Ecuadorian Vizcacha Conservation Project
Safeguarding the habitat of a unique mammal with Researcher Jimmy Japón
We’d like to introduce Jimmy Japón, a researcher we’ve partnered with who is studying the critically endangered vizcacha (Lagidium ahuacaense) in the province of Loja, Ecuador. Jimmy’s been passionate about wildlife and specifically the vizcacha since he was a young boy. In 2019, when multiple fires destroyed five populations of the vizcacha, Jimmy reached out to Nature and Culture for help.
Until recently, Jimmy and his small team were some of the only people working to protect the vizcacha in this area. Now, he’s asking everyone to join him in the effort to save this special animal. Jimmy is losing his vision and will not be able to continue his work in the field, as the vizcacha is hard to access, living in small crevasses along steep rockfaces. His goal now is to share his research so that others can join the fight to protect this animal.
Little is known about the Ecuadorian vizcacha. The mountain-dwelling rodent is often seen as a mix between a rabbit and a chinchilla and is endemic to southern Ecuador. Its habitat consists of low montane semi-deciduous forest, semi-deciduous shrubland, and montane evergreen forest. First discovered in 2006, the Ecuadorian vizcacha was described as a species for the first time in 2016.
Threats to vizcacha habitat have been exacerbated in the last decade, mainly due to fires and land conversion to pasture for cattle grazing or agricultural use. In addition, pine tree plantations for timber extraction have been established in several sites, limiting the growth of native plants on which the vizcacha feeds.
Nature and Culture, together with Jimmy and his colleagues at the Technical University of Loja, are working to protect the vizcacha’s threatened habitat and help existing populations recover.
Since the filming, we are proud to share that we have succeeded in establishing three new protected areas that provide critical habitat for the endangered vizcacha.
On February 9, 2022, the Espíndola Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area was established, and on February 10th, the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area of Catamayo followed suit. Together they protect 95,060 acres of grassland, native forest and important water sources, and provide protection for the natural habitat of the endangered vizcacha.
On May 6, 2022 the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area of Quilanga was also established protecting 26,250 acres in southern Ecuador. The Quilanga municipality has the greatest distribution of the vizcacha and is the site where most documentation of the species has been made.