Conservation Hero: Omar Tello

Image credit: Creative Commons, Tropical Commons

Conservation Hero: Omar Tello

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

Ordained a ‘humble maverick’ at four-years-old, Omar Tello grew up surrounded by nature. The butterflies, bugs, and birds surrounding him felt like paradise, and he wanted to live in the jungle forever. However, as adult life came upon him, the wild was replaced by the world of accounting. Working for a bank, Tello felt like a prisoner. Then in 1980, as Ecuador lost thousands of square miles of rainforest due to oil companies, he found his escape. Purchasing a rainforest pasture in Puyo, Tello began restoring Amazonian fauna and flora.

Before settling on the 17-acres in Puyo, Tello and his brother visited many of the deforested areas in the region. His family thought he was mad for taking on such a project. Although he knew it was a big undertaking, Tello felt he had to do something to save species that were becoming extinct. At first, he continued his life at the bank, going back and forth to the forest for years. Even though this left little time for his family, Tello was passionate that restoring the jungle was the only way humans would not permanently wipe out nature’s resources.

Initially, Tello’s land was like the surrounding area, stripped of vegetation and reduced to pasture to support livestock. He and his wife planted trees but struggled to make them grow.  They discovered they needed to change the soil. Using organic materials like sawdust and chicken manure, they fertilized the ground and found native seeds to replant.

Image credit: Courtesy of Humans for Abundance

Not only did the trees start growing, but rare regional plants also began to take life. Biodiversity in many forms started showing up, and each new species helped grow the forest, stabilizing the ecosystem. Tello’s rainforest now has a higher floral biodiversity than most jungles within dozens of miles in any direction. Thousands of plant species and animals alike call it home, which Tello painstakingly catalogs.

Tello traveled to advise farmers on regrowing their land to spread his newfound information. At first, the local growers were apprehensive because they could lose money by restoring the ground, so Tello began working with Humans for Abundance. They established a $250 a month payment to farmers to repair patches of their land. The project already has multiple farmers participating for launching in 2019.

It is rare for an individual to take on such a massive project, but Tello has a passion for giving back to the world. He was the subject of a documentary, 7 Hectares Back which won second place in the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest. Today, Tello is a local expert in forest restoration, and in addition to working with farmers, he collaborates with educational institutions and community centers.

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