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Naturetrek's Reserve in Ecuador

For over a decade Naturetrek has been working to protect a threatened cloudforest corridor in the Ecuadorian Andes, which has been classified by WWF as one of the 200 most important wildlife corridors in the world. Through the World Land Trust and Ecuadorian conservation charity Fundación EcoMinga* we have been supporting direct purchase of the forest as a public nature reserve, open to the local people for no-impact ecotourism and protected from hunting, plant collection, and any other extractive activities. Funds for these purchases have been achieved by Naturetrek setting aside £15 for every person booking on a long-haul holiday and £5 for those booking a short-haul tour. As of November 2016, Naturetrek had donated £197,551 for these purchases, saving 890 acres. The area saved included a large block of forest in the corridor, and an additional block of forest connecting the Llanganates National Park with a different kind of lower-elevation forest. In spring 2018 we donated an additional £95,847 which will protect another 499 acres in the corridor, bringing the total area protected to 1,389 acres.

An international biodiversity hotspot under threat

The Río Pastaza valley cuts through one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, the eastern Andes of Ecuador. To the north of this valley, the high mountains are protected by a large national park, Los Llanganates National Park, where the treasure of the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, is supposedly buried, but the vulnerable (and agriculturally valuable) lower slopes leading into the valley were left out of the park. To the south of the valley, another very large national park, Sangay, protects the highest mountains, but here too the more valuable and vulnerable lower slopes leading into the valley were left unprotected. These unprotected slopes were originally completely covered by rich cloudforest, full of locally endemic plant species, and rich in Andean wildlife such as the Spectacled Bear and endangered Mountain Tapir. The once contiguous forest provided a wildlife corridor between the two national parks, and hence between the north-east Andes and the south-east Andes of Ecuador, with only a shallow river separating them.

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Giant Antpitta

However, deforestation began early in this valley, which was one of the main lines of communication and travel between the Amazon basin and the densely settled inter-Andean plateau. In the 1950s a major road was built through it, and the forests began to be cut in earnest, mostly to grow the citrus fruit naranjilla (Solanum quitoense). Today the wildlife corridor between the north-east and south-east Andes, and the wealth of rare species it contains, is under even more threat, as the local people have begun to deploy zip lines in order to facilitate bringing crops down from even very high and steep mountain slopes.

Because the Naturetrek Reserves connect higher altitude cloudforest to the vulnerable riparian forests along the valley floor, they not only provide vital river access for large mammals and other species but also extend protection to the more diverse lower elevations that are not protected by the highland national parks in this watershed. For example, a recently discovered and very rare tree, Blakea attenboroughii, is not known from any national park yet is present in the Naturetrek Reserve. The upper Río Pastaza watershed is home to nearly 200 additional species of plants found nowhere else in the world, and this number is steadily increasing due to botanical investigation. The birdlife here is also very special, with species such as the Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Giant Antpitta, and the endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle, one of which has been spotted by EcoMinga staff carrying a capuchin monkey through the air!

Ecotourism – a sustainable alternative to deforestation and farming?

It is also our aim to develop wildlife tourism, and an awareness of the value and importance of our Reserves and the two national parks, in the local town of Baños. Whilst it is already one of Ecuador’s major tourist destinations, Baños’ local tourism operators have yet to appreciate the value of the region’s unique potential for ecotourism. This is something that we hope we can influence – by demonstrating that the area’s forest and its wildlife have economic value, and that a more sustainable local economy is on the doorstep, providing a realistic alternative to deforestation and farming.

For more information on the Candelaria Reserve, how you can help fight climate change and about the rest of World Land Trust’s important conservation work, please visit their website at www.worldlandtrust.org

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Blakea attenboroughii

*Fundación EcoMinga was founded in 2005 and is based in Baños, Ecuador. The organisation’s aim is to efficiently preserve biodiversity in Ecuador. WLT and Naturetrek have been working with Fundación EcoMinga since 2007.


Exciting discoveries in the Naturetrek reserve!

Over the last few years students visiting EcoMinga’s reserves have focused on herpetological monitoring in the main unit of the Naturetrek Reserve. This has led to a new appreciation of the diversity of frogs within the reserve. The most exciting result of these investigations has been the discovery of a new species of frog belonging to the genus Noblella. This new frog will be named after Naturetrek in recognition of our role in saving this species and its habitat.

Another possible new frog species has been discovered, this time an exquisite little rain frog (Pristimantis sp.), which was found in the Viscaya unit of our reserve. We are still waiting to hear confirmation, but this would be the second new species found in the Naturetrek reserve!

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Noblella sp.

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Pristimantis sp.