Tekoha Guazu- Grand Nature. Also the Guaraní name for the San Rafael Reserve.
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay- World Biodiversity Day
Walking south of Oga Ita, you find yourself in the community of Santa Ana. It’s just as hilly as every other town in the area and just as friendly. It’s simple, like Oga Ita, but it has a larger school and even a small chapel. As you round the corner toward the school, headed uphill again, you see a sign with a large bird on it. It’s the red-throated, blue-eyed, white-crested Jaku (Pava de monte in Spanish, Guan in English). The sign says “Welcome to Santa Ana: Gateway to San Rafael”. If you pass the school and walk up up up the hill beyond, you find yourself overlooking a stunning vista. You can see the two even cerros that separate my community from Chara’s. You can see Santa Ana laid out in a small valley. But the most beautiful part of the vista is the deep green of trees, unbroken and seemingly eternal, that extend north toward Oga Ita and Jovere and further east. You’re looking at one of Paraguay’s largest last standing expanses of untouched Atlantic Forest- La Reserva Para El Parque San Rafael.
San Rafael is a natural treasure of Paraguay and sometimes I can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to live along its border. The reserve is not a federally managed park, but rather a mixed bag of privately and publicly owned land that many people and organizations work to protect and others would like to see turned into a National Park, hence the official name, “Reserve for San Rafael Park”. San Rafael is special. It’s beautiful. It’s a hotspot for biodiversity and one of Paraguay’s Important Birding Areas due to the high concentration of bird species. It’s a wealth of tree and plant species as well, including an endemic arboreal fern called chachi that reached heights of 15 feet. It’s the home of the Mby’a Indians who still rely on its natural resources to live. And it’s really one of the last places of its kind in Paraguay.
That expanse of green is more than just trees. Go to most other parts of Paraguay and there’s very little forest, if any at all. The green sea extending out from Santa Ana is a symbol of life and wilderness in a country where wilderness stands in the way of producing more soy. The protection of San Rafael is important to the future of Paraguay’s relationship with the environment. It’s important to the chachi and the jaku and the jagua rete’i (ocelot) that live there. It’s important to the Mby’a and their culture. It’s important to me, a volunteer who has seen other parts of Paraguay, treeless, flat, covered in soy and red, bland dirt, where there used to be what I see from the top of that cerro in Santa Ana.
So today, on World Biodiversity Day, I give thanks that I live next to the Reserve. I get to be a part of the efforts to protect it and all of the beautiful biological diversity that hides inside. I get to teach my students about birds and snakes and I get to show my community members the photos from my trap camera. I get to work with NGOs who care, who want to change the way Paraguayans look at nature. I get to make a difference and have a ton of fun while doing it.