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July 22, 2010

Hands-on Ecotourism Training

Adding value to tourism in Chacocente Wildlife Preserve, Nicaragua

by Toby Bloom

  • A red-eyed tree frog in Chacocent Wildlife Preserve. Toby Bloom/HSI

  • HSI's Toby Bloom demonstrates how to handle a snake during the wildlife biology portion of the workshop. Toby Bloom/HSI

  • Learning how to identify the birds in the Preserve. Toby Bloom/HSI

  • Birdwatching with the new binoculars. Toby Bloom/HSI

I just returned from a fantastic and productive workshop in Nicaragua, where we trained 18 community members from Chacocente Wildlife Reserve on basic biology and an introduction to bird-watching. Chacocente is an amazing protected area that is home to endangered species such as the spider monkey and the Leatherback turtle, as well as countless other species of wildlife, so it's important that the community members who are the ambassadors of this area understand the connections between these animals and their habitats, and that they can explain these ideas to the tourists and students who visit the area.

History working in the area

The workshop was made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department. HSI has worked with the communities of Chacocente for about five years, and I met with community members to determine the topics they thought would be the most helpful for their ecotourism program. We all decided that it would be very helpful for the community members to understand more of the science behind the wildlife they view every day, as they are already wonderful storytellers about local culture and legends about the wildlife.  They also asked for an introductory course on bird-watching, since there are so many beautiful resident and migratory species found in Chacocente.

Learning together

The community participants ranged in age from 13 to 65.  It was wonderful to participate in an intergenerational learning project, and interesting to see how the younger participants helped the older community members grasp new concepts. On each morning of the five-day workshop, we rose at dawn to practice identifying the movements, physical characteristics and songs of the birds, and learned the proper way to use and care for binoculars (it's not as easy as it seems!), as I was leaving six new pairs with the communities after the training. After breakfast, we went through the list of birds we had seen that morning, and then spent the rest of the day discussing basic biological concepts such as characteristics of living things, interactions between species, and climate change. While many of the participants had never set foot inside a formal classroom, they all took notes and asked questions to try to understand these new concepts.

All in all, the workshop was a success, and the community members of Chacocente returned to their homes better equipped to work with tourists and continue to protect the important wildlife that lives all around them!