologists, the professors, and the students taught me of their precious
passion that urges me on to ever greater admiration of these people, and
greater commitments on my part.

Zoo class

Dr. Diana Escheveria, middle left, with students, biologists, and workers and administrators of the zoo

Behind the human drama,
in fact above, beneath, in front of, and all around flies those that teach us
the most.  Our eyes lift up from our
daily concerns and burdens to see liberating wings as our hope.  For as we liberate those with wings, they
will set us free.

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But we must do our
part, and there is no script for this. 
Currently there are plans to build a Center of Investigation within the
UPNFM that will center on teaching practically in the field among the
indigenous communities as we learn over and over again our place in the family
of things. Another plan is for a research station and parrot  rescue center in the Rus Rus area, initiated by INCEBIOH (Instituto para la Ciencia y la Conservcion de la Biodiversidad en Honduras).  Such a
structure will allow for teaching, research, income for the indigenous people
while they preserve their way of life, and let me be direct here, international
witness and protection by our presence, using our own precious bodies for all
the precious bodies of the world as a shield to reduce harm in the midst of

The people of La
Mosquitia told me that they would give their lives for the beauty of their land,
and their commitment teaches me that I too hear this calling.  I am gathering names for those who wish to
accompany me in the near future on a mission of witness, protection, and peace
in Honduras (email me at Come, take my hand and the hands,
wings, and hearts of others so that we may learn together and in turn teach the
world.  Let us together in our diversity be
bright rainbow shields and witnesses for peace, parrots and people as Seres
Unidos, Beings United

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 Tomas hiking under the protection of a rainbow umbrella

Saturday, April 24, 2010



Weighing wild chicks in La Mosquita - Photo by Hector Portillo Reyes

Being in La Mosquitia,
Honduras one cannot
but help examine the state of one’s inner life and the
state of the world. As biologists, conservationists, and p
eople of the land
(Los Misquitos) much of our time is spent examining the ecology around us which
centers on the Guara (Macaw) nests and chicks. 
We seek to know the health of this species by collecting all the data we
can and then looking at the relationships within the whole.

What we found, with
only a handful of nests active with chicks, is that the chicks are thin, many
of the nests still have eggs (which appears late in the season to those who
know the land), and much human activity around the nests showing how they chop
into the trees to extract the chicks.


Piscacio high in pine tree examining macaw nest with machete/hatchet cuts

We also spent time
learning about the health of the human communities.  What are the forces causing the violent
conflicts and death threats, land stolen, forests leveled, and people and
parrots displaced? The list of causes is long. 
Thinking of the powerful influences here, including international
petroleum extraction companies and narco drug lords, we cannot fathom what stratagies will
best work together to keep parrots and people in their homes, but we can
witness, testify, and stand in solidarity with those who have been  torn from their way of life.


Interviewing Tomas Manzanares under a macaw nest - photo by Hector Portillo Reyes

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Last year´s confiscated birds now permanantely housed at zoo in Tegucigalpa

How exactly does one
stand or fly with other beings as one? 
For my part it comes from examining my own life in relationship to the
whole, in concrete situations such as here in Honduras.  I find my identity and way of life slipping
away into the flow of such beauty and tragedy, and then I listen to the call of
my wild heart, and listen to the call to union with others.   As we
hold one another, and lift one another up on wings of hopes, I hear the
whispered dream and cry to freedom - we are Seres Unidos – Beings United.  Is it such a wild dream to think that we can welcome all beings home to this planet?

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This year´s surviving confiscated birds, babies who will never know a wild home

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sunday Morning Coming Down (from Rus Rus, La Mosqutia, Honduras)


(Scarlet Macaw Flying By A Carribean Pine in La Mosquitia)


On Sunday, April 18, we
came down the long road out of Rus Rus into Puerto Lempira. We had been staying
overnight in the abandoned home of Tomas Manzanares and Alicia Lacuth  for the last several days  as we journeyed out each day to study wild
Scarlet Macaws. 


(Road out of Rus Rus - my feet showing my comfortable position riding in the pick up truck with the soldier)

 Rus Rus is a small
pueblo in the area known as La Mosquitia and has indigenous people, los Misquitos, who have their own language and their own culture.  Their lands and way of life is severely
threatened, as are their very lives. 
Tomas, as the leader of his community, tried to stop some “invaders” from
taking over their land.  These men waited
in ambush for him one day in December, 2009 and he was shot 4 times.  


(Tomas showing me the scars of his 4 bullet wounds) 

Today he has mostly recovered and his biggest
regret seems to be that his camera was broken during the shooting.  Against advice, Tomas journeyed with us back
to his town of Rus Rus, where most of the people had to flee for fear of their
lives after the incident with Tomas.  He
told me, as did several of the Misquitos, that they are willing to risk their
lives to keep their wondrous pine savannah and forests from further
destruction, and to protect their Guara Rojas (Scarlet Macaws). But already the
rivers are beginning to dry up and most macaw nests that we saw have evidence
of chicks being poached.

Half way back to Puerto
Lempira we stopped at the army base to return the soldiers we had hired to
protect us while we researched macaws. 
There the commander of the base gathered his men and then I was invited
to give a talk to the soliders.  Before I
began, a prayer was said, asking God to help the men listen to me so that we
could all work together for the people and the parrots.  With such honor and respect, offered to me, I
thought that I could only return the same to them.   I told them  of how I had been moved by their people, the
Misquitos, who had courage, strength, passion, and heart to love their land and
to protect it.  I told them of the power
they had in their relationship with the land and with each other.  I told them that it would take everything
they’ve got to keep their land and Guaras from being “ desaparecidos” (disappeared).
I then asked them how I could stand in solidarity with them and what they might
say to the world. One solider stood up and told you, my one wild and precious world,
to help them do what they must do to keep their land safe, and to keep it


(Talking with the Soldiers at the Base) 

Though I was not back
in my home congregation on this Sunday morning, I got to preach and in turn, am
being saved by the gathered. My deepest thanks to these Hondurans who are
helping me savor and save the world.



(Field Research Group Showing Their "Fly Free" Macaw Wrist Bands) 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Compassionate Conservation in Central America


 (Yellow-naped Parrot)

Studies confirm that caregivers play host to
a high level of compassion fatigue. Day in, day out, workers struggle to
function in care giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching,
emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital
to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not
impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of
society's flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail,
takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers.
Eventually, negative attitudes prevail.

Compassion Fatigue symptoms are normal
displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do.
Leading traumatologist Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to
care giving often enter the field already compassion fatigued. A strong
identification with helpless, suffering, or traumatized people or animals is
possibly the motive. It is common for such people to hail from a tradition of
what Gentry labels: other-directed care giving. Simply put, these are people
who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring
for their own needs. Authentic, ongoing self-care practices are absent from
their lives. (more on Compassion Fatigue)


recognizable in others and perhaps ourselves, Compassion Fatigue surfaces
repeatedly in conservation.   By experiencing compassion, that is, deep awareness of the
suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it, conservation team
members may find themselves unable to contribute and communicate as efficiently
and with as much satisfaction as they would like. By combining compassion and
communication as an intentional practice tool in conservation medicine, and
drawing heavy on social and emotional intelligence,
our medical
kit becomes like Mary Poppin's magical bag, a seemingly endless reservoir of
methods to attend to the multiple beings in our circles of care, including


I will be leaving
soon for Honduras and Guatemala on a Compassionate Conservation trip.  My back bedroom is strewn with gear of all
kinds to comprise my field kit for studying and supporting conservation
projects in Central America.  The projects
in which I will be partaking are:


Lecturing at
University in Tegucigalpa

Lecturing and
consulting at Tegucigalpa Metropolitan Zoo

Consulting, pilot study
and  survey of wild psittacine chicks in
La Moskitia, Honduras

Consulting wild
psittacine conservation, El Petén Guatemala

Lecturing at
University of San Carlos, Guatemala

Ecology Study

regarding the lives of people and parrots in Central America


I go as an independent
consultant, Director of Lafeber Conservation (thank you very much for the
grants Lafeber Company!), and as myself. 
Having experienced the burn out and overwhelming challenges of front
line conservation in Guatemala, I know how important it is to have
support.  I have worked hard over the
last decade acquiring the social and emotional intelligence skills necessary
for conservation, lightening my load by letting go of some unnecessary baggage.
So though my current toolkit is packed full of medicines, cameras, and outdoor equipment,
probably the most important tools I can bring are those that deal with the
human dimensions of conservation and wildlife management.  These I carry in my heart and mind (thank
goodness as the airlines won't charge me for extra baggage!).


I will do my best
to text/twitter from the field, so come here for updates (either as an update
or as a twitter entry on the sidebar).


In compassionate