Photo Aguarico RiverThe Cofán people have lived in the Amazon rain forest for thousands of years.  They hunt, fish and gather foods from the forest, protecting more than one million acres of their ancestral homeland in eastern Ecuador.

But something is missing.  There were once millions of turtles living in the Zábalo, Aguarico and nearby rivers.  Hunters came here seeking fortune and hunted the creatures nearly to extinction.  The Cofán from the village of Zábalo want to bring them back.  And we can help!

Photo Charapa on log

During the dry season, female turtles lay their eggs on sandy beaches at the edge of each river.  The Cofán plan to follow their tracks, locate the nests and protect them until the eggs hatch.  Then they will collect the babies and raise them in protected pools until their shells harden and they are ready to be released back into the wild.

The Cofán word is charapa.  In English, it is known as the Yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtle.  Scientists use the Latin name, Podocnemis Unifilis, and estimate that the Cofan’s plan will increase the baby turtles’ survival rate from one percent to thirty percent, perhaps even more.  For every hundred eggs laid on the beaches next to the rivers, at least thirty will grow to maturity and produce babies of their own.  Without their help, only one would survive.


Protecting them means the people of Zábalo will have less to eat this year – turtle eggs are a local delicacy and traditional source of food.  The leaders of the village have already decided not to allow oil companies to drill here, and they don’t permit commercial logging, mining or hunting either.  This might be an easy way to make money, but extracting resources for short-term profit destroys the land, water and atmosphere.  The Cofán have a different vision:  they want to protect the virgin rain forest they call home so they can hunt, fish and gather here forever.

We can help provide an alternative source of income for the people of Zábalo and join them in their effort to save the turtles and the entire forest where they thrive:

  • $5 protects a turtle, or Charapa, from the time the egg is laid until it is one-year-old and ready to be released into the wild
  • $50 protects ten turtles. Families earn income by delivering baby turtles to the Charapa Monitors and Caretakers
  • $100 funds a Charapa Caretaker to feed and care for the newly hatched turtles in protected ponds for a month
  • $150 provides the fuel and supplies needed to maintain the project for a month
  • $250 funds a Charapa Monitor to keep track of the nests during breeding and hatching season for a month
  • $2,000 purchases project materials like notebooks, pond liners and fencing for a year
  • $5,000 covers the cost of a 10-meter boat and motor needed for the Charapa Monitors, Caretakers and Coordinator to travel up and down the river
  • $9,600 funds a Coordinator to oversee the entire project for a year
  • $80,000 would launch an expansion of the project throughout the region, developing sustainable sources of funding from ecolodges located on the nearby Cuyabeno and Napo Rivers

To make your contribution, visit http://www.cofan.org/support-the-cause/, click on the Donate button, and write “Charapa Turtle Project” in the Comments box.

The Cofán plan to save 10,000 Charapas this year.  With your help, this will actually happen!