Wild scarlet macaws nearly disappeared from the forests in and around Mabita, Honduras, in 2014 when every newly hatched chick was poached to be sold for the illegal pet trade. With the help of a Colorado State University alumna, the nonprofit One Earth Conservation began working with the village in 2015 to replace poaching with new employment opportunities, and in 2016, not one chick was poached. These new opportunities are changing poachers into protectors – training and paying local, and often indigenous, people to work as parrot conservationists and rescuers.
Gail Koelln (Gail Goldstein), who graduated from CSU in 1981 with a master’s degree in zoology, founded One Earth Conservation with Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner. Incorporated in 2016, One Earth Conservation meets communities where they are to empower local people to create sustainable economies that conserve and support their indigenous parrot populations.
One Earth Conservation built relationships with the Mabita community, training them to protect their parrot breeding areas through nest monitoring, nest protection, parrot rescue and liberation, and community awareness, education, and enhancement programs.
This work allows Koelln to combine her passion for parrots and scientific background with her administrative talents in managing, marketing, graphics and fundraising for nonprofit organizations. Prior to creating One Earth Conservation, she worked as an illustrator, computer animator, environmental and climate activist, development director for a performing arts center, grant writing consultant, and a local government administrator. The beginning of One Earth Conservation, Koelln said, was a “lucky accident.”
“I was at a nonviolent communication workshop led by LoraKim,” she recalled. “She was wearing avian veterinary scrubs. I just went up and spoke to her, and she was open to listening to me. After I started working with her as a volunteer grant writer, we eventually thought, “Let’s just do this’” and, although it took some time, officially registered One Earth Conservation as a nonprofit organization.
Koelln explained that the programs developed in Mabita are intentionally replicable, able to be developed by a variety of communities in many nations seeking to conserve their bird populations and strengthen their economies. Already the work has expanded to 11 villages in the La Moskitia region of Honduras, where residents monitor 100 nests and the poaching rate has been reduced from 100% to only 20%. One Earth Conservation also has similar projects in four other Latin American countries and will be expanding into three more in 2020.
In the U.S., One Earth Conservation is now launching a new Parrot Conservation Corps, an educational program for “anyone concerned with the climate and biodiversity crises who wants to do something about it,” according to the organization’s website. The program will include 12 online training sessions and optional field experience in Nicaragua, and emphasizes One Earth Conservation’s philosophy of healing and activism: “The biodiversity and climate crises compel us each to commit our lives to earth and her beings. By seeing ourselves as interwoven equals among others in the web of life, we heal the wounds caused by our sense of separation from life.”
Koelln encourages aspiring conservationists to be steadfast, volunteer, and network. “If it’s your passion, don’t give up. I’m so happy I found my calling.”
To learn more about One Earth Conservation, visit the website (https://www.oneearthconservation.org/).