The Voices of Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities
WCS Conservation Hero: Rodrigo Munzenmayer/Chile
December 1, 2022
Growing up, Rodrigo Munzenmayer thought nature was something that happened in places other than Tierra del Fuego. His eyes were not yet opened to the beautiful birds that inhabited his home or the lush landscapes that bordered the island. So when his mother housed Daniela Droguett at her bed and breakfast in 2011, Rodrigo says he felt “lucky.”
Daniela, former WCS Chile Regional Director of Magallanes, described Karukinka Natural Park to Rodrigo’s amazement. He had never heard of Karukinka, or any park in Tierra del Fuego for that matter. When Rodrigo mentioned he wanted to visit, Daniela said she and another conservationist, Carlos Silva, would take him.
“I started watching, seeing the details [and] behaviors,” says Rodrigo. “It was really a mindblower, these two people.”
During their time in Karukinka, Carlos and Daniela patiently taught Rodrigo the fundamentals of bird watching, of how to go slow and observe this wholly-new place and its wildlife. “I started watching, seeing the details [and] behaviors,” says Rodrigo. “It was really a mindblower, these two people.”
Rodrigo excitedly returned to the park as a volunteer a few months later. He was reminded of his grandfather’s house in the countryside of Chiloé and remembered a particularly special moment he had there as a child. “I was inside the forest, alone with a little camera. I was photographing Chucao, which is a native bird of Chile.
I was so happy at that moment,” he says. “And I felt that again, in Karukinka, inside the forest. I was happy because I realized there was forest in Tierra del Fuego. I had never had the opportunity to go that far in the island. There were mountains, rivers, lakes, green grass, and green forests with big trees.”
Karukinka helped Rodrigo discover his drive for conservation. After volunteering as a park ranger for just a month, he was hired. “The people that have worked with me all these years have shown and taught me a lot of things that I really, really enjoy…Now I have to say it’s a passion for me, and I really love what I do. And I keep learning, which is the most enjoyable thing about everything,” he says.
Rodrigo has worked as a park ranger for nearly eleven years and now manages Karukinka’s research and public use. In addition to doing patrols and conducting wildlife censuses, he is in charge of sending data from the park to the researchers, biologists, and veterinarians his team works with, as well as giving talks to schools and park visitors.
“I think people have forgotten that home is our whole planet, and whatever you do in your own space, in your house and your town, it affects the whole house that we all share.”
Since first stepping foot in the forests of Karukinka, Rodrigo has witnessed the implications of climate change — dried lagoons, little to no snowfall, a decrease in fauna, and frigid winters. According to Rodrigo, “There are not many places in the world that have peatlands, [but] Tierra del Fuego is one of them, and Karukinka protects [them].
When you walk on this kind of moss, water comes up — a lot of water. In the [p]ast years, it doesn’t happen anymore. You can feel it…so that is also an indicator of how temperatures are rising.”
Rodrigo feels that empathy is the start to addressing the consequences of climate change: “I think people have forgotten that home is our whole planet, and whatever you do in your own space, in your house and your town, it affects the whole house that we all share.”
Before working in Karukinka, Rodrigo says he did not really know what it meant to be empathetic with Mother Earth. However, he quickly found that putting himself in nature’s shoes was not difficult. “I have compared my attitudes with birds a lot of times, and we are not so different…we all need the same things.”
All photos courtesy Rodrigo Munzenmayer.