The lonely ranger

04 April 2011 | News story

Héctor Antonio Caymaris Zanelli - Uruguay

No salary and lack of government support have not stopped the young park ranger Héctor Caymaris from reversing the decline of species in Uruguay’s Laguna de Rocha reserve, showing the local communities what difference a young leader can make in protecting their natural treasures.

For many years, Héctor Caymaris was the only park ranger in Laguna de Rocha, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Uruguay. Faced with serious threats to the rich biodiversity of the area, such as egg poaching and illegal killing of the native rodent-like capibaras, with no support from the government and often no salary, Héctor managed to find ways to tackle the increasing decline in species.

He personally confronted poachers and illegal four-wheel drive operators and worked with partners and the community, showing them the value of the area and how best to protect it. And all this, with impressive results.

His work with the community has dramatically reduced egg poaching, which allowed coastal birds - which had been rapidly disappearing from the area - to return to their nests. Poaching of the capibaras has also declined and the numbers of this species have begun to grow. Members of the local community now appreciate the value of the site and are developing tourism activities. As part of his partner work Héctor established the Foundation of the Friends of the Coastal Lakes of Rocha and now serves as its Executive Director.

Héctor has recently received the Young Conservationist Award, which is awarded by IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and the International Ranger Federation (IRF) to honour outstanding achievements by young people contributing to the conservation of the world’s protected areas. When Héctor was told that he had received the award, his immediate response was “this is good for Uruguay”.

His award will help others understand the difference young leaders can make in Uruguay and, in particular, it will make people realize what a young ranger can do with limited resources.