January 12, 2021
It is with the heaviest heart that we share this news with you. On January 8, conservation lost a cherished and remarkable advocate. Gonzalo “Gonza” Cardona Molina was murdered in Tolima, Colombia where he spent over 20 years dedicated to protecting Endangered Yellow-eared Parrots and their habitat. He served as the first forest guard for our partner Fundación ProAves, and his mission for two decades was to help the Yellow-eared Parrot population flourish in spite of the risks in his region of the Andes.
Gonzalo Cardona Molina, better known as Gonza, was born and raised on a farm in Roncesvalles, Tolima. The day he found out from Fundación ProAves about the need to support the conservation of a parrot that lived in the wax palms and accompanied him each day, he had no doubt and gave himself entirely to save the most majestic and charismatic species in Colombia, the Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis).
The species was on the brink of extinction in 1999. The last 81 individuals were barely surviving in the Central Cordillera of Roncesvalles, Tolima. With alarm bells ringing that urgent actions were needed to save the species, one person more than any other stepped forward to answer the call to help this species – Gonzalo Cardona Molina.
For over 20 years, Gonzalo was THE champion to save Colombia’s greatest natural treasure. He was Fundación ProAves first employee and he did this at a time of immense danger and uncertainty. The parrots occurred in an area where battles and skirmishes between the military and guerrilla were frequent. Gonzalo and his team were regularly facing life-threatening situations to work in the region and ensure the parrots were safe. For over 20 years, everyday Gonzalo tirelessly accompanied these parrots to ensure they were not hunted and their habitat was not destroyed.
The threats were not just to the parrot, but to Gonzalo personally. He had been threatened many times by many sides, unable to comprehend that he loved the parrots and was not interested in politics. They assumed he had an alternative motive, when he was simply driven to do something special.
The Women for Conservation family is greatly affected by this tragedy. Our Founder, Sara Inés Lara, has worked alongside Gonza in Colombia for 22 years, first and now again as Executive Director of ProAves. Women for Conservation’s Director of Conservation, Isabella Cortes Lara, was mentored by him in September 2019, where she stayed with his family and helped with ecological restoration efforts for the Yellow-Eared Parrot. Please see her video about her beloved mentor below. Women for Conservation team expresses our solidarity with his family, his loved ones and the entire community of Roncesvalles, Tolima, where his impact will remain forever.
In his last days, during the month of December 2020, Gonzalo conducted the last national census of the Yellow-eared Parrot and the Fuertes’s Parrot, his notebook showed a still impressive number for himself: 2,895 parrots in Roncesvalles. Joy overflowed his heart with pride of his duty accomplished.
Today, Colombia didn’t just lose a precious life, Colombia lost a champion for nature and our beloved Yellow-eared Parrot’s lost their father and savior.
Rest in peace, Gonzalo