Inspired 50 years ago by aerial views of Yucatan’s “vast sea” of dense green forests from her late husband’s bush plane, Joann Andrews set a course for her life. That course would propel her to a decades-long leadership role in conservation efforts on behalf of Yucatan’s environment and wildlife.
In an interview with The Yucatan Times, Andrews belied her 86 years of age with an energetic demeanor and undiminished enthusiasm for conservation in Yucatan. She recounted vivid recollections of being led by Campeche chicleros on trips to identify unnamed wild orchid species and going jungle camping with her husband, the archaeologist Wyllys Andrews.
As one of the principle founders of Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan in the early 1980s, and currently the group’s Honorary President, Andrews has advised a series of Yucatan governors and other officials about conservation issues. She is also the co-founder of the Festival de las Aves, a bird-counting contest that is in its 14th year and a model for similar events throughout Mexico.
Andrews, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service in Africa for 10 years before settling permanently in Mexico in the early 1970s, saw how the Peninsula’s environment began to change slowly with development of new roads.
“Before the (Campeche) road improvments, the forest was almost virgin,” recalled Andrews, whose English bears a soft Southern accent of her native Virginia. “When we would go out with the chicleros to collect orchids, we saw the number of migrating birds in the winter were literally in the millions.”
These experiences, along with aerial views of the jungle, led her to the conclusion, “This forest is really worth saving.”
Andrews said she encountered some resistance to her early efforts. “When we started Pronatura, some of the Yucatecans would ask me, “‘Why conservation, Joann, when we have so many poor people?'”
“Yes you have to respond to poverty, but you can’t abandon natural resources,” she said was her response.
Another of her interests — horses and riding — had put her in contact with some of Yucatan’s elite families, and she used her connections to enlist support for her conservation efforts.
Her proudest accomplishment? “That Pronatura is as strong as it is today, that it’s been able to keep going,” she said, adding, “It’s not my accomplishment. It has a lot to do with Maria Andrade (Pronatura General Director) and the rest of the staff.”
As one of the region’s leading Non-Governamental Organizations, Pronatura’s success stems largely from its careful stewardship of financial resources and responsible bookkeeping, Andrews said.
“If you want to start an NGO, you have to keep good books and show what you do with the money,” she said. “Donors want accountability.”
By Robert Adams for TYT
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