Mario Bernal, Bird Watcher, El Valle, Panama

Mario Bernal is a naturalist by heart and an avid birder.  He has dedicated his life to studying the flora, fauna and natural beauty of  Panama. For many years he was a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and is widely considered the top guide for nature oriented tours in Panama.  Mario also leads an environmental organization called “ConserVA”, dedicated to creating awareness about the need to protMario Bernal, Naturalist, bird watcher, conservationist, guideect the ecosystems of his native region. His enthusiasm for Panama’s natural heritage is contagious.

I was lucky to meet Mario and receive a personal tour of his lab where he hosts students and professionals from all over the world.  He also educates locals on the importance of conservation, recycling and respecting the land.  Mario planted almost every tree and plant on his property by hand and he does his best to use only materials that are “given to him”.  Meaning that he cuts down and purchases as little as possible.  Mario’s lab is next to a beautiful river that brings many of his materials (trees, rocks, etc) right to him.  No pesticides or chemicals of any kind are used on his property and with the help of his visitors Mario has created the most beautiful learning environment ever.

Mario is also an activist.  Upon seeing a tractor moving rocks and sand from a  local river he took a photo and said, “I don’t know who you are working for but if you do not stop I will have this photo published and the country will know you and your boss are destroying the land.”  That very day the work stopped and has ceased to being again.

Mario speaks so passionately about nature.  While telling me about his time in the Darrien he speaks about the connection you make with nature.  ”A certain energy is transferred and you truly become one with the land and the animals.  You look at the bird and the bird looks at you and you know each other.”

Mario celebrated his 65th birthday while I was in El Valle.  I was fortunate to attend the party and it was very apparent that not only is Mario loved by his friends, family and community but he is greatly respected.