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viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2012

Year of Para La Tierra

This blog is long overdue. The staff and volunteers have written an impressive total of 25 blogs in 2012, while this will be my first. My name is Karina Atkinson, the founder and director of Para La Tierra and this seems like a good time to share this year’s successes with you. First of all though I want to thank everyone who was involved in the program this year; volunteers, interns, researchers, visitors, staff and supporters. You all know who you are, and without you none of this would have been possible. Last weekend I did something unheard of – I volunteered to play in a game of women’s football. My teammates were Fatima and Nidia, local girls who are currently working at the reserve, and another two girls who I’ll admit I don’t know the names of. We came to a draw in the match, and went to penalties. The final shot came down to me – win or lose. I shot the ball straight into the centre of the goal, where it rolled easily into the goalies legs. The home team whom we were playing against jumped and cheered so much at my loss that it was almost as if I had won. It was a nice feeling! Working in the community is a part of my daily role as project coordinator onsite at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca. In March we taught 200 five-ten year olds what a reserve was; in April we joined a school close to the reserve with a school in Scotland in a pen-pal program so that they could learn about the reserve together; in July we showed 40 eight-eleven year olds what animals live in the reserve and in October they learned all about the benefits of bats to the environment; then in November we gave lectures in the local high school and invited groups of students to take part in two day internships at the reserve. All of these activities brought us closer to the communities surrounding Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, but none quite like losing a game of football. In addition to our work with local communities, our reach stretched as far as Asuncion this year. A group of 17 students from the CCPA who are learning English joined us to complete a two day field course run by Jonny Miller, leader of the primate project in 2012. To see the video the students made of their experience and other photos from this year, have a look at our facebook page. Apart from community outreach, the main aim of Para La Tierra is to conduct scientific research which contributes to the justification for the protection of the reserve. The more data we can publish proving why the reserve is so special, the more attention it will get and the better the chance we have to save it and other habitats like it. One of the things I love most about my job is that on any given day, a new species previously unknown in the reserve, the region or even in the whole of Paraguay could be discovered. With any luck we may someday discover some that are new to science! It’s all out there waiting for the explorer who pays the most attention to detail. Thanks to a grant from Lush Charity Pot North America at the end of 2011, we were able to purchase a vast range of scientific equipment to help build on our ongoing inventory of the reserve. Consequently, we have published two scientific papers this year in international journals with a further six in preparation and press. The camera traps bought through the funding opened the door to discover the wildlife that creeps in the night, and the mammals we didn’t know were living along-side us, including little spotted cats, tamanduas and tayras. Other equipment allowed us to produce maps, catch snakes, lizards and frogs and find out what species of bats are flying high above us. A total of 16 interns joined us in 2012, each one conducting his or her own project. Studies included an investigation into the structure of burrow systems in the cerrado, the use of blue and red tail colouration in teiid lizards, vertical stratification of opossums in different habitats and the spacial distribution of bats within the reserve. We also hosted 32 volunteers who took part in all of PLT’s projects including the butterfly inventory, primate project and bird morphology programs. Volunteers and interns travelled to us from as close as Asuncion and as far away as Australia, then everywhere in between. The volunteers and interns are what keep us going and able to do our work for fragile habitats in Paraguay and for the people who live close to them. 2012 has also been the year of Rolex. In November, following a long application process, I travelled to New Delhi, India to be announced as a Rolex Awards for Enterprise Young Laureate. Pitched against 3500 other projects worldwide, myself and four others undertaking projects in India, Mexico and Afghanistan were awarded funding for our organisations, worldwide press coverage for our projects and inclusion into a network of extraordinary people doing exceptional things around the globe. The funding we received will allow PLT to grow into a model conservation organisation in Paraguay through a sustainable community project, the employment of two forest guards, the construction of a museum and visitor centre and the purchase of equipment to continue our work. The project will take place over the next two years, but already we have made significant progress. Chicken houses have been built in each of three communities closest to the reserve. In October we stocked each one with chicks, food, medicines, incubators and grinders and provided the women of the community with support to grow and sell their product. As the year comes to an end the last of the first batch of chickens will be sold to those who will eat chicken for New Years dinner and the councils of women will have raised enough money to begin the cycle again, hopefully with a little left over to pay themselves. The idea is that with time and practice, they will be able to grow and sell chickens every month, gaining an income at the same time. Two forest guards have been rehired after a year without funding. Jorge and Concepcion will now continue to patrol the reserve, maintain the trails and help to make the reserve altogether more accessible so that visitors can enjoy all it has to offer. They also double up as education and outreach specialists, acting as our link to the neighbouring population who speak mostly in Guarani, the local dialect. With their help we have been able to develop new education programs, reach farther into the community and learn new skills essential to reserve management. You can read more about the project at Today I received a visitor. It was a young girl delivering an invitation to come and play football this Saturday to raise money for her school. Whether they enjoy our company or think they’d like to beat us again is irrelevant. We are now an accepted part of the community surrounding Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca and we are here to stay. I hope that 2013 brings PLT as much success as 2012 and the same to everyone else in the coming year. We are looking towards the 2013 with the intention of expanding the scope and depth of our scientific projects, including more schools in our education program while introducing a wider variety of environmental topics, plus playing football on the weekends of course. If you are thinking of volunteering this year, think of us. We promise a varied experience with plenty of cultural twists. For more information check the website at, or contact me directly at Happy New Year everyone! Karina

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