A Colombian woman with her daughter

From Cattle Breeders to Conservationists: A Colombian Family’s Journey


In the heart of rural San José de Guaviare, Colombia, lies a vibrant, resurrected swathe of jungle, sprawling across 40 hectares. This luscious expanse of biodiversity is no ordinary forest; it is the La Nupana nature reserve, an animal sanctuary created by a former cattle-breeding family. The sanctuary has grown into a popular tourist spot, with visitors journeying down its ecological paths and frequently contributing to its upkeep.

The Transformation of the Forest

A mere ten years ago, this regenerated forest was unrecognizable, dominated by cattle and devoid of its current diverse wildlife. The genesis of La Nupana was spearheaded by Dora Sánchez, who relocated from Colombia’s heartland to the jungle region in 1997. As new settlers, her family, the Zapatas, originally engaged in livestock farming in the then barren ‘land without people for people without land.’

Rebirth through Agroforestry

Describing the land on her arrival, Dora recounts, “There was not a single worm; the soil was entirely compact.” Undeterred, Dora launched an ambitious experiment in 2012, planting native trees across her 56-hectare pasture to establish agroforestry systems. This initiative began to show positive signs, with the flora and fauna gradually returning, and improvements in the water and soil quality becoming evident. Realizing the potential of their land to serve a larger purpose, the Zapata family sold their cattle, allowing the jungle to reclaim its rightful territory.

Running a Sanctuary: A Family Affair

Fast forward to today, and Dora, along with her daughter and husband, runs the thriving La Nupana nature reserve. The sanctuary currently shelters 60 animals, from monkeys, birds, and armadillos, to puma cubs and an elusive wild cat known as an ocelot. Most of these animals have been rescued from individuals who were keeping them as pets or attempting to sell them. Particularly heart-wrenching are the pumas, typically victims of the rampant deforestation that claimed 25,000 hectares of forest in 2021 alone.

The Challenges of Rehabilitation

Rehabilitating the rescued animals is an emotional and challenging process. Dora, Samantha, and Hector each play vital roles in caring for their charges. For instance, Dora meticulously tends to orphaned puma cubs, massaging them four times a day to stimulate digestion, a task their mother would ordinarily perform. Samantha, an agronomy student, handles the feeding. Despite the undeniable charm of the creatures, it saddens them that these interactions are due to tragic circumstances. Releasing the rehabilitated animals back into the wild is equally challenging, as Hector explains, given the unique characteristics and behaviors of each animal.

The Reality of Release and Rehabilitation

Release and rehabilitation guidelines must be tailored to the unique characteristics of each species and case, according to Adolfo Bravo, a veterinarian doctor at the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the North and East Amazon (CDA). However, not all animals can safely return to the wild after the Zapatas take them in. As Samantha explains, “Animals that cannot return to the forest sadly stay in enclosures because they lack the necessary survival skills.”

La Nupana: A Beacon of Biodiversity

Despite the challenges, the Zapata family and the La Nupana reserve stand as a beacon of hope for Colombian biodiversity. They work closely with the local government to rehabilitate southern Colombia’s fauna. In Dora’s words, “We must preserve and protect the forest, as it is the source of life, providing us water in the future. We are 100 percent convinced that the forest should be our primary focus.”

Read more at: https://www.euronews.com/green/2023/06/17/meet-the-cattle-breeders-turned-conservationists-protecting-colombias-amazon-wildlife

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