ECUADOR

Dracula Orchid Reserve

Project Cost: $27,995

Funding Raised: $27,995

$190 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)

100% of your donation goes towards Conservation Action.

2X The Impact

Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Fundación EcoMinga to support the strategic acquisition of 309 acres (mapped by Google Earth) in the Chocó region of northern Ecuador.

Thanks to generous support from our donors, we have successfully reached our fundraising goal for this project.

A further 343 acres of adjacent land has also been purchased, which together will form a combined area of 652 acres of the proposed “Dracula Orchid Reserve.” Dracula Orchids were named by Dr. Carlyle Luer for the sinister face-like appearance of their flowers. This genus has many highly endemic species found in very few areas, and this reserve will protect critical habitat upon which at least two endangered and endemic Dracula Orchid species depend

Fast Facts

Location
Northwestern Ecuador, Carchi Province

Size
652 acres

Key Species
Dracula and Lepanthes orchid species, Choco Vireo, Spectacled Bear

Habitat
Cloud forest

Threats
Deforestation due to agriculture, logging, human settlement, and cattle grazing

Action
Purchase 309 acres to establish the Dracula Orchid Reserve

Local Partner
Fundación EcoMinga

Financial Need
$27,995

Price Per Acre
$190

Biodiversity

The mid-elevation forests of the Ecuadorian Chocó bioregion are famous for their plant endemism. Endemism is particularly high among epiphytes, especially orchids and gesneriads. Orchid specialists have identified the mid-elevation forests just south of the town of Chical, on the Colombian border, as a center of endemism for several orchid genera, including Dracula and Lepanthes.

The proposed reserve site and adjacent land was the discovery site for no less than five new Lepanthes orchid species by Alex Hirtz in 1997. Several Dracula species (including D. terborchii and D. trigonopetala) are also only known from this and immediately surrounding areas. It undoubtedly contains many endemic species of other groups as well, such as insects and frogs. Twenty-five percent of all known orchid species are found in Colombia and Ecuador. In total these countries contain more than 7,000 species. Due to rapid rates of deforestation in Andean forests, however, nearly a third of these species are threatened with extinction. Some of the highest avian endemism rates in the world are found in Ecuadorian cloud forests. There are several species of endemic birds that are endangered. These include the Long-wattled Umbrellabird and the Banded Ground-Cuckoo. Dracula orchids are highly endemic, with 90% of all species found at three or fewer sites. Because these orchids are so restricted in their habitat requirements, they are inherently susceptible to extinction by habitat loss. It is estimated that 14 Dracula species have already gone extinct due to deforestation events, which is equivalent to one species becoming extinct every three years due to forest conversion. Together with Fundación EcoMinga, Rainforest Trust aims to prevent further species extinctions by saving habitat that is critical for the survival of several species of the Dracula Orchid, and many other plants, frogs and insects that have similar habitat requirements.

Challenges

Ecuador has one of the highest rates of deforestation in South America. The primeval cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador are being cut down for agricultural production.

Deforestation is fueled by the cultivation of Naranjilla: a fruit of mandarin size that is related to tomatoes. The fruit is not exported, but processed on a large scale in Ecuador to frappé (jugo de naranjilla). Given the extreme precipitation levels, erosion on the region’s steep slopes renders the soils exhausted after two years of cultivation.

Communities

Ecuador’s Chocó Region is home to the majority of the nation’s Afro-Ecuadorian population. Although accounting only for 5% of Ecuador’s total population, Afro-Ecuadorians form a majority in the Esmeraldas Province.

Descendants of African slaves brought by Spanish conquistadors, Afro-Ecuadorians have remained in semi-isolated state until the twentieth century. Despite the construction of new roads connecting Esmeraldas to the rest of Ecuador, they maintain a unique cultural heritage.

Solutions

With the immediate purchase of this property, Fundación EcoMinga will save a critical site for range-restricted and endangered biodiversity as well as ensure the survival of two enigmatic Dracula orchids.

These purchases will be vital in the broader landscape, connecting to lower and higher elevation protected areas. EcoMinga will staff the reserve and provide genuine and legitimate protection. EcoMinga hopes that additional properties can be purchased in the future to consolidate the Dracula Reserve. The Botanical Garden of the University of Basel has already supported EcoMinga with the establishment of this reserve. In the coming years Fundación EcoMinga hopes to establish lodging facilities for ecotourists and researchers to allow an income to sustain the reserve’s forest guard staff.