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Update From Cloudforest - Looking Forward and Turning the COVID Corner

by Laurel Zoff Pelton |

As the realities of an extended global pandemic continue to develop, the team at Mindo Cloudforest Foundation are continuing to adapt and find a hopeful path forward. Though times ahead may seem uncertain, a new Board of Directors are molding a way to a bright future of expanded ecological preservation, blossoming wildlife, and hopes for growing tourism in a post-COVID-19 world. 

Here's a closer look at the update from Ecuador from newly elected Board President, Hugo Arnal-Delgado, found in their newsletter which we highly recommend. Read on to see how the forest and birds within are looking, and also find a letter from the staff, keeping the forest in fighting shape at the Milpe Bird Sanctuary as we move forward in these ever-changing times.

(Black Umbrella Bird)

Letter from the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation President:

Nearly six months ago, on April 4th, during our first ordinary assembly meeting of this year, we elected MCF’s new Board of Directors for the period April 2020 – April 2022. This was soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Ecuador declared a national sanitary emergency. It was our first ever on-line assembly, and it was a joyful meeting, full of enthusiasm and optimism despite growing concerns about the unfolding situation. Half a year later, we are now living with a new normal and adapting to the severe economic toll that the pandemic has inflicted, not only locally but globally. For a relatively small conservation organization, whose core funding came mostly from birdwatcher entrance fees, the collapse of tourism obliges us to seek out creative and audacious new ideas. 

Fortunately, as the pandemic arrived, we were completing our ‘Strategic Plan 2020-2027’, which is now guiding our work in a more coherent and focused manner. With very ambitious goals, particularly making sure that no local extinctions are suffered in the bird fauna of Northwestern Ecuador and that habitat restoration will allow for the regional movement of fauna among protected areas (public and private, like ours), we are launching renewed efforts to improve our conservation actions as well as new strategies to strengthen our contributions to the well-being of local communities.

In line with the optimism that keeps us moving at Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, our reserves' staff have demonstrated resilience and commitment throughout these complex times. Certainly, living isolated in the reserves has helped to assure some protection against COVID-19. Nonetheless, uncertainties played a role in their sense of personal security while services, food and supplies were difficult to obtain. To our on-the-ground team, our gratitude! Please read the brief note at the end of this newsletter prepared by María José and Roberto two of our staff members.
While tourism has collapsed, we know it's a temporary phenomenon (possibly impacting us for a couple of years), and we know that an enriched and more respectful relationship with nature will emerge out of the current situation. We continue betting on nature and bird tourism as conservation strategies that will help ensure the viability of our reserves and public protected areas, while also contributing to the local economy.  As the movement of people and the transportation industry are now reinitiating, we are undertaking work to increase the experience of visitors and safeguard our biodiversity. Paul Greenfield, founding member of MCF and internationally renowned bird artist and birding guide, shares with us his reflections on post COVID-19 tourism. 
On another topic, we'd like to send a special thanks to various kind donors, who as I write, have made possible the acquisition of two additional properties for the protection of birds and other important biodiversity in our Tandayapa-Milpe-Silanche River gradient. We expect to finish the transaction this month of September 2020. We have other sites in mind to continue adding to our conservation efforts and we'll be sure to tell you about them as more specifics arise. 
Logically enough, even without the visiting birders, the birds keep coming. This past week for example, in Milpe, I was able to spot a male Blackburnian Warbler in strikingly colorful plumage, my first neotropical migrant to arrive this season (though perhaps a little early). -- Here´s one painted by Paul Greenfield who you´ll hear more from in the following segment of this newsletter. 
Thank you for reading through to the end, because our work has more meaning and becomes more sustainable when we share it with friends and the international society, the constituency who cares for birds, nature and our local community. To that end, we´re implementing a new communications strategy, and I invite you to visit our revamped web site
As new Board President, I’m honored to send you our Fall 2020 bulletin and to introduce the recently elected board members for the period 2020-2022.
Hugo Arnal-Delgado


Letter from Staff Members
Hello from the Milpe Bird Sanctuary where we continue to hang on and survive the pandemic in the cloud forest. These months of quarantine and distancing have given us a new appreciation for our jobs here, and this magical reserve full of biodiversity and life has helped us stay sane in the darkest moments when news from our country was heartbreaking and full of the loss of human life. 

In spite of the pandemic we've continued our work, maintaining the birding trails, our tree nurseries and other facilities. Staying busy has helped us keep perspective and recognize the privilege we have to work for Mindo Cloudforest Foundation in the bird sanctuaries, where beyond the jobs we're provided with residences where we live with our families in peace and tranquility.

During this time our solidarity and teamwork have been key, and together we´ve used our creativity to stay upbeat (plus the afternoon volleyball games), but we do miss the visiting birders and all the moments we've shared. Like everywhere, we're anxious to return to normalcy and conscious that this trial has made us stronger, comprehending the value of our colleagues and the importance of the conservation work we all do.
As members of the MCF team we remain committed to pushing for the foundation's objectives and to meet each day with conviction and hope. 
Greetings from the Milpe Bird Sanctuary,
Roberto Vera, Milpe staff
& María José Guerrero, MCF Coordinator

PS: We're in the picture above in the lower right hand corner. The rest of the pictures are, clock-wise starting from Roberto in the red helmet: Hugo Arnal, our president; Gary Schiltz, member; Thibaut Convain, member; Paul Greenfield, founding member, Leila López, member;  Dr. Markus Tellkamp, board secretary; Brian Krohnke, CEO; Juan Francisco Veintimilla, treasurer; Niko Mejía, a forestry consultant; Juan Fernando Veintimilla, founding member.

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