Our most senior reserve guard, Jesus Recalde, has just retired. He worked with us for twelve years, almost since our inception, and has helped guide our evolution and growth with his gentle wisdom. Jesus’s place will be taken by his only son, Darwin Recalde.
Jesus first came to my attention through his signs. Long before Fundacion Ecominga existed, I encountered these signs during my botanical explorations in the area which is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. One of the signs, in the middle of this fairly remote forest, said “No cazar los aves” (“Don’t hunt the birds”), an unusual sentiment at a time when every kid in rural areas carried a slingshot to kill birds. Years later I learned that Jesus was the author of these signs, and that he had even planted a quarter-hectare plot with flowers and fruits that attracted birds, instead of with human crops. Around here nobody does that. This was an unusual man.
The first reserve guard we hired, Abdon Recalde, was Jesus’ brother and was also an exceptionally sensitive and honest man. It was through him that I came to know Jesus. At the time, the country was in an economic crisis, and Jesus and his family were desperate. Like many Ecuadorians, he was considering moving to Spain to find work so he could send money home to support his family. His young daughter Diana made him rethink that plan when she asked him point-blank how he could abandon her for money… So he and his wife Piedad found my house in Banos and asked if he could be a second guard for our growing reserves. I was nervous about being able to find donations for his salary, but we took the risk and hired him.
Soon he made me feel like part of family. At various times his daughter Diana, his son Darwin, his daughter Rosa’s husband Israel, and David the son-in-law of Abdon also joined our team for brief periods, as did his other brothers Fausto and Luis more permanently (Luis, an expert woodsman and brilliant photographer, retired a few years ago to be replaced by Fausto’s stepson Jordy, also an exceptional photographer). This extended family’s personal qualities — curiosity, intelligence, and integrity — were the key to the success of our foundation; we did not have to micro-manage them but rather we worked as a team of equals, co-managing the reserves, parts of which we bought from them (including Jesus’ quarter-hectare bird plot). Every visitor who interacted with them came away impressed. Today our “Team Recalde” is famous among Ecuadorian biologists, and they are frequently asked to help out in field research.
Curiously, Jesus and his brothers were originally voracious hunters when they were younger, until the day that Jesus shot a mother monkey with a baby. As the mother died in front of him, she looked at him with a face so full of pain that it could be understood across species. Jesus was shaken to his core; this was his conversion experience, and he never again killed anything. He planted his bird plot as repentance, and vowed to live the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for the damage he had caused in his youth.
He became a leader of his community, and was elected its president. In this position he helped his community develop an ecological conscience, and worked to integrate the community with our conservation work.
He was an energetic guard, but one day when crossing a road in Banos he was hit by a fast police motorcycle clearing a parade route. Initially there was some doubt whether he would ever walk again, but we helped him get an aluminum stud to join parts of his shattered leg bone, and eventually he recovered enough to resume his life. He worked for many years after the accident, but this year he began to feel that he couldn’t keep up with the younger guards, so he asked to retire.