In a dark hour between January 8 and 10, 2021, the leader of the environmental protection community, Gonzalo Cardona Molina, was killed in the Colombian Valle del Cauca. Gonzalo devoted the last 23 years of his life to protecting the yellow-headed parrot, a miraculous bird that was critically endangered. (It has already been eradicated or locally extinct in neighboring Ecuador.)
Colombia has gotten a little safer since the terrible days of the Narcos. It has become a more popular bird watching destination. It could be the greatest bird watching destination in the world because of its habitat and number of species.
Still, according to Global Witness, the South American nation is still the most dangerous place in the world to stand up for the environment.
In 2019, 64 park rangers and others who work to protect and preserve nature were killed. There is an ongoing conflict between remnants of the FARC, which signed a nominal peace treaty with the government, the country’s official armed forces and other militarized groups in 2016.
Yellow-headed parrot in Colombia. Photo by Francesco Veronesi / Wikimedia Commons
“Gonza” (as his many friends called him) Cardona bravely stepped into this chaos. He had been a farmer; He had no particular reason to protect an endangered species. He could have gone on with his life as many of his Colombians do every day. But he insisted.
When Gonzalo started counting the yellow-headed parrots in 1998, there were only about 80 left in Colombia. Through his efforts – including tree planting, habitat protection, and education programs – and those of Fundación ProAves, the number rose to more than 2,800 (35 times more than 1998) when he completed his last census in December 2020.
According to the census, on January 8th Gonzalo was taken to Roncevalles, a mountain town at 2,400 meters above sea level. His birthplace, Roncevalles, is a city occupied by armed forces whose citizens were terrorized and killed. A place where you can step easily.
There is a road between Barragán and Roncesvalles. A lonely street and a restricted area after 6 p.m. “Everyone knows,” said the local newspapers. FARC robberies, armed bandits and others don’t like it when “their” territory is compromised after dark. Gonzalo got on his motorcycle and, after completing the census, headed home for a well-deserved break.
He never made it.
A few days later, after his disappearance was reported, Gonzalo’s wife received a call from the perpetrators who shot and killed him. You can stop looking. You can find his body here. His body was found covered with sticks and dirt, with two bullets in his chest.
Gonzalo Cardona died defending a species of parrot that would otherwise have disappeared forever. He never asked why he did it. It just had to be done.
Gonza gave hope to the people. It made the Colombians proud of their natural treasures, just as the adventurous Expedicion BIO team from the Humboldt Institute recaptured this heritage and gave the country a path towards nature conservation and ecotourism. Gonzalo lives on in the work of Fundación ProAves across Colombia and during the annual Yellow-eared Parrot Festival in Roncevalles near his death.
“Colombia has not just lost a precious life,” said ProAves. “Colombia has lost a champion for nature and our beloved yellow-headed parrots have lost their father and savior.”
Rest in peace.
The extended reserve protects the warbler wintering area in Colombia
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