by, Jennifer F. Johnson
We awoke every morning with the fresh smells of the valley and the soothing sound of the rushing Cristopamba river below. Our home during this trip was the Riolindo Coffee Lodge, a small Shangri-La, nestled down the road from Cuellaje, a village in the remote Intag region of Ecuador.
It did not take us long to fall in love with this place and our new friends. Ivan, our host, guide and seer, worked tirelessly, introducing us to the culture and history of Ecuador. In Intag, we deepened our understanding of the meaning and impact of eagle Y condor.
Our 2020 Los Peluditos team consisted of 17 US and 10 Ecuadoran veterinarians, technicians and assistants. The area is a 3-hour drive from Otavalo, up and over the mountains on hairpin turn dirt roads, to villages in the valley on the western side of the Andes mountains. The Intag region houses one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. The local population has been accustomed to foreign visitors descending upon them with great plans to ‘help’, but often these visits do not bring success. Many local people distrust professional help, which often disguises an ulterior motive such as those who seek to create copper mines in this pristine cloud forest. These communities have been struggling against mineral exploration for over 20 years. We were so happy to partner with this community, living in an organic coffee plantation and supporting their economic vision –a plan that does not include mining.
We had no motive, only to help a population that needed our help – bringing the eagle of the north together with the condor of the south, to create something wonderful and good. For 3 days we performed sterilization surgery, vaccines, parasite control and general medical care to over 300 dogs and cats. The project went exceptionally well despite a power outage that lasted through several hours on the second day. The people of Cuellaje and surrounding villages met us with enthusiasm and joy and seemed very happy to have this free service provided for their pets. The reduction in unwanted dogs who could ultimately starve or live with illnesses and injuries, will be palpable in the area right away. Over the next 5 years this region can expect a reduction of tens of thousands of dogs (and cats) living in the streets as a result of this project. Happily, we seem to have also made an impact on the social/political climate in the area. This is best described in this letter sent from the vice president of Cuellaje parish following our visit. Letter from the VP of Cuellaje Parish Council, Intag
The eagleYcondor spirit continues to make a difference. During the trip we were asked to return to Ecuador as soon as possible to help with a project for the Fundación Condor Andino Ecuador (FCA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the welfare of two critically endangered species, the Andean Condor, and the Black-and-Chestnut Eagle. These protected species are being threatened by the practice of poisoning dogs in the main bird breeding areas, where the dog population is uncontrolled. This has led to formation of feral dog packs and competition for food in the area. The farmers bait carcasses with poison because the feral dog packs are killing livestock for survival. Unfortunately, this poisons not only the feral dogs, but also wildlife such as condors, black vultures, eagles, and Andean foxes. In fact, in 2019, Ecuador lost approximately 10-15% of the estimated population of condors (which total only 150 in 2018) due to poisoned carcasses.
In order to counteract this problem, FCA has identified the most problematic communities to begin a process of mass sterilization campaigns to control dogs’ overpopulation accompanied with education on responsible pet ownership, the environmental role of condors and encourage people to eradicate practices that go against wildlife and nature. The FCA has asked eagleYcondor to assist by providing high volume spay/neuter programs in the area. Concurrently, they will work to develop educational programs for the farmers and other dog owners to stop the practice of poisoning dogs. We are extremely excited about this opportunity and have committed to returning in November 2020 for the first project in two areas called Inga Bajo and Inga Alto. Stay tuned for updates on this upcoming trip!
Many thanks to our Ecuador volunteer veterinary team for their hard work, support, and supplies. We especially thank Ivan from Riolindo Coffee Lodge and Jorge and Angel our hosts at Loma Tika Chill Out Lodging, for providing lodging, transportation and meals. We can’t wait to reunite in November!