Forestín celebrates 46 years promoting environmental care and forest fire prevention: “It’s time to clear up the mystery: I’m a coypu!”
The emblematic mascot of the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), part of the Agriculture Ministry, is celebrating his birthday this Sunday. Did you know that he was rescued from a forest fire? That he has a club named after him? And that he’s famous for starring in TV campaigns to prevent forest fires and even went to Lollapalooza? Learn all about Forestín’s story and his birthday wishes in this interview.
Forty-six years ago, on June 12, 1976, Forestín was rescued from a forest fire by firefighters, who took him to a national park to be cared for and fed by park rangers from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF). As he grew up, his love for nature was so great that his true vocation emerged: to become a CONAF ambassador, promoting the protection and care of our environment and the prevention of forest fires.
With his characteristic green dungarees or brown trousers and his yellow shirt, Forestín has toured hundreds of kindergartens and schools throughout Chile, giving talks on environmental education and forest fire prevention. He has his own club, Club Forestín and he stars in TV campaigns to prevent forest fires. He was invited by Los Frutantes musical group from ACHIPIA to sing the hit “Forestín el más pulento” (Forestín the finest) at Lollapalooza 2019.
And although he’s sometimes confused with another animal, he himself explains in this interview that he’s a native of Chile and lives between the Coquimbo and Magallanes regions.
Forestín, first of all, to clear it up for those who don’t know, what animal are you?
People have always been unsure because of my figure. I understand that this is because I look rather like a rodent from another country. So, it’s time to clear up the mystery: I’m a coypu! Known in the scientific world as Myocastor coypus, an animal native to Chile that is in a vulnerable situation, because the population of my relatives has decreased enormously. That’s why I’m protected by the hunting law.
Right, so that we can learn, where in the country do your coypu relatives live?
I live between the warm Coquimbo Region and the cold and windy Magallanes Region in Chile. But, because I’m a native animal, I also have relatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. In these countries I live in lagoons, rivers and wetlands. But I avoid fast-moving rivers!
People say that you were rescued from a forest fire. What do you remember of that day and what motivated you to become Forestín?
I remember it like it was 46 years ago! That summer day, a group of young people made a bonfire. But they didn’t pay attention to it and during the night it turned into a forest fire. The firefighters CONAF had at that time realized and after several days of hard work they got the fire under control. When they returned to their camp, they stopped on the banks of an estuary where they found a young coypu that was close to death, choked by the smoke. That little one was me. The firefighters attended to me and took me to a national park where the park rangers took care of me and fed me. In gratitude for their affection, I’ve worked with them since then, with fire brigade members and park rangers, to protect nature from forest fires and take care of the country’s native flora.
When you go to schools or kindergartens, apart from grabbing your paws, what is the first things that the children ask you?
“Why am I so handsome?” No, hahaha, I’m joking. They ask me what animal I am, and what work I do with my CONAF colleagues. We always organize talks on environmental education and forest fire prevention in kindergartens and schools. We almost always finish the activity by planting a native tree.
By the way, what message would you give to children regarding the importance of respecting and caring for nature and, of course, preventing forest fires?
We know that the boys and girls in Chile are important in supporting us to prevent forest fires. They now educate their parents and elders about caring for trees, and how to prevent fires and protect native fauna. The messages that they learn today will stay with them their whole lives. That’s the key.
Adults are almost always the most disobedient when it comes to following the rules. What are the main recommendations that people should follow inside a park, reserve, monument or sanctuary?
With small actions, adults can contribute to protecting national parks, national reserves and natural monuments. Above all, I would like to point out that these natural spaces are protected because our country’s unique flora and fauna live there, as well as the cultural elements they contain. Therefore, each person who enters is a visitor and must respect the rules of the place. For example, people can’t enter with their pets. They can’t light fires either, because, as well as being a crime, they can cause a forest fire, as happened a few years ago in the Torres del Paine National Park. Above all, people should find out about the place they’re visiting in order to have an unforgettable day. And, of course, always respect the rules that the park ranger team tells you!
There are some stubborn people who insist on entering with pets. Why don’t you explain to them with words they’ll understand how serious their little joke is for the wildlife?
Our national parks are home to foxes, guanacos, huemuls (South Andean deer), native and endemic birds and many other species. Many of these animals may even be in danger of extinction. I’ll give you an example: dogs and cats can spread diseases to wildlife, attack, harass or alter their behavior, and even cause them to die. It’s really important to emphasize that even if your pet is vaccinated and is on a lead, it CANNOT enter. Its mere presence affects the wildlife, causing it stress and making it move to other areas.
The park rangers are great co-workers of yours. Why is their work so important?
They say that “without the park rangers, there’s no conservation.” It’s important to highlight this because there are park rangers throughout Chile and our islands, every day of the year. Their green heart is key, because they are linked to the community, the people who visit us, and they also carry out actions to protect and conserve the ecosystems. I’ve learnt a lot from each park ranger.
Apart from swimming and putting out fires, what do you do in your spare time, Forestín?
I like to read and watch TV series. My favorite book right now is Faunánimo, which tells the stories of the native creatures with caricatures and is funny. And the last series that I watched were Babies of the Zoo and Our Great National Parks, which dedicated an entire episode to Chile.
In Chile, we have parks to brag about. Which is your favorite?
Pass! I can’t choose just one, because they all have their own special features and are unique.
Some say that it’s bad luck to tell, but between us, what do you wish for this 46th birthday?
Being superstitious brings bad luck! Typical Gemini, hahaha. My wish this birthday, as always, is to keep traveling through Chile with boys and girls to deliver my message of care and respect for nature, with an emphasis on planting more trees and making sure they’re not cut down without authorization from CONAF.
Follow the social networks of Forestín, CONAF mascot, here: