Last week the Explorers Club chose our hard-working Executive Director Javier Robayo as one of the 50 most important new voices for the earth. He is one of only five South American conservationists to be recognised by this award this year. Javier’s nominator, Callie Broaddus of “Reserva: Youth Land Trust” (herself a winner of this award), wrote the following about Javier’s award:
“Robayo is the executive director of Fundación EcoMinga, a nonprofit which maintains over 27,000 acres of protected areas in Ecuador’s Chocó and Tropical Andes. As a biologist and educator, he has led more than 200 research and teaching expeditions in Ecuador. His extensive, collaborative field work has led to the discovery of more than 10 species of orchids, a new genus containing two species of rodents, and a new genus of frog, and five other species of amphibians. He shows respect and love for the earth by helping his park rangers and young researchers recognize and protect species in this biodiversity hotspot. Robayo’s work focuses on highlighting biodiversity to prevent the deforestation of these irreplaceable forests, which are severely threatened by agricultural deforestation and mining exploration.”
(See more of her article here.)
Javier explains his own work:
“Our mountains are full of endemic species and expressions of biodiversity in shapes and sizes never imagined, and exploration is endless. The petals, scales, feathers and sounds that fill our forests teach us about degrading habitats and their absence gives meaning to silence. My work involves creating private protected areas that provide habitat to Ecuador’s most threatened species, safeguarding areas of high biodiversity, and protecting clean water sources for the benefit of both wildlife and people. My commitment is to motivate local and indigenous people to join in scientific exploration and synchronize local mythology with natural history as we work together for the preservation of Ecuador’s biodiversity. My work in cloud forest conservation requires a constant exploration mindset. By leading fieldwork expeditions, I explore lands that are not yet studied, often uncovering completely new species. I also explore ways to engage local people in the value of scientific studies and how to employ them in conser-vation work on their ancestral lands. Our work can be stronger when we invite help from youth scientists and storytellers. Historically, conservation has been unsuccessful in areas where protectors of the forest were blind to the needs of the community. As much as we explore the land in a traditional sense, we must explore our community. We have the responsibility to take care of the forest while also bringing together funders, experts, young Ecuadorian researchers, lawyers, communicators, community members, and scientists in the country’s most remote places. By expanding the network of people who explore the forests together, we expand the definition of exploration itself.”
I first met Javier in the late 1990s after I gave a lecture at the university where he was a student. Later I got to know him better in his job as the tireless administrator of Fundacion Jocotoco’s southrn reserves in Ecuador. That foundation is focused on bird conservation, but Javier and I and one of the foundation’s trustees, Nigel Simpson, would explore the reserves to find interesting plants and sometimes discover new species. Javier not only loved plants but also knew how to deal with people in difficult situations; I particularly remember his bravery and success in confronting potentially dangerous squatters in the Rio Guajalito Reserve and convincing them to leave. Javier took his responsibilities very seriously and spent much oif his time racing hundreds of miles between reserves to stay on top of things throughout southern Ecuador.
Eventually Fundacion EcoMinga was founded, and when it grew large enough to require a dedicated administrator, I thought of Javier as the perfect person for the job. He accepted my invitation and left Fundacion Jocotoco. SInce then he has worked with amazing energy, and still spends much of his time racing around Ecuador to stay on top of the situations in each of our reserves. This is a grueling life that is difficult to sustain. A few days ago Javier was in a car accident on his way to the Dracula Reserve, brought on by exhaustion. He received minor injuries. As he and our other staff continue to work to exhaustion, we hope to eventually grow our staff and delegate some of the work, but people like Javier are difficult to find.
Our partner the World Land Trust recognizes Javier’s award here.
Our partner Rainforest Trust had made Javier a conservation fellow a few years ago and made this video of him:
Congratulations Javier, and I hope to have the honor of working with you for many more years.
Lou Jost, President, Fundacon EcoMinga