A Ranch Called Hope

A visit to Colombian Llanos, Part 2

Today, Eduardo and his family can concentrate on what they love best: ranching. In a landscape without television, without mass media, with few roads or vehicles, tradition runs especially deep.

There are the meals: Daily preparations over a wood-burning stove, with massive amounts of meat. When an animal is butchered, it’s consumed as quickly as possible, due to the lack of refrigeration. Some call meat cookery here a religion, and it’s easy to see why: barbecued wild pig ribs, beef steaks, chicken stew and roasted capybara (a large, Labrador retriever-sized rodent that runs in herds throughout the grasslands). It’s steak three meals a day, every day.

Life on the range here seems from another time. Eduardo’s wife, Libia Parales, is a poet and singer, who conveys through her words the healing power of the birds and animals and open space that surrounds them.

His youngest son, Puchis, dropped out of school at age fourteen because he couldn’t bear to be away from the ranch. An expert horseman, hunter and naturalist, Puchis already has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ranch, and is already being entrusted to make decisions about its future.

His conservation ethic, born solely from days on the land, started with turtles, which he noticed were growing scarce on the grassland rivers. He began rearing endangered turtles himself, raising them from eggs and then releasing them around the ranch. Today, turtles thrive on La Finca Esperanza.

New Challenges, New Opportunities

These are idyllic days on La Esperanza, but they’re not without challenges: Oil and gas exploration is increasing exponentially, and traffic jams are not uncommon on remote roads—as dump trucks rumble in to service new pipelines.

And, as with many grasslands around the world, the potential for raising soybeans and bio-fuel crops is difficult to ignore. This intensive agriculture wipes out the grasslands, and with them, the ranching culture they support.

But Eduardo and his family remain hopeful. They have begun working with The Nature Conservancy and local environmental groups to map a future for their ranch. Eduardo cares little for increased profits: “Don’t talk to me about money, I want things to stay just as they are,” he often says.

But he does want ensure his family can stay on the ranch. The Conservancy is working directly with Eduardo on research that could improve the productivity of his breeding herd. Mineral supplements, forage banks to provide food for cattle during droughts and new grazing regimes are all part of the Conservancy’s partnership.

Libia is also particularly interested in the potential for eco-tourism here. The potential for birding, wildlife viewing, horseback riding and participating in daily ranch life are tremendous. Libia is clear: They do not want this to become a five-star resort or pampered lodge. They want to offer their ranch to people interested in experiencing Llanos ranch life, with its meals, its traditions and its natural beauty.

The Conservancy is working with them to make their vision a reality, and to contribute the best conservation science to the effort. But everyone at the Conservancy recognizes this essential fact: Whatever work is done to protect this special grassland, it will be the local ranchers—and their stories, and their hope—who will light the way.

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