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The Challenge of Conserving the Invisible

By on January 17, 2019 in EDGE birds, News

Eliana Montenegro, a Segré EDGE Fellow, discusses the challenges of conserving the little known Banded Ground-cuckoo and reflects on a recent training course in Ecuador.

Three months have passed since the beginning of the Banded Ground-cuckoo Conservation Project in the Ecuadorian Choco. I have met many people who are truly interested in conservation and the species. I’ve decided to write about them because without their involvement, the project is not possible.

Forest guards and local people from local communities were part of a recent training course which took place at Canande Reserve. Before the course, I asked them to talk to other people, family or friends, about the Banded Ground-cuckoo. I wanted to get some traditional, local knowledge about the species. To my surprise, it became apparent whilst I listened that no one knew what a Banded Ground-cuckoo was and most people got it confused with chachalacas and other terrestrial bird species. Enigmatic is usually used by biologists to describe the species and this made more sense to me.

During the course I thought about how I would achieve my project goals; how will I convince people to conserve a bird that they have never seen before? This project is like no others I have led, everybody in Ecuador knows what a macaw, parakeet, condor or hummingbird is. A Banded Ground-cuckoo however is more difficult. Even the name is difficult to remember, and to complicate matters further cuckoos are not well known at all.

The training course lasted two days, and the name “Banded Ground-cuckoo” was present in the mind of all the participants. The overarching feelings were of patience and perseverance, all of the participants wanted to watch or at least hear the Banded Ground-cuckoo. All of them started the monitoring with enthusiasm.

Team Canande Reserve. Monitoring of the Banded Ground-cuckoo in one of the transects | © Eliana Montenegro

So far we have confirmed the presence of the bird in five transects out of eighteen. Causality also played in our favour –  camera traps that are installed in Canande and Tesor Escondido Reserves recorded two banded ground-cuckoos. These pictures gave us the opportunity to extend the project into a monitoring phase.

All of the people involved with the project are excited and curious – they are the driving force behind the project’s success. The future of the project depends on them, they are the face of the banded ground-cuckoo with the local communities. As for me, my goal is to turn them into conservation leaders and give them the skills to continue the vital conservation work into the future. Their passion unwavering and the future of this work is with them.

Tesoro Escondido team giving a talk about their work in conservation | © Eliana Montenegro

My favourite composer said in one of his lyrics “Cumple sus sueños quien resiste” which means: only those who resist everything, will fulfil their dreams. Many thoughts and feelings went through my mind, many of them of disappointment. However, the Banded Ground-cuckoo Project continues with passion, self-confidence and most importantly, team work.

Banded Ground Cuckoo monitoring team | © Eliana Montenegro


© Robin Moore

Eliana Montenegro is the Project Manager at Jocotoco Foundation (, an Ecuadorian NGO which protects critical habitats for threatened bird species and associated biodiversity.  Jocotoco currently manages 13 private reserves, including one in the Galapagos Islands. Eliana is in charge of monitoring activities for threatened birds such as: El Oro Parakeet, Black-breasted Puffleg, Galapagos Petrel and Lilacine Amazon. She also leads a very challenging project to reintroduce Great Green Macaws in an area from which it disappeared more than fifty years ago.

In 2018, Eliana was selected for the EDGE Fellowship Program supported by Zoological Society of London, to start working for the conservation of the Banded-Ground cuckoo, an enigmatic and threatened bird species that inhabits the Choco Forest. The project is located in the Canande Reserve, one of the last remnants of the Choco Forest in northwest Ecuador, and aims to improve the conservation of the Banded Ground-cuckoo through increased ecological knowledge and the involvement of local people in conservation actions. This project has the important support of Jordan Karubian, Michaël Moens and Martin Schaefer, prestigious ornithologists who have worked widely with Ecuadorian bird species.

Eliana studied biology, filmmaking, and photography at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. She started her career as a biologist four years ago studying urban birds in Quito-Ecuador. Eliana has given talks in national and international bird conferences about conservation of threatened bird species.