Meet the environmentalist: Jack Ewing on eco-tourism and saving the rainforests

Owner and manager of Costa Rica’s Hacienda Barú, American-born environmentalist and author Jack Ewing reflects on his time in the country that’s shaped his life and work.Monday, 20 January 2020

When I first came to Puntarenas Province, every hike brought new experiences and new discoveries. Little by little, I fell in love with the jungle around Hacienda Barú — with seeing countless other species in their natural habitat. One step at a time, I became an environmentalist and I came to realise how important the rainforest is to the wellbeing of the planet.

In 1990, we sold all Hacienda Barú’s cattle. We converted the estate into an eco-tourism destination, returning almost all of its 350 acres of pasture to Mother Nature, preserving its additional 450 acres of rainforest. We were granted the status of National Wildlife Refuge by the government in 1995. Hacienda Barú is part of a major Biological Corridor and is also part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We employ up to 39 local people full-time, all of whom know that they owe their jobs to the rainforest, Costa Rica’s biggest attraction.

If I go hiking without any expectations, I’m always delighted with the wildlife I see. If I go expecting to see certain species, I’m often disappointed. As you walk through the rainforest, it’s important to move slowly and look around. Close observation of any species, no matter how ordinary it may seem, reveals a whole world of information that isn’t outwardly apparent. We tend to be attracted to the most exotic birds and mammals, but there are so many other species that are equally intriguing.

There’s so much to see. My favourite mammal is the ocelot; the crested caracara is the bird I admire most. The ajo is my favourite tree. Among amphibians, it would be the green-and-black poison dart frog, and among reptiles the spiny-tailed iguana. In the coast region around the hacienda, whale-watching is available for about seven months out of the year. For the more physically fit, a climb to the top of Mount Chirripó is a wonderful adventure that includes lots of wildlife observation.

The rainforest is an incredible place that needs to be protected. That’s the message of my first book, Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate — a collection of stories about the rainforest, mostly from my own personal experience of learning that we must live in harmony with our natural environment. My second book, Where Tapirs and Jaguars Once Roamed, is a history of the Costa Rican region between the Savegre and Sierpe Rivers, today known as the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor.

haciendabaru.com

Published in the January/February 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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