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Cuba’s Children Inspire Audubon Chapter

Jan 4th, 2017 | Category: Announcements, Central Florida News, Indian River Lagoon News

By Lisa D. Mickey

Members of the Halifax River Audubon chapter in Daytona Beach knew they would encounter children from the surrounding areas when they visited Cuba in December 2014. They came prepared with small gifts to share with the local kids and had many friendly exchanges as they moved around the Caribbean nation watching birds. But Halifax River Audubonchapter members had no idea children would be so excited when they shyly stepped toward spotting scopes trained on native Cuban birds in faraway trees and viewed something familiar for what felt like the first time.

Purchase price for Florida Audubon chapters is $3 per copy for orders of 50 or more, or single copies for $5. To order or for more information, contact David Hartgrove at birdman9@earthlink.net or 386-788-2630.

“They were always curious and wanted to know what we were looking at,” said David Hartgrove, HRA’s Vice President and Conservation Chair, who was on the trip. “One day, we were looking at Cuban Parakeets, so we lowered a scope for a little girl,” added Hartgrove. “This was a bird she saw flying around all the time, but it was the first time she got to see it up close and she was thrilled.”

So, too, were the adults who witnessed countless eureka moments by children throughout Cuba during the trip. Many of the local children had seen caged songbirds all of their lives and thought nothing of it, but now, as the group’s translator explained to the kids, these visitors had come all the way to their country to see the amazing birds of Cuba in their native habitats. They were here to see the birds flying freely, flashing spectacular colors and communicating with each other as they flew about.

“Whenever the children looked through a spotting scope, their reaction was like they were looking at something from outer space,” said Gary Markowski, founder and executive director of Caribbean Conservation Trust, who has organized birding trips to Cuba since 1996, including the HRA’s trip in 2014. “There was great happiness and interest by the kids whenever they looked at these birds,” Markowski added.

But birding by groups like those who come to Cuba armed with powerful camera lenses and binoculars is not something the locals fully understand. Many of the Cuban residents proudly display painted buntings and Cuban bullfinches in cages hanging on their porches – a cultural tradition in many Latin-American countries — but following birds in the wild, as the eager visitors do many times a year, is a cultural disconnect for most of the Cuban locals. “There’s no recreational birding in Cuba among the people because there are no resources,” added Markowski. “I don’t think there’s a lot of conservation being taught.”

These observations hit home to the chapter members and that’s how the idea emerged to engage the children of Cuba to not only take an interest in the birds of their homeland, but to teach them enough that they could someday become better stewards of the country’s many species and even to potentially advocate against a rampant caged-bird trade. During a tour-bus ride, Hartgrove and the chapter’s treasurer agreed they should earmark the $3,200 they had collected for an HRA fundraiser and use it to produce a coloring book of the birds of Cuba. Hartgrove contacted Lakeland-based illustrator and Cuban native Reinier Munguia when he returned home to Florida. Munguia was given a list of birds and he pared it down to a list of 30 endemic, migratory and common (resident) birds to include in the book.

In just under two months, “Coloreando Las Aves de Cuba” (Coloring the Birds of Cuba) was a printed product. Munguia designed the book, produced the drawings and wrote the captions in the Spanish language. A first printing of 2,000 copies in Spanish was ready to reach Cuban children by early fall 2016.“ This is a great opportunity to help educate the kids there to protect what they have,” said Munguia, who left Cuba with his family when he was 8. “I really enjoyed doing all the drawings, while also knowing there’s a good educational component that’s going out with this book. It’s not just a coloring book – it’s a workbook.”

For example, Munguia used common biological terminology in describing habitats, diets and facts about the birds. He also included information about Cuban birds at risk and what was causing that risk. “We know that caged birds in Cuba are a big thing and there’s often a big impact in the population of certain species,” he said. Munguia hopes kids will get excited about the book and not only fill it up with colors, but also take their knowledge into their own back yards to watch the birds and help their families understand the birds’ value in the wild.

“It can be something that is amazing for the kids because they may not have ever seen anything like this before,” he said. Even with improved diplomatic relations with Cuba, distributing materials there is impossible without proper government authorization. So, Markowski shared Spanish-language proofs of the coloring books with Cuban directors of national parks and a national museum. “Everything takes a long time, but we got an endorsement from two national parks,” he said.

Markowski will take copies of the books to Cuba this fall by hand and deliver them to naturalists at the two parks. The naturalists, in turn, will share the books with children visiting the parks in youth and environmental clubs, and will teach the youngsters about the birds in their environment, as well as what is needed for their conservation. “If kids are hired to capture birds for the cage trade, they don’t have a role model or concept that doing this is not good,” added Markowski. “The coloring books can inform these kids and expose them to a positive example to help conserve, rather than capture these birds.”

In addition to the Spanish-language copies produced for the kids of Cuba, the group has also printed one thousand English-language copies of “Coloring the Birds of Cuba” to reach Audubon chapters across Florida. The sale of the books will serve as a fundraiser for the Halifax River Audubon chapter, while also raising awareness for the birds of Cuba as travel becomes easier between the two countries. “It makes me feel good that we’ve been able to make this happen,” said Hartgrove of the project. “I want the kids in Cuba to get a greater appreciation of the natural treasures that are around them and this book is a start.”

And for Munguia, who has been completely isolated from his Cuban relatives since his family fled the Castro regime, there’s special meaning in the coloring book he gratefully labored to produce.
“I’m giving something back to the country that I belong to,” he said. “Maybe this book will get into the hands of some of my family who still live there. That’s pretty meaningful.”

Purchase price for Florida Audubon chapters is $3 per copy for orders of 50 or more, or single copies for $5. To order or for more information, contact David Hartgrove at birdman9@earthlink.net or 386-788-2630.