What’s it like to protect a rare and deadly creature?

Meet the man responsible for safeguarding one of the world’s most poisonous species

Q&A interview: Venancio Flórez López

  • Job title: Reserve ranger
  • Organisation: Fundación ProAves
  • Location: Timbiquí, western Colombia
  • Reserve name: Rana Terribilis
  • Species at risk: The Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis)
  • Classified: Endangered

Ranger Venancio entering the Rana Terribilis Reserve in search of the Golden Poison Frog

What do people here think about protecting the Golden Poison Frog?

“This is the first reserve that has been created by raising awareness within communities. Today, the people are enthusiastic and have a high esteem for conservation. We raise awareness to explain how conservation is vital for the communities’ survival.”

How is community work helping protect the Endangered species?

“ProAves’ work is supporting the communities by imparting information in schools and communities. We have been doing social work with adults too; they like to hunt and we have told them that it isn’t good, that it is prohibited in this area because we are conserving it. Since we started working here there has been no more deforestation and you don’t find hunters within the reserve.”

What more can be done?

Women wash clothes in the Timbiquí River, opposite the Rana Terribilis Reserve. The rivers in the region are being polluted by illegal gold mining

“We need to reach more people. When you visit other communities, you see that people are doing the same thing as they always have: they are still cutting down trees and hunting animals. So we need to find a way to run a campaign like the one that conserves the terribilis frog [Golden Poison Frog]. I would like to raise awareness in other communities so that they also conserve animals; to protect the different species that we have had for many years and that are now in danger of extinction.”

How long have you been working with local communities here?

“From a very young age, I have liked community social work. In 1984, I began working in the parish as a catechist and from that day forward I have dedicated myself to community social work. But thanks to ProAves I am now earning a proper salary; I need to thank the institution for my knowledge as well as my work, which I have relied on so much. It’s not so much that I’m earning a salary, but more about the love I have for my work.”

What’s the hardest part of your job?

“The worst part of my job is that there is always the fear of rebel groups around the reserve. While the army [who are camped-out at the entrance of reserve] doesn’t understand that I’m here to protect the frog, making it difficult to move around freely within the reserve.”
[The military, at the time of the interview in April 2013, were monitoring the movement of people as an attempt to increase security within the region that, over the years, has been plagued by armed-conflict.]

Chocó Rainforest is a biodiversity hotspot supporting the single greatest concentration of endemic birds, amphibians and orchids on the planet. Despite this, it is being destroyed by illegal gold mining and coca cultivation to produce cocaine

Has the forest in this region changed over the years?

“I would like the forest to return to what it was like when I was a boy, when I would come here a lot with my father. My father would take us to get to know the flora and fauna, the animals – we were delighted to see the animals. Today, I would like to see those same species but they are no longer here. I wish they were respected and that man treat them like before. But as the community grew bigger and spread out, they began to treat the animals badly, as well as the environment. Because of this you don’t find the puma here anymore, you don’t see the monkeys, you don’t find the jaguar anymore, and you don’t find the bears or the sloths. Man has not behaved in order to conserve but instead to drive nature to extinction and feed himself. Today there are international organisations that come here to the community and give us knowledge about how to conserve species. This gives us the support to teach conservation to the new generations.”

What are the threats facing the Chocó Rainforest in the region?

“Gold miners will be in Timbiquí tomorrow if the government doesn’t come to an agreement. I would like that the national government – since they say things like ‘we must conserve the Earth and species’ – I would like that they try to support communities more, try to support municipal governments and raise awareness in communities with something viable.”

Venancio’s message is simple and clear: “If we conserve it, there will be more life.”

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