2013 Recap: Turtles, rangers and our MacArthur award!

Check out our Cofan biodiversity video!

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2013 has been a year of many challenges for Cofan Survival Fund, but we've faced them with determination, never "dándonos por vencidos," or giving up. Here are a few highlights of our accomplishments this past year:

FSC wins MacArthur award

Fundación Sobrevivencia Cofán was one of only 13 nonprofit organizations around the world to win this year’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions! The award recognizes exceptional grantees who have demonstrated creativity and impact, and invests in their long-term sustainability with one-time grants.

Baby charapa turtles in the Charapa Project

As a way to make the Charapa Turtle Project sustainable, FSC created a business plan that would make half of the year's turtles available to be purchased in local and international markets and used to repopulate other Amazon rivers.

Ranger zipline

September 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of the Cofan Ranger Program. In a world where the destruction of our remaining wilderness areas approaches 2% per year, and where even the Ecuadorian National Park System has lost over 15% of its pristine areas during the past ten years, our rangers have accomplished the incredible feat of ZERO DEFORESTATION in over 1,000,000 acres of forest during the same time period. That is an area the size of the entire state of Delaware.

We understand that only reading about a vast, biodiverse forest is not enough, so please enjoy  this video  about Cofan territory, which will take you on a visual journey through the windswept highlands, misty cloud forests and tropical jungles, not to mention the endangered plants and animals found within, that Cofan Survival Fund has played a major role in protecting for almost 15 years.

Today, we are facing even greater threats than ever before. Government policies promote large-scale infrastructure projects, including huge pit-mining operations, mega hydroelectric projects, and intense exploration and exploitation of petroleum reserves. Colonists continue to view our territories as empty lands not being “used,”and which should be opened to them to exploit and destroy. And while understanding and support for the intact forest as a source of environmental services is on the increase within Ecuador, short-term economic interests continue to exert pressure with little concern for future impacts.

We know how many organizations are asking for your donations right now, and each and every one tells you how important your donation is to them. We are a small organization that puts our programs first when it comes to funding. Without outside support, we will not be able to continue our work, and Cofan forests will begin to disappear along with the other forests of Ecuador and Amazonía as a whole…

You can be part of the solution. Don’t think of yourself as too far away to be concerned. Together, we can ensure that at least this million acres of forest continues to provide carbon sequestration, watershed protection, biodiversity protection and erosion control for all of our futures.

Friday Foto

Park guard station at Gueppi
Park guard station at Gueppi

Cofan rangers analyze a water sample at the Gueppi ranger station in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon. / Guardaparques cofanes analizan una muestra de agua en la estación Gueppi en la Reserva Cuyabeno.

Northeastern Ecuador’s forests have some of the world’s highest species counts for plants and animals, are at the heart of the tropical Andes “hotspot” zone and are instrumental in Ecuador’s status as a mega-diverse country. However, their conservation presents a major challenge. Mining, petroleum exploitation, lumber extraction, mega-infrastructure projects and colonization are major threats, and even within national parks, agricultural expansion continues with little control.

A notable exception is forest within Cofan ancestral territory (CAT). CAT covers about 430,000 hectares (1 million acres) of some of the richest, best-conserved forests in Ecuador ranging from Andean highlands to cloud forest to tropical rainforest.

As a first line of defense, FSC trained and fielded a professional, effective force of Cofan rangers in 2003. This group, 60 members at full capacity, carry out on-the-ground protection and management of Cofan lands to ensure territorial security and zero deforestation. The Cofan Ranger Program (CRP) has trained over 100 Cofan men and women in the protection and management of Cofan territories, as well as people from other indigenous and non-indigenous groups.


Los bosques del noreste del Ecuador tienen algunas de las cifras más altas del mundo de especies de plantas y animales, están en el corazón del "hotspot" andino tropical y son escenciales para la designación de "país mega-diverso" para Ecuador. Sin embargo, su conservación es un gran reto. La minería, explotación petrolera, extracción de madera, proyectos de mega-infraestructura y colonización son amenazas importantes, y incluso dentro de las reservas nacionales, la expansión agrícola sigue con poco control.

Una excepción importante es el bosque dentro del territorio ancestral cofán (TAC). TAC cubre alrededor de 430.000 hectáreas de bosques bien conservados y muy biodiversos en Ecuador, desde páramos andinos hasta bosque nublado y bosque tropical.

Como una defensa para este territorio, FSC entrenó y un grupo de guardaparques cofanes profesionales y eficaces en el 2003. Este grupo, 60 miembros en total, realizan la protección y manejo de tierras cofanes para asegurar seguridad territorial y cero deforestación. El Programa de Guardaparques Cofanes ha entrenado más de 100 hombres y mujeres cofanes en la protección y manejo de territorio cofán, además de personas de otras comunidades indígenas y no-indígenas.

Why should you support the Cofan?

Why should you support the Cofan?

Check out our Cofan biodiversity video!

With the holiday season almost upon us, we at Cofan Survival Fund are reaching out to our supporters and asking for their help to keep our organization going.

We started formal Cofan conservation activities with almost nothing in the late 1980s, and spent several years doing the best we could with the funds we could access from ecotourism, village collections and the like. As threats escalated and pressures increased, we formalized Cofan Survival Fund in 1999, learned how to access more funding and gratefully accepted help from others outside the immediate Cofan sphere. With this, we became far more effective both in protecting our forests and culture and making a difference for the world.

Cofan biodiversity video

As funding has become harder for us to access, we have had to make difficult decisions about what to cut and what we can most easily afford to lose, both internally as an indigenous people and as caretakers of a global heritage.But the bottom line is, we can't afford to stop doing what we are doing: we MUST adjust and figure out how to make do. What makes us different from the average NGO is that we don't have the option to quit. We're in this because it means survival for our people, our culture, our forests and our future. I am convinced that it is also an important part of the answer for survival of the globe as we face climate change, water shortages, extreme weather emergencies and the like, and that our contribution to our planet’s sustainability is very important. But as the Cofan, we don't have the luxury of ending conservation activities because we don't have enough funding.

Cofan biodiversity video

So, we will continue to field as many Cofan rangers as we can afford to protect the most vulnerable locations in the best possible manner we can afford. We will continue collecting Charapa turtle eggs, caring for babies and releasing them into the wild. We will continue sending as many young Cofans as we can to quality schools and universities so they can grow up and take leadership roles for the Cofan Nation.

I want to encourage each of you to be part of the solution. Don’t think of yourself as too far away to be concerned. Take a look at this video to see exactly what your gift will help protect.

Please, become a partner with the Cofan in our mission to save one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

Take care, and thanks for your support!


Taking inventory, Amazon-style

Hola! In 2008, scientists from the Field Museum of Chicago came to Ecuador to carry out a Rapid Biological Inventory in the Cuyabeno region of Ecuador and the Gueppi region of Peru. The goal of these inventories, both biological and social, "is to catalyze effective action for conservation in threatened regions of high biological diversity and uniqueness." These inventories don't try to produce an exhaustive list of species, but they identify important biological communities in the site and determine if these communities are significant in a regional or global context.

After the results were in, the scientists found a "spectacular" amount of biodiversity in this region, among which were 13 species of plants and fish in Ecuador completely new to science. And in only one month! Imagine what other surprises are hidden in the rainforest!

Here is the first in a series of videos about the RBI #20

To see more videos, visit the Field Museum's YouTube site.

To read more about the RBIs, please visit the Field Museum's website.






Real Conservation: The concept of the Campaign for 5000


Imagine the forests of Ecuador, at the center of the Earth: verdant, lush primary forest, wild, pristine rivers, forbidding swamplands, and several thousand species of plants and animals, where the Amazon Basin stretches toward the sky on the slopes of the Andes Mountains and its multiple volcanoes. This territory is known by scientists as one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, and has been the home of the Cofán, among the oldest surviving indigenous cultures in the Ecuadorian Amazon, for centuries.

Cofan Rangers
Cofan Rangers

Around 1,000,000 acres of this forest is being protected at this very moment by dedicated Cofan rangers. These Cofan-managed and Cofan-protected territories provide certain key environmental services, including climate change control, carbon sequestration, preservation of water cycles and water purity, and biodiversity conservation, all of which are ESSENTIAL to the health of Ecuador’s various ecosystems.

I have been working for several years now on trying to develop strategies and systems into a consolidated “product” that will appeal to a market in which these environmental services will be funded by corporate and national level initiatives concerned with off-setting the damages they are doing to the environment. However, at this point in time this model continues to be an attractive dream. The distances between the true environmental services providers such as the Cofan and the entities that could (and should) be paying for said services are still far too great, legally, politically, and ideologically, for such agreements to function.

So, in a search for alternatives, we began looking at private interactions, whereby a relatively large block of people put aside a relatively small amount of money per month to cover the recurring costs of conserving a significant amount of forest.

But here’s the catch: what I am after is that this NOT be viewed as a well-meaning charitable contribution to help some poor indigenous group out in the Amazon. What I am trying to give birth to is a new way to deal directly, practically, and effectively with our individual impacts on the environment. Could we perhaps call it a “Conservation Cooperative?”

Here’s the concept: A partnership of 6,000 people- 5,000 donors and 1,000 Cofáns- who are dedicated to taking care of and providing good management for these 1,000,000 acres of rain forests, but also for all the areas of influence in which those six thousand people live, work and enjoy. This partnership’s primary focus will be the 1,000,000 acres, but the key word is “conservation” throughout the group’s range of influence.


This partnership, including as it will young and old, Americans, Ecuadorians, Cofans, and others thoughout the word, will obviously have a variety of levels of participation-

  • from the Cofán boy who is learning how to fish correctly;
  • to the grade school girl in New Jersey who is doing a report on the Amazon;
  • to the business man who has no time to deal with anything outside the office but who gives some money as his contribution to the 1,000,000 acres;
  • to the retiree who lends time and effort in order to recruit new members;
  • to the college computer whiz who helps out with a eye-catching multimedia report;
  • to the Cofán ranger who is facing off with an irate miner;
  • to the Ecuadorian politician who is actively, passionately defending the environmental laws;
  • and on and on….

The trick of what we are trying to do is create a true, committed community whose efforts are focused on a particular piece of wilderness. If this works, we can offer this same model for the Zona Reservada in Peru, with the Secoyas, Huitotos, and other groups there, plus to others who will buy into those territories as their primary focus.

The bottom line is that, seeing as the big world of rich governments and multinational corporations and the UN and all the rest can’t get their act together to truly deal with the needs and complexities of real life conservation and global climate change amelioration, let’s try to organize at a grass-roots community level to do it. Let’s create virtual communities based on real people dealing with real land areas and real issues and in this way cut through all the layers of bureaucratic garbage and endless discussions and get straight down to real conservation.

And as I say, if we can pull this off, it will be a model which can be replicated widely, with highly tangible impacts. Our particular group’s contribution is focused on our particular one million acres, not by way of excluding other areas, but to maximize the community’s effectiveness. Can you imagine though the effect that would be generated if this model were to be duplicated time and time again on a global scale? The number we are postulating, 6,000, is sufficient enough to cover our needs, but small enough to still be interactive and maintain the personal connection which is so vital to the concept of community.


So that’s the outline of the concept. Where do we go next? That part is up to all of you.

The good news is that the question of how we, together, can truly impact the environment – that part is NOT a challenge. Here we are talking about a real life solution to the real life frustration of how do I, as an individual, make a difference?

  • How can I, producing carbon pollution via my use of car, airplane, air conditioning, etc., really do anything meaningful to mitigate these impacts?
  • How do I, wanting to affect environmental legislation on a global level, really make a difference?
  • How do I, concerned about biodiversity issues worldwide, deal with saving species?

Here, as we form our Conservation Cooperative, we have a real-life way of dealing with these issues, one that will enable each and every member of the community to tangibly experience the impacts of their work.

So, let’s do it! Let’s grow our community to 6,000! Let’s get the word out across social networks, in the media, and via simple word of mouth, and most of all, it will require YOUR feedback, input, and help in order for this seed of a concept to grow and become a real life solution.

It all starts here: Campaign for 5000.

Randy Borman