Article published on “Formidable Woman Magazine” by celebrity writer “Jules Lavallee“
FWM: Senda Verde wildlife refuge in Bolivia has inspired and educated its citizens since 2003. Tell us about Senda Verde and your progress.
Senda Verde (SV) is a nonprofit animal sanctuary that exists to save and shelter wild animals rescued from illegal trafficking, cruelty, and suffering, and inspire people to appreciate and take of nature.
In a country where government, authorities and decision-makers move too slowly, and where the citizens need to be inspired and educated in the value of the living forest, my husband and I knew it was urgent and necessary to contribute to the conservation of flora and fauna by taking hands-on actions.
I am very proud of the incredible work that has been accomplished in a short period of time. We have looked after hundreds of innocent wild animals, victims of unspeakable cruelty, by giving them a second chance, and we have heartened them to become strong part of our lives. Nowadays they are my teachers and healers.
The biggest evidence of SV’s huge achievements to date is the ability to cope with and to take care of the enormous influx of animals in the last 10 years. SV is recognized for its high standards of wildlife care, transparency, governance, innovation, collaboration, integrity, and commitment. Although in need of continued support, we have more than 800 safe, healthy, and happy animals in our care that genuinely faced death and were destined to live as pets. These animals range over 64 species and many of them are vulnerable to extinction in the wild.
With a commitment to education, Senda Verde receives thousands of visitors, mostly students to whom we inform about the value of the natural world and how they can help. Awareness can be converted into action with positive benefits for wildlife and the planet. We work closely with schools and universities’ environmental programs.
FWM: Senda Verde is an animal refuge and conservation area. What are some of the initiatives you are working on?
Protection of existing nature is just not enough. There is a greater need to drive forward and scale-up practical actions to save wildlife, to save ourselves.
We have taken a progressive approach to conservation within our property and surrounding areas, letting natural processes to enhance and reshape our land, restore degraded old agricultural landscapes, and repair damaged rivers. Through rewilding, nature’s own ways have created richer, and diverse biodiversity.
The aim is to protect areas, letting nature take care of itself. Naturally functioning ecosystems are better at providing us with clean air and water. When nature is healthy, we are healthier too.
Currently, we are working in three conservation initiatives:
We are building two big domes to house different species of native butterflies; whose natural habitat is under threat. The Bolivian Yungas is home to over 2,000 butterfly species, one of the highest concentrations in the world. Butterfly Sky will be home to over 300 butterflies from 40 species.
With so many animals, SV needs to expand, more adjacent land becomes fundamental. Forest conservation and CO2 compensation will also be gained. The big challenge is to buy contiguous land to our property to: a) extend areas for rescued animals and b) preserve such forest so it becomes a lush green patch which can be visited by native wild species, throughout the year.
At SV, we feel that we have a moral obligation to contribute to the conservation of habitats and biodiversity in the interests of society and animals themselves.
As part of our holistic approach towards conservation we preserve the forest and existing wild animals within our property and nearby areas. Hundreds of different trees are planted yearly, contributing to the surrounding nearby flora and fauna. These forest incubators ensure something would survive if the existent vegetation became unsuitable in a changed climate. And hope, too.
FWM: What are the key challenges today?
At Senda Verde, we feel a deep sense of pain about all the harm that is being done to Bolivia’s and the world’s wilderness, but we’ve taken that emotional pain and turned it into constructive approaches and actions.
SV operates in a country of accelerating environmental threats and biodiversity reduction. In the last fifteen years, illegal animal trafficking, deforestation, overexploitation of natural resources, expansion of farmland, destruction of ecosystems, and overall ecological degradation have all drastically increased in Bolivia. The value and vulnerability of species and the natural diversity of Bolivia have been poorly appreciated, and are not perceived as a priority by the general public.
Underlying everything is the continuing essential fact that there is a lack of concern about conservation and environmental sustainability; care and control entities and wildlife protection agencies nationwide are weak and there is the absence of a defined education policy and wildlife strategic plan. At SV we are working directly against these realities and know that our mission is imperative for the healthy future of Bolivia.
Today the critical role of SV is more important than ever. We are in a unique position to provide for those we keep, while contributing to wildlife conservation in a genuinely integrated way.
Of course, the present pandemic is changing planet Earth in ways we could never imagine, and the innocent animals in our care are sadly suffering too. We have a huge challenge ahead.
Our animal care staff are pushed to their limits and yet still more animals arrive needing our help. Our veterinary supplies are diminishing and our food provisions are becoming scarcer, our needs and necessities are growing more desperate every day.
We are relaying on gifts and donations. All funds raised go directly to our animals, ensuring they are given treatment when sick, fed nutritious food, kept warm, comfortable and healthy. They will also help us prepare for the rescues to come, ensuring we can keep running our rehabilitation programs on behalf of those in desperate need.
Each and every donation goes a long way to ensure that we can continue to offer the support we need for our animals and help us fulfill our mission to give rescued animals a life truly worth living.
This global crisis allows an opportunity for us humans to re-think our actions to future benefit the planet and re-start “for a new beginning.” Let this give us hope.
FWM: How are you teaching children and women how to help nature, from wherever they are?
Education remains at SV’s core. Through education programs, we inspire current and future generations to become active conservationist headed for a finer future, a shared wellbeing on a healthy planet. There are innovative answers that encourage and empower youth, women, and indigenous peoples. For many years we have been working with local schools, training teachers on biodiversity and illegal traffic of wild animals, and receiving the visit of children from local and urban schools. At SV we try to link both rural an urban people with wilder nature, and invite everybody to embrace nature as an ally.
SV provides daily educational tours of the refuge and persuasively encourages them to use their skills to make a positive impact on the planet. We tell them individual stories of some of the animals and the suffering they went through. When visitors come to the refuge they are typically amazed with the animal’s magnificence and only then they are able to comprehend the importance and value of nature. We are committed to deliver compelling experiences and inspiring passion to protect wildlife and habitats.
We also love to receive old age visitors. We raise their spirits towards the value of nature and ask them to teach those values to their daughter/sons and grandchildren.
The conservation projects described earlier will be very valuable to stimulate people’s attitude changes and appreciation for nature, and eventually provoke proactive actions. Children and women are key in this transformation and thus we work toward situations where local people can boost their economies, flourish and earn a fair living from nature-based activities.
SV generates visions of a better future for children and nature that inspire and empower, by encouraging positive attitudes, practical action, and collaboration in service to life. Teaching local families and students of different ages, about composting, horticulture, foresting, how to help and nurture pollinizers (bees, hummingbirds, and bats), and how they can help restore ecosystems and benefit from these initiatives.
We constantly strive to inspire, communicate, and inform as effective as possible about the natural world and conservation. Our objective is to provide people of all ages with directions, challenges, and opportunities to work for wildlife. A new communication plan is being developed in parallel with a new site design and social media strategy.
SV’s vision is to contribute to generate ideologies and social actions to achieve a sustainable transformation towards a new world with fairness, dignity and respect for humans and Nature.
FWM: You are developing a store with a catalog of handmade products. Tell us more.
These products are designed and handmade by several artisans, mostly skilled women. Over the last past two years, we have developed nature friendly, ecological items that have been well received by the public. The quality is important and all of them have a distinctive environmental friendly message, an eco-container, and a design using the animals and nature as inspiring elements.
These eco products are sold at SV and in several small craft stores in the city of La Paz. Soon we will introduce a catalog (nationally first and internationally later) to promote them, get some additional income for the sanctuary, and of course, support those handicrafts artisans in the process.
Through the store, we also promote local products like bee honey, coffee, and cocoa.
FWM: How can we make a difference?
Nature is our most precious resource and sadly is in big trouble. It is essential to all life on earth. A wildlife-rich natural world is crucial for our wellbeing and survival. As citizens of the planet, we need to do much more to address the pressures facing nature, including the loss of animals, plants, and their habitat, and therefore our basis for survival. We are all responsible and we need to take action to make a difference.
Reduce, reduce and reduce. We can all make a difference to help the planet. This lockdown has shown us that we can live with less, that we do not need more clothes, that fashion is not important. We also learned that we can eat healthier, that we can grow our own vegetable garden, that we can compost at home, that we can use less plastic. We’ve learned that we can use natural plants and complementary medicine to keep our immune system high. We are becoming more conscious about the service provided by the sun, and the forest. Hopefully, everybody will realize and learn that consumption is killing the planet, our only home.
COVID-19 is showing us the consequences of disrespecting nature. We must act now and stop making our planet a depleted place to live.
There are many ways of getting involved and make a difference. People can join, volunteer, donate, and genuinely contribute to places like Senda Verde. People can find a real purpose and meaning to their lives and engaging in these actions are contagious. Connecting with animals heals us and transforms our lives and saves theirs.
Nina is making a difference. She is a committed, passionate, and fervent young girl who is taking action, inspiring, and guiding young people. Concerned about what is happening to the planet, she is changing people’s hearts and minds. She believes in a finer future. She is a true champion.
We have an opportunity to work together toward common goals. Prioritizing nature first and working in service to life is a winning economic strategy for governments, economic actors, and people today and for the future.
FWM: What are your goals for 2020?
Coping and finding practical and effective solutions to the complications derived from the current global crisis is vital. We have already rearranged and rescheduled strategic objectives planned before the crisis as well as readjust economic resources to face the COVID 19 crunch. This has been a challenging task, but the calamity has been also a path to build alliances and meet beautiful souls, women like the ones that run Well Beings Charity, a nonprofit organization based in NY, whose slogan is “saving animals, our planet, our future”, and spread positivity and hope. Their help has been a miracle for our animals.
Hence one of my goals is to keep working with and meeting more amazing people who can really make a difference, inspired individuals who dedicate their lives to help animals and others. These holistic connections are key for Senda Verde’s present and future.
An important goal is to implement the Butterfly Sky conservation initiative and introducing new education programs with rural and urban children and their families. Through regular webinars, focused primarily in the future of human-animal coexistence, we are calling for a transformation in how we treat, vision, and dwell in our natural world.
Finally, an important goal for 2020 is to have Senda Verde be declared (by local and national authorities) as a “natural reserve”, thus allowing scientific research to identify species of flora and fauna. The aim is to have a preservation and rewilding model for the communities that are already experiencing a shortage of water, land depletion (due to increasing coca plantations), extinction of several species of insects, and other vertebrates, as well of native trees and shrubs.