Youth Outreach

“Bless you for everything you have done for the children.”

– Parent of an Eco-Guardian

We are sitting next to a campfire on the Northern Jaguar Reserve with a group of youth Eco-Guardians on their first night sleeping in the wild. A whole new world has opened up. It was a full day getting here, setting up tents, and going for a walk, each with a pair of binoculars in hand.

We just had s’mores and realized we forgot to ask if the kids wanted to set up motion-triggered cameras. Moments later, we are under a blanket of stars scouting for places to install cameras and see what critters walk by. There is a lot of joy and laughter as we witness the Eco-Guardians’ love for nature and how they are embracing the jaguar as a friend and neighbor.

Hundreds of youth participate in our Eco-Guardian club in Sahuaripa, the town nearest the reserve. We organize hands-on activities to get these kids outdoors – nature walks, birdwatching, river cleanups, tree plantings. Many have deep family ties within this community and, as future stewards of the land, will benefit from having a keen understanding of local ecosystems.

Everyone enjoys the scavenger hunt feel of scrolling through motion-triggered camera photos. We train youth in camera operation and visit locations close to town where they divide into teams and install cameras on their own. The young technicians are enthusiastic, no matter what animals appear: bobcat, deer, badger, skunk. At a party to reveal the latest batch of images, an elegant quail turned up, and 40 kids screamed “codorniz!” as if they had won the lottery.

Lucero’s cub Tutu’uli at four months old, Centro Ecológico, Hermosillo, Sonora

Other outings provide the Eco-Guardians with an opportunity to see living jaguars. Hermosillo’s Centro Ecológico is home to a wild-born jaguar who was trapped by a rancher and could not be released. We have hosted field trips so youth could hear Lucero’s story and meet his cubs. These jaguars captured the hearts and minds of the Eco-Guardians.

We paint murals to boost visibility for the jaguar and the need to protect large areas of wilderness. Sometimes the artwork involves youth wielding paintbrushes; sometimes we work with established artists. Two murals on cattleman’s association meeting halls are visual metaphors for coexistence. Passersby to one of these buildings love how happy the jaguar is depicted holding a sombrero in the air.

We collaborate with environmental educators from Conciencia y Educación Ambiental, A.C. on our outreach activities, which include workshops on species identification, water conservation, climate change, the importance of local flora and fauna, and other ecological topics. Conciencia is a Mexican non-profit with more than a decade of experience working in Sonora’s urban and rural communities.

Click to download the Eco-Guardians’ coloring book (above) and individual coloring pages (below).

Photos: Rick Williams, Jeannette Allen