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264,000 Acres Saved at Ecuador's Antisana Volcano

Antisana Volcano
Antisana Volcano
Antisana Volcano

Rainforest Trust is proud to announce the protection of 264,382 acres of tropical forests to paramo grasslands across the Antisana Volcano in Ecuador. This is one of the most significant conservation accomplishments in recent decades and comes after years of careful and dedicated work by Rainforest Trust and our partner in Ecuador, Fundación Jocotoco.

"The contiguous 264,382 acre land purchase around Volcan Antisana represents one of the greatest conservation successes ever in the Andes," noted Dr. Robert Ridgely, Executive Director of Rainforest Trust and a primary driving force behind this success.

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Antisana is an iconic Ecuadorian volcano standing over 18,700 feet high and made famous by the work there by Alexander von Humboldt. Antisana harbors one of the few remaining true mountain wilderness areas in the Tropical Andes. Surrounding the volcano, just east of Quito, are high-altitude paramo grasslands at 13,000 feet in elevation. These unique highland steppes give way to tropical forests on the Andean slopes that descend into the Amazon basin floor. This enormous but undeveloped area attracted the attention of conservationists in the 1980s, and the Ecuadorian government declared it an ecological reserve in 1993.

Even though the area was declared a reserve on paper, over 80% of the 296,520 acre Antisana Ecological Reserve was still privately owned and managed for cattle. This resulted in conflicts between the actual management of the area and conservation objectives, threatening a number of important species including the Andean Condor, the national bird of Ecuador. For years, conservationists, the private farm (Hacienda) owners, and the Ecuadorian government wanted to resolve these conflicts but were stalled by the enormity of the project.

Nearly 10 years ago, after witnessing the heart-wrenching destruction of a nesting colony of Silvery Grebes, Francisco "Pancho" Sornoza proposed that the Jocotoco Foundation should actively investigate the possibility of protecting Antisana. From then on, Robert Ridgely and Pancho have pushed forward stubbornly to find a way to protect Antisana. In spite of many setbacks along the way, they have achieved success with the help of many new supporters for the idea, some of whom were very unexpected. As Robert Ridgely wrote recently,

“I’ve written a lot about Vólcan Antisana over the past ten years….Looking back over our early proposals, what has actually been accomplished does differ from what we first proposed, but the results are impressive. I am very pleased to report that no less than 264,382 acres around Antisana have been preserved forever. Not only has Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco been involved, but our initiative has garnered the support of the Ecuadorian government and the municipal government of the City of Quito. Our original plan was to buy out the outstanding land title claims for the vast Antisana Ecological Reserve (239,989 acres) and then to purchase two of the adjoining haciendas (Antisana at 17,710 acres and Contadero Grande at 979 acres). Because of our interest in the Antisana area, and subsequent to the direct intervention of Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, Ecuador’s Environmental Ministry was galvanized to purchase the outstanding land titles of the Antisana Ecological Reserve further down on the east slope. In addition, Quito’s municipal water authority moved to purchase Haciendas Antisana and Contadero Grande, a purchase finalized only recently. For Ecuador these two purchases are a very big deal: never before had an Ecuadorian government entity made such a large purchase for conservation purposes. Indeed few such large purchases for conservation have been made by a Latin American government anywhere."

Thus the Antisana Ecological Reserve is now fully state owned–a huge accomplishment. But several large private farms bordering the western edge of the reserve, including the gateway Hacienda Antisana and Sunfohuayco, were also critical to purchase and protect.

Once again with the support and encouragement of Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco, the Quito Water Authority (EMAAP) moved to purchase the 17,710-acre Hacienda Antisana and 979-acre Contadero Grande in September 2011. Finally, the last purchase to complete the historic protection of the fragile Antisana ecosystem was completed just last week–the day after Thanksgiving–when Fundación Jocotoco purchased the 5,681-acre Hacienda Sunfohuayco. This last piece of a critical ecological puzzle adds protection for high Andean native paramo grassland and polyepis forest, a move made possible by Rainforest Trust and thanks to the support of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, and donors like you.

Due to a long history of intensive grazing, Antisana’s ecosystems are significantly degraded, and this affects an important part of the watershed that supplies water to much of Quito. Nonetheless Antisana has outstanding biodiversity values which make it amply worthy of protection.

The goal of Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco, in collaboration with various actors in Ecuador such as the Ministry of Environment, the Quito Municipality, the Quito Water Authority (EMAAP), the Quito Water Fund (FONAG), and EcoFondo is to begin the process of reversing and correcting the damage to these natural ecosystems and to return Antisana to its former glory. In time Antisana will serve as an example of an accessible but little-disturbed high Andean ecosystem benefitting the citizens of Ecuador and the world at large.

The conservation value of Antisana
Tropical Andean cloud forests such as are found at Antisana are considered the world’s number one biodiversity priority due to their species richness, endemism, and degree of risk; they harbor multitudes of rare and endangered species. On the other hand, the páramo ecosystem, although not as rich in species, harbors many rare and endemic species of fauna and flora which are threatened by grazing and fires.

The acquisitions of these haciendas will help control access to the reserve and will reverse the process of ecosystem degradation by grazing cattle and sheep. It will also help control the illegal hunting of the remaining populations of cougars, Andean wolves, condors, and ibis. The páramo areas have particular importance for biodiversity, including the only main populations of Andean Condor, Silvery Grebe, and Black-faced Ibis in Ecuador. The lakes, marshes, and bogs provide important habitat for both resident and migratory shorebirds as well as many special waterfowl. There are also important populations of big mammals such as Spectacled Bear, Puma, and Andean Wolf.

Antisana is one of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites of Ecuador due to the presence of no less than three species of threatened frogs of the genus Pristimantis.

Overall, this integrated conservation area conserves one of the largest protected gradients in the world, stretching from 3,900 up to 18,875 feet above sea level, critically important in a time of climate change. Importantly, Antisana is connected to two adjacent protected areas, both of them very large: the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve to the north and the Gran Sumaco National Park to the East. Together with Antisana, this conservation mosaic safeguards 1.8 million acres of critical and biologically diverse Andean and Amazonian ecosystems.

The Antisana project, an unparalleled success years in the making, showcases an exciting and exemplary private-public partnership to purchase and save one of the greatest remaining wilderness areas in the Tropical Andes.

Please join us to buy and save more critical tropical habitats and make a real difference.