Since my fourth year in secondary school until I came to live in Montreal in 1999.
I can say without any exaggeration that I have been part in one way or another of all environmental groups and institutions related to natural sciences in Córdoba: Conaco, Adnuma, Brecha y Mundo aborigen, the Natural Sciences Museum,
Salvar, the Defensores del ambiente de la Provincia, the Guardambientes municipales, Ares, Prohuerta, Ecología humana, Editorial Nuestro Planeta and student groups like the Centro de estudiantes de biología (the Student Center for Biology), Achalensis, Aula abierta del ambiente de montaña. I also participated in provincial environmental meetings and visited and did various activities in zoos and non-profit organizations from Argentina and neighboring countries.
Sometimes we held meetings almost every evening of the week. On the weekends I would participate in some other project. My backpack was always ready for camping and meetings no matter how far I had to go. Moreover, I was studying biology, aboriginal cultures and in natural science and took countless classes: diving, plant and bird identification, first aid administration to animals, organic garden, taxidermy, environmental management, not to mention yoga, Indian flute, Andean dance, sewing…Let’s not forget that I never missed any conference!
I’m listing everything that I did over an 8-year period in a few lines so of course it seems a lot!
It shows my great interest and curiosity for everything but also my inability to focus on one thing. And sincerely, I haven’t changed much after 8 years. I remember once I was presenting the material in a class at a school where I used to give lectures on the environment and the teacher commented to my partner that it was impossible that I had done all that!
I invested myself more in three groups in which I was involved for a long period of time: the Guardazoos, the Guardafaunas del Ministerio de Agricultura, the Ganadería and the Recursos naturales y Ecofauna. I already talked to you about the Guardazoos several times. Today, I will tell you about the other two.
I took the class of Guardafaunas Honorarios [Honorary Wildlife Wardens] at 17 years old, even though the minimal age was 21. So for four years, I was always seen as helping hand and was also affectionately discriminated against (I mean by that that there was always hearing jokes or remarks) because, for the most part, I was the only girl participating in the activities.
These included roadblocking, fetching food in animal shops, rescuing and releasing. Neither the fact that I was too much of a girl nor the fact that I was the only one stopped me from participating and having my own views on how to do certain things in addition to defending those views enthusiastically.
At the age of 21, I finally received my badge and my official membership card and remained in the same group until my 24th birthday, that same year when I went to Canada.
We were a diversified group of people but all concerned in protecting the environment. The closest members of the group, including me, shared different activities; we were all together in other groups and still remained friends until this day.
The roadblocks were done in collaboration with the Environmental Police since we were allowed to bear arms and considering the possible dangerous situations we could be in. hunters didn’t appreciate much that we took their prey and their weapons away from them, indeed! Despite the difficult situations that occurred, I always counted on my friendship with Eduardo, whom I considered as a father figure.
We spent the night on some faraway road, stopped the cars and made sure that they respected the regulations for the maximum number of kills. If they didn’t, we would seize their catch, which would be donated to some nursing home or organization.
My self-attributed specialty was taking care of the live animals that sometimes came by. Especially birds that ended up being trapped, turtles and one time an armadillo. I didn’t get much into weapons handling, since it was something I didn’t know well.
Whenever it was possible, we would free the birds at the crack of dawn.
If they had stayed in their cages for too long, they spent a certain period of time at one park ranger’s place, and if they were injured, they were possibly sent to a zoo.
Once, we were able to free some eels that had been fished recently. Another time, we had an Argentine boa constrictor that, after it had escaped through one of the boy’s shed, was found and set free in the area. The story of the armadillo will always be remembered as the reason why I had a fight with my friend Gustavo. We didn’t agree on the place we would set the armadillo free.
He had left it in a field of crops, I went to look for it then kept it on my lap for a few hour drive, then we finally let it go free in a cemetery with high vegetation on the outskirts of a village. On another occasion, we had a recently killed female red brocket deer and I cut opened her to check if I she wasn’t pregnant because her belly was quite swollen. Luckily, she wasn’t, since it would have practically impossible to save a baby in those circumstances and it would have been awfully saw to watch it die.
I came back home ready to drop and covered in dirt, blood and one time ticks, just like those I got from that same armadillo. Another time I brought back two green Puerto Rican amazons home and that my home tried hard to take care of but unfortunately didn’t make it through more than a few days.
We also went camping to observe the wildlife in a certain provincial park, participated in exhibitions and different activities. Many times I had class the day after and in which I made sure to sit as far as possible from the front because I knew I would give in to the fatigue!
Unfortunately, several years later I learned that the Ministry had dissolved the Guardfaunas group. It’s a shame because the issues remain or get worse and our wildlife population is decreasing at a fast speed. But Eduardo, Gustavo (we were in the group Ecofauna together) and Ernesto are still my friends just like Cecilia who started in the group with me.
During those years, I knew a veterinarian and conservationist, Fidel, who told me that he ended up creating an organization called “Ecofauna”. Emilse, Carina, Cristina and I decided to join it. We had meeting on a regular basis, most of them were held at a restaurant or in a house.
We planned conferences at a national level. Experts from across the country came to present their topics and I can say that I learned so much, much more than in any other class! We also ran a campaign for the protection of an endemic subspecies of Córdoba: the red-bellied frog. We made posters and inventories in the wild. That frog was quite common at other times, but now it’s more and more rarely found.
We organized outings at lesser known reserves of the province and made lists of the wildlife there via a mandate from other groups.
It was a wonderful experience for me; I felt part of a group of passionate people and learned so much. The story repeated itself with this group as well; a few years later after I had left the country, I learned the group was dissolved, but we still stayed good friends!
I think that even organizations follow a natural cycle: they are born, they grow and they die. And new ones are born again, as we can see through the Internet. There are so many new groups in Córdoba, shelters, animal activists and environmental groups that there will never be any shortage of work and incredible people as well!
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa