At the end of 2018, Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco expanded the Buenaventura Tropical Reserve in southwestern Ecuador by 362 acres.
Buenaventura is part of the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena ecoregion. This area, restricted to a narrow strip between the Andes and the Pacific in Colombia and Ecuador, is a biodiversity hotspot. But the region is also one of the world’s most threatened. Here, only patches remain of once sprawling forests. Rainforest Trust and Jocotoco’s ultimate goal is to protect over 12,000 acres with the reserve to preserve the remaining intact forest.
The ecoregion has many microhabitats, a phenomenon stemming from shifting rainfall patterns. While one corner may only see 15 inches of rain per year, another may see upwards of 150 inches. This microhabitat diversity has lead to incredible ecological diversity. This small corner of South America is home to over 11,000 vascular plant species and 900 bird species.
Buenaventura covers both dry and wet microhabitats, thus protecting habitat for many species. The reserve is home to 61 bird species, including 15 globally threatened bird species — the most of any private reserve in Ecuador. It’s also the most important habitat for the Endangered and recently discovered El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo.
Other species in the reserve include nine recently discovered amphibian species. Out of these nine species, five have never been seen outside the reserve. The forest is also habitat for the Critically Endangered Ecuadorian Capuchin Monkey and some rare plant species.
But the real value of the new protected land comes at a landscape level. In such a fragmented forest ecosystem, connecting viable habitat is crucial to conservation. Any hyperdiverse ecosystem such as this requires large reserves to protect species. But in a mountainous region such as this, large reserves play an important role countering the effects of global climate change. As the climate warms, species move up mountain slopes to stay cool. Hence, any reserve without an elevation gradient may be defunct in a few years. Expanding Buenaventura will expand the reserve’s range of elevation, and thus, its conservation potential.
Buenaventura is part a larger conservation vision to protect a 200,000-acre corridor in Ecuador’s El Oro Province. As of now, the reserve is the only reserve in the proposed corridor. But with continued expansions, the dream of a thriving and intact Chocó gets closer and closer.
This project was made possible through the support of the SAVES Challenge and the Conservation Action Fund. A special thanks to the Butler Foundation and Hans and Hildegarde Schaefer for their leadership support.