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Establish Copalinga Reserve to Protect Threatened Eastern Andean Tropical Rainforest

Ecuador

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  • Forest view. Photo by Doug Wechsler

Copalinga, an established eco-lodge located at the eastern entrance of Podocarpus National Park, is situated on the eastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador. As one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, at least 554 species of birds have been recorded in the nearby park, while the area also has the highest orchid diversity in Ecuador. Although bird watchers and tourists visit, the eco-lodge has been managed more like a private guesthouse with little promotion, keeping profits low. Our local partner Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco has the unique opportunity to purchase and manage the Copalinga Lodge. Copalinga has ideal biological and touristic conditions for our partner and is already incorporated into the itinerary of tour groups visiting their southern lodges. Ecotourism revenue generated by the lodge will help Fundación Jocotoco cover the costs of its other reserves.

Rainforest Trust and our local partner have a unique opportunity to purchase the 370 acres that compose the Copalinga Reserve. Our partner will make a down payment soon and start managing Copalinga late in September 2017 with all profits going to its bird watching tourism unit Jocotours. Following the model of the other Jocotoco reserves, Jocotours will then donate proceeds back to Fundación Jocotoco for reserve operations, providing a significant income boost needed to support reserve management across the Jocotoco reserve network.

Biodiversity

  • Vulnerable Grey Tinamous. Photo by Jocotoco

The eastern Andes are one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Podocarpus National Park has the highest orchid diversity in Ecuador, while some 554 bird species have been recorded. The properties consist of over 85 percent old secondary forest and are a pre-montane tropical forest habitat with approximately 75 species of trees per acre. Copalinga is home to ten species of Vulnerable birds, and while the Napo Giant Glass Frog is incredibly rare, it has been recently recorded near the Copalinga Reserve.

Challenges

  • Deforestation of premontante forest. Photo by Jocotoco

In the tropical Andes, only an estimated 25 percent of the region’s habitat remains intact, with threat levels being particularly severe in the northern Andes from Venezuela to Ecuador. Although there are several large national parks in Ecuador, they are poorly protected and remain threatened by mining, logging, agriculture and illegal settlements. For example, the annual deforestation rate within and around Podocarpus National Park in southeastern Ecuador is 0.6-0.9 percent. These alarming figures, along with the small ranges of many threatened species, show that the governmental system of protected areas alone is not sufficient to prevent the loss of biodiversity in the eastern Andes of Ecuador.

The principal driver of deforestation in Ecuador is expanding agricultural developments, which are facilitated by improvement in the road network. Copalinga is located in southeastern Ecuador and protects pre-montane tropical forest, the area and forest type that has the highest deforestation rates. Between 1990 and 2008, the annual deforestation rate reached 9.8 percent in the pre-montane tropical forest of Zamora-Chinchipe province, concluding that the eastern Andes should be an urgent focus of conservation initiatives.

A strong decline in tourism would affect the long-term sustainability of Copalinga Reserve. Over the past three years, tourism declined in Ecuador due to events like the earthquake, zika virus and the possible eruption of Cotopaxi volcano. Despite the fewer tourists, Copalinga has still returned a profit.

Communities

  • Volunteer course at Resort. Photo by Jocotoco

The owners are willing to sell their property, and no people live within the reserve. There is no community involvement with this project, but Copalinga is well established and respected by locals.

Solutions

  • Eco-tourism visitors bird watching from dining hall. Photo by Jocotoco

Copalinga eco-lodge has operated under private ownership, and while operations have always been profitable, they have not been high. Low profits may be explained by the lack of promotion for the reserve and managing the property more like a private guesthouse. Our partner will begin managing Copalinga in late September 2017 with all profits going to Jocotours.

Despite low profits, Copalinga is self-sustaining as a tourism lodge and has a sales volume of $78,000 per year. It is already established on the market and had 1,440 overnight visitors in 2016 (a decrease from 2015 and 2014, but comparable to developments elsewhere in Ecuador). Our partner is asking for support to purchase the lodge and its 370-acre property, make some strategic infrastructure improvements, support a park guard and improve tourism revenues by promoting the reserve through a website, brochures and outreach to tour agencies and the large expat. community in Cuenca and Loja.

The vision for Copalinga is to achieve full connectivity with the Podocarpus National Park and to have sufficient revenues to help sustain other partner reserves that have more limited or no ecotourism potential.

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