Send critical funds to communities fighting wildfire in Ecuador

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Wildfires in Southern Ecuador are destroying habitat for numerous species including the rare Ecuadorian Vizcacha.

We urgently need your support to help the communities and wildlife that call this area home. In the mountainous forests between the regions of Espíndola and Quilanga, in the province of Loja, Ecuador the fires continue to spread. Local volunteers like Diana Granda, Group Coordinator of “Sembrando Vida” are working to stop the blaze. While on the frontlines she regrets, “it is consuming a lot, a lot of hectares of wildlife and flora.”

Nature and Culture works closely with the local community and has facilitated the declaration of three protected areas in the region. The Quilanga Municipal Conservation Area, the Espíndola Municipal Conservation Area, and the Catamayo Municipal Conservation Area which cover a little over 120,000 acres. It is in this region that the critically endangered vizcacha (Lagidium ahuacaense) was first described in 2016. This unique mammal is endemic to southern Ecuador and our team works together with the Techincal University of Loja and local researchers in the Ecuadorian Vizcacha Conservation Project to protect the vizcacha’s threatened habitat and help existing populations recover.

The Vizcacha is a critically endangered mammal endemic to the canton of Quilanga.

Our team in Ecuador is supplying volunteer firefighters with food and medicine, but we need your support. There is so much at stake. Additionally, these Municipal Conservation Areas secure areas of hydric importance and critical water sources for local communities.

Over 2,000 acres were reported to be affected by the wildfires as of September 21, 2023.

Welcome to Nature and Culture’s latest conservation update, a direct glimpse into our ongoing efforts across Latin America.

We’re excited to share updates on our latest initiatives and projects, including a 360 view of one of our very first protected areas, the Cazaderos Reserve, a brand new protected area in Bolivia, and amazing avian biodiversity in Peru.

Our commitment to safeguarding the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage of this remarkable region remains unwavering, and it is thanks to supporters like you that our projects continue to thrive. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

Real Stories. Real Impact.

Ikíitu Indigenous youth connect to their culture, language and ancestral customs with Nature and Culture’s publication of the comic, “El Último Kuraka.”

Each year on August 9th, people around the world celebrate Indigenous Peoples. It’s an important time to raise awareness around Indigenous autonomy and equal rights to their ancestral lands, native languages, and traditional customs. This year’s theme centers around Indigenous youth who have so much at stake in the struggle to maintain their cultural identity. That is why Nature and Culture, together with the Ikíitu people of the Indigenous community, San Antonio, Pintuyacu river, Loreto, Peru, produced and published the comic, “El Último Kuraka,” or “The Last Chief.”

Margarita Beuzeville Panduro, Ikíitu community member

Nature and Culture hopes to raise awareness around the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon by sharing their traditional knowledge.

Alongside our efforts to conserve forests, our team provides opportunities to strengthen the Indigenous identity of the local communities that help keep the forest standing. In this way, forest management is imbued with local understandings and experiences that have persisted for centuries. Written in both Spanish and the Ikíiitu native language, “El Último Kuraka” serves as written documentation of the cultural history of the Peruvian city of Iquitos (named after the Ikíitu people), the capital of the Maynas Province. We hope that this history is not only shared amongst the Ikíitu youth but spread to youth across the region and throughout Peru!

In the comic, hero Súkani, a leader with supernatural powers, is imprisoned by colonialists attempting to seize his people’s land. This traditional story was adapted by Nature and Culture from collected facts from the oral tradition of the Ikíitu people. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many Ikíitu were forced to join missions and displaced from their ancestral territories. The city of present day Iquitos bears the name of the Ikíitu people, in homage to the first residents of the area, although it is not known exactly when and who settled on the plateau surrounded by the Nanay, Amazon, Itaya and Lake Moronacocha rivers. The true story of the death of “El Última Kuraka”, Alejandro Inuma, in the the 1940s was decisive moment for the Ikíitu people because the language ceased to be used as a primary language and many customs began to be lost. According to data obtained by the Ministry of Culture, it is estimated that today there are only 519 people from the communities of the Ikíitu people remaining.

A view of the Peruvian city of Iquitos

In the comic’s prologue, Inter-cultual Specialist, Elena Burga Cabrera affirms that “Amazonian Indigenous peoples have their own stories about who they are, where they came from, who were their leaders, how their first contact with ‘mestizos’ went and about the events they have experienced, generally with a lot of violence and suffering, and that has generated changes in their way of life and in the characteristics of the territories they occupy.”

Ema Llona Yareja, bilingual Ikíitu community member asserts, “(Children) must learn, so that our language is not lost, from an early age they should receive education in the Ikíitu language”.

The identity of Indigenous Peoples is attached to the land, language, traditional livelihoods, ceremonies, arts, crafts, and family members and society as a whole. The elders of the Ikíitu community, like Ema Llona Yareja, pictured above, provide a connection between generations, a crucial aspect of Indigenous Peoples’ wellbeing. She asserts, “(children) must learn, so that our language is not lost, from an early age they should receive education in the Ikíitu language”.  In areas of high cultural and economic exchange like the Nanay river basin, Indigenous cultures are at risk of being lost. “The Nanay basin, where the community of San Antonio is located, is subjected to processes of cultural and economic exchange with western society. The pressures riverside communities face create challenges that must be confronted to safeguard the well-being of their families, the forest, water and, above all, the right to stand firm before illegal actions,” says former Nature and Culture Peru Country Director, Patricia Ochoa.

View the full comic here!

The Ikíitu people have a cultural richness, which to this day persists in their daily customs.

Utensils and tools, fishing techniques, knowledge of medicinal plants, knowledge of the forest for hunting, cultivation of their farms are all pieces of knowledge that are preserved in the rich culture of the Ikíitu people. In addition to documenting their native language, the “El Última Kuraka” comic also records some of the customs and artifacts that are used to this day, including garments, pottery and cooking utensils.

Adith Pacaya Inuma, Ikíitu community member, demonstrating the use of a batán, one of the most important utensils for making a traditional drink made from fermented cassava.

Supporting Indigenous communities in conserving nature in their lands requires recognition of their lived experiences and world visions. By documenting the culture and history of the Ikíitu people, we are helping to preserve not only their way of life, but also the sustainable practices that have been passed down through generations. They have been great stewards of their ancestral lands and we are working alongside the elders in the community to ensure future generations will have the same local knowledge and support to continue to protect these sacred places.

If you’d like to support our efforts please give today.

Restoration improves the structure and functionality of forests for local communities

We often hear about the devastating effects of deforestation and degradation in rainforests and ask ourselves, what can be done to stop this? Indigenous communities in the Pastaza province of Ecuador refuse to stand idly by. With the help of Nature and Culture International, they have taken on a forest restoration project to renew their ancestral degraded lands and reinvigorate the local ecosystem.

Nature and Culture, through the “Actions for the Amazon” project, is taking action to prevent and reverse deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This project will also guarantee the rights and sustainable livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities through the implementation of the ancestral practice of traditional Chakra gardens.

The project began in September 2022, with the goal of restoring 235 acres of degraded land.

Due to the rate of deforestation and the need for intervention in the area, the Shuar Kawa Indigenous community was first selected from a list of priority areas by Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment. Additionally, Nature and Culture seeks to incorporate the Shuar Kawa restoration goals into Pastaza’s REDD+ Plan for the implementation of measures and actions to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (PdIPPz REDD+). The REDD+ Plans are part of a framework of the United Nations Development Project and provide long-term climate funding to support Indigenous and local communities’ conservation efforts.

People from the Shuar Kawa community actively participated in the project

The Shuar Kawa community was consulted and actively involved in the decision-making process.

With their consent, the Nature and Culture team has focused on educating local communities on the benefits of forest restoration and provided training around reforestation tactics. This way, the local communities will be able to continue the project for years to come. Initially, the team constructed a temporary nursery for the propagation of 63 native species. The seedlings will be established in local watersheds, helping to maintain groundwater and access to clean water in dryer seasons.

Seedlings from the nursery will also be used in “Chakras”, or multi-species traditional Indigenous gardens.

Traditionally, the women of the community took care of the Chakra gardens, and their position as conservationists is more important than ever within the project. Men and women have worked together to reforest the gardens using specific trees and plants that provide food security and an additional source of income.

Women are traditionally in charge of caring for the Chakras

“We did not come just to restore. By sharing and talking with the people of the communities, we have learned a lot, complementing the technical aspect with their culture and traditions”

– Amparo Lima, Restoration Specialist, Nature and Culture

Restoration is important because it allows us to recuperate the structure and functionality of forests, which improves the quality and quantity of water collected for community consumption.

So far, the team has already restored 190 acres of land.

The communities’ enthusiasm and participation have been crucial in achieving this goal.

This level of community involvement and collaboration should serve as a model for other conservation projects in Ecuador and beyond. By working together, communities and organizations can reforest portions of the Amazon Rainforest and protect the planet. This project serves as an example of what is possible when we work together to restore our natural world.

Indigenous women have long been the backbone of their communities, preserving their traditions, culture, and knowledge for generations. However, Indigenous communities across the world are facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change. As the world comes together to address the climate crisis, it is essential that Indigenous female leaders are included in the international climate conversation to ensure that their voices and perspectives are heard. That is why, in the last year, Nature and Culture has supported two of our Indigenous partners in attending United Nations conferences

We are committed to amplifying the voices of Indigenous leaders by ensuring their inclusion in the global climate conversation.

In the past year, Nature and Culture sent two Indigenous female leaders, Lolita Piyaguaje of the Siekopai Nationality and Vice President of CONFENIAE and Josefina Tunki of the Shuar Arutam Nationality, to United Nations conferences. In November 2022, Piyaguaje traveled with Nature and Culture CEO, Matt Clark, to Egypt for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) For Piyaguaje, it was “an honor to be in this space giving voice in defense of our territories and the human rights of the people who live in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Clark and Piyaguaje attended the conference, speaking together on a panel about Indigenous leadership preventing deforestation within the Amazonian province of Pastaza.

Lolita Piyaguaje of the Siekopai nationality and Vice President of CONFENIAE with Nature and Culture CEO, Matt Clark at COP27

Josefina Tunki, who just completed her four-year term as the President of the Shuar Arutam Nationality, traveled to the United Nations Water Conference in New York in March 2023 where she and Clark presented on water resources in the Amazon. She is from one of four Indigenous nationalities Nature and Culture worked with to create the 3-million-acre protected area, Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka. She is fighting to keep her ancestral territory free of mining activities that have devastated her community.

Josefina Tunki standing in front of mining excavators in the Amazon, Photo courtesy of Nora Sanchez

Historically, Indigenous peoples have not been included in these critical conversations even though Indigenous territories hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity and Indigenous communities preserve their forests at twice the rate of other protected areas. Nature and Culture is working to change this paradigm and ensure that the voices of the world’s greatest conservationists are heard on the global level.

Indigenous women are often the primary caretakers of their families and communities, and they depend on the environment for their livelihoods.

Climate change has a direct impact on their way of life, as it can lead to food and water scarcity, displacement, and loss of traditional knowledge. For Tunki and the people of the Shuar Arutam, “The forest is our mother, it sustains us.” In the province of Pastaza in Ecuador, “the forest was our supermarket, but now the fish are contaminated, there’s no more medicine, and we can’t eat.” According to Piyaguaje, “We want to live without pollution, without destruction, and, above all, to live healthily with our rights, our identity, our culture, our language.” Sending Indigenous female leaders to international climate conferences ensures that their experiences and concerns are taken into account when developing policies and solutions.

Lolita Piyaguaje shares, “We want to live without pollution, without destruction, and, above all, to live healthily with our rights, our identity, our culture, our language.”

Indigenous women have a deep understanding of their local environments and the impact of climate change on their communities. They have unique perspectives and solutions that can contribute to the development of effective climate policies. In Piyaguaje’s words, “proposals and projects need to be co-designed with the communities and with our needs in mind. If these policies come from the top, they won’t work.” By including Indigenous female leaders in international climate conferences, policymakers can gain valuable insights that can inform their decision-making.

Clean water is one of the most important resources in the rainforest and extractive activities are the primary threat.

Tunki has long fought for clean water protection for the 47 communities of the Shuar Arutam Nationality. “Ancestrally, we have always known the value of the rivers and freshwater. Historically, our rivers were never contaminated. An uncontaminated environment gives you a healthy life and helps you live with joy, without epidemics. We’re now fighting to sustain the fresh water of the Amazon and looking for the best strategies for protection. We invite the whole world to reflect on the fact that it is us, the humans, that are contaminating the planet. Not the animals, not the birds, not the fish, since they respect nature. It’s the humans.”

Both women agree that the biggest threats to their ancestral lands are petroleum extraction and mining. Extractive activities pollute the rivers and lead to deforestation. They both attest that petroleum and mining companies are not doing enough to mitigate environmental impacts and that the Ecuadorian and other governments are responsible for enforcing mitigation.

For both Piyaguaje and Tunki, being a woman is key to their leadership.

“I feel proud to have worthily served as a woman in my organization, demonstrating that women are also capable of representing an organization on the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels,” says Josefina. Intersectionality and inclusion are key to the future, says Lolita. “It’s important that women participate in these processes, we have to work very hard towards intersectionality. Women should not just be sitting at the meetings, but they should be making decisions.”

“I feel proud to have worthily served as a woman in my organization, demonstrating that women are also capable of representing an organization on the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels,” says Josefina.

Real Stories. Real Impact.

New protected areas, beekeeping for conservation, and gender equity in reforestation are a few of the stories you’ll explore in our 2023 Spring Newsletter!

Make a donation today to continue supporting projects like these!

The 6th Assessment Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that despite progress in climate mitigation efforts, the current pace of action is insufficient to keep global temperatures below the threshold of 1.5°C. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say climate impacts increase significantly and damage becomes rapidly irreversible. Below is a summary of the report’s findings.

Action needs to happen now, this is the decisive decade

To ensure temperatures do not exceed the threshold of 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to peak within this decade, decline by 43% by 2030, and 60% by 2035. Adverse climate impacts are already far more extreme than initial reports anticipated. The current global surface temperature has already warmed 1.1°C above preindustrial levels. With this alone, there has been an increase in biodiversity loss, drought, extreme heat, and flooding, among other impacts. Despite a decrease in the cost of green energy, improved technologies, and national commitments to reduce GHG emissions. These measures have continued to increase and will fall short. Unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production all contribute to the GHG emissions. A rapid scaling of policy and increased funding to climate is needed to achieve climate stabilization.

Even small increases in overall temperature matter

The report defines the risks, adverse impacts, and related losses and damages from climate change at varying degrees of temperature rises. At each tier, the loss of biodiversity increases, access to clean water and food decreases, and sea levels rise. There is no question that any positive changes to keep global warming in check will help to avoid further loss of life and encourage ecosystem health. At a certain point, it is no longer reversible. As certain losses and damage occur, reversal and adaptation options are far less feasible, if even effective at all. It is important to take every action possible at this very moment. Hope lies in the prevention of further tipping the warming scales.

A member of the Shuar Indigenous nationality in the province of Morona Santiago, Ecuador.

Biggest impacts threaten those who have historically contributed the least to climate change

According to the IPCC, nearly half of the global population lives in areas where their lives or livelihoods are under threat of climate change. It is said that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate impacts, including those within Central and South America where Nature and Culture operates. In addition, many of these areas face extreme poverty, governance challenges, and limited access to financial resources or technical support. In this 6th Assessment Report, the IPCC also notes that climate adaptation challenges are often “exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

Data on the global inequalities of CO2 emissions reveals that higher-earning countries as well as higher-earning individuals produce more of the world’s GHGs and yet it is those who are producing the least who are most heavily impacted. The highest income-earning households contribute around 45% of the world’s consumption-based CO2 emissions, while the bottom 50% account for only around 15%.

The threats of climate change weigh more heavily on regions that are not historically responsible for the production of GHGs; however, the world is looking to many of these areas for quick adaptation efforts or asking for limitation on development that could provide an immediate higher standard of living. That is why it is important to allow these most vulnerable groups or regions inclusive governance, and transparent and participatory decision-making for mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Tropical forests provide ecosystem services such as food security and clean water and air.

What is Nature and Culture’s role?

Protecting Earth’s remaining oceans, plants, animals, and soils is the most cost-effective climate adaptation option. The most potential exists in preventing deforestation in tropical regions. For Nature and Culture that means maintaining tropical forests in the Amazon and Andes. Long-term management of our protected areas supports biodiversity resilience in the region and supports ecosystem services at a global scale, including the sequestration of billions of tons of carbon. Beyond the protection and management of these threatened forests, reforestation and agroforestry (or sustainably cultivating native crops) also contribute to climate mitigation. All these efforts can positively affect local communities if they are done in coordination with the people who live in these areas. Reforestation can improve air quality, access to clean water and food, and agroforestry techniques include economic benefits that have potential to reduce poverty and improve local livelihoods.

The Amazon Rainforest stores billions of tons of carbon and provides ecosystem services to the entire planet. Protection and long-term management of these tropical forests benefits all life on the planet.

Many climate adaptation solutions already exist and positively impact global well-being

According to the report, there are feasible, effective, low-cost, low-trade-off options already available, and many include wider societal benefits. A major conclusion of the synthesis is the need to prioritize equity, climate justice, social justice, and inclusion in the near-term actions to mitigate climate change.

Focusing on societal enhancements like education, hunger, poverty, gender, and energy access can support regions and people with the highest climate change vulnerabilities. It not only supports overall societal well-being, but it can also scaffold climate adaptation development programs. Recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples is also crucial to successful adaptation across forests and other ecosystems, according to the report. This has always been a cornerstone of Nature and Culture’s work, prioritizing the needs of the local communities we work with.

Looking to communities, governments and businesses for leadership

Cooperative climate mitigation is essential. This means including climate adaptation practices that are informed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Truly effective climate action will involve coordination among many stakeholders. A prime example of this in action is in our work on the Amazonian Platform, This is a agreement between 7 Indigenous nationalities and local governments to manage 11 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. Nature and Culture supports projects that require buy-in from varying levels of government and marketplaces and include frameworks that hear a multitude of voices, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

At the Shuar El Kiim Center, the first Indigenous-managed, nationally recognized conservation area is celebrated by members of the Shuar community with Nature and Culture technician, Trotsky Riera.

The climate adaptation measures we implement are done in close collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and local communities and in partnership with local government. These types of projects put people at the heart of the outcome and provide access to finance and technology that would otherwise be unavailable. They often also provide other economic benefits, such as food and water security and improve the overall health of the human populations while safeguarding biodiversity and promoting carbon sequestration.

Please join us in safeguarding our climate future by making a donation today!

As a supporter of Nature and Culture, take a moment to review our impact in 2022! 

Our 2022 Annual Impact Report is a testament to our commitment to community-based conservation. As trailblazers in this field, the well-being of local communities is as important as protecting and conserving natural resources. For us, those go hand in hand.  

Our work is organized into 5 key strategy areas: wild places, climate, water, people, and species. As you read through this report, you’ll see how our team approaches our projects through these lenses, ensuring the long term overall health of the areas we protect. 

Please remember that none of this would be possible without the generous support we’ve received from so many of you!

Five new drop-dead-gorgeous tree-dwelling snake species were discovered in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Conservationists Leonardo DiCaprio, Brian Sheth, and Nature and Culture International chose the names for three of them in honor of loved ones while raising awareness about the issue of rainforest destruction at the hands of open-pit mining operations. The research was conducted by Ecuadorian biologist Alejandro Arteaga, an Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grantee, and Panamanian biologist Abel Batista.

Sibon irmelindicaprioae, named after Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, is the rarest of the lot. It occurs in the Chocó-Darién jungles of eastern Panama and western Colombia. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga of Khamai Foundation.

The mountainous areas of the upper-Amazon rainforest and the Chocó-Darién jungles are world-renowned for the wealth of new species discovered in this region. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they also house some of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of illegal open-pit gold and copper mining operations in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama has particularly affected a group of five new species of tree-dwelling snakes: the snail-eaters.

Illegal gold mining operation along the shores of the Nangaritza River, southeastern Ecuador, habitat of at least five species of snail-eating snakes, including the newly described Welborn’s Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas welborni) named by Nature and Culture International. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

In a period of four months, miners took control of a 70-hectare area along the Jatunyacu River, destroying important riparian rainforest habitat and polluting one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon River. Photo by Ivan Castaneira.

Neotropical snail-eating snakes (genera Sibon and Dipsas), have a unique lifestyle that makes them particularly prone to the effects of gold and copper mining. First, they are arboreal, so they cannot survive in areas devoid of vegetation, such as in open-pit mines. Second, they feed exclusively on slugs and snails, a soft-bodied type of prey that occurs mostly along streams and rivers and is presumably declining because of the pollution of water bodies.

Sibon marleyae, named after conservationist Brian Sheth’s daughter was discovered in the most humid and pristine Chocó rainforests of Ecuador and Colombia. Photo by Jose Vieira.

“When I first explored the rainforests of Nangaritza River in 2014, I remember thinking the place was an undiscovered and unspoiled paradise,” says Alejandro Arteaga, author of the research study on these snakes, which was published in the journal ZooKeys. “In fact, the place is called Nuevo Paraíso in Spanish, but it is a paradise no more. Hundreds of illegal gold miners using backhoe loaders have now taken possession of the river margins, which are now destroyed and turned into rubble.”

The presence of a conservation area may not be enough to keep the snail-eating snakes safe. In southeastern Ecuador, illegal miners are closing in on Maycu Reserve, ignoring landowner rights and even making violent threats to anyone opposed to the extraction of gold. Even rangers and their families are tempted to quit their jobs to work in illegal mining, as it is much more lucrative. A local park ranger reports that by extracting gold from the Nangaritza River, local people can earn what would otherwise be a year’s salary in just a few weeks. “Sure, it is illegal and out of control, but the authorities are too afraid to intervene,” says the park ranger. “Miners are just too violent and unpredictable.”

Dipsas welborni is named after David Welborn, former member of the board of foundation Nature and Culture International. This NGO manages Maycu Reserve, a private conservation area where this snake and many other new species inhabit. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

Ecuadorian biologist Amanda Queza during the discovery of the new species Dipsas welborni in Maycu Reserve, southeastern Ecuador. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

In Panama, large-scale copper mining is affecting the habitat of two of the new species: Sibon irmelindicaprioae and S. canopy. Unlike the illegal gold miners in Ecuador and Colombia, the extraction in this case is legal and at the hands of a single corporation: Minera Panamá S.A., a subsidiary of the Canadian-based mining and metals company First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Although the forest destruction at the Panamanian mines is larger in extent and can easily be seen from space, its borders are clearly defined and the company is under the purview of local environmental authorities.

Illegal mining activity in the upper Ecuadorian Amazon doubled between 2021 and 2022. Photo by Jorge Anhalzer.

“Both legal and illegal open-pit mines are uninhabitable for the snail-eating snakes,” says Arteaga, “but the legal mines may be the lesser of two evils. At the very least they respect the limit of nearby protected areas, answer to a higher authority, and are presumably unlikely to enact violence on park rangers, researchers, and conservationists.”

Sibon canopy is named in honor of the Canopy Family system of reserves, particularly its Canopy Lodge in Valle de Antón, Coclé province, Panama. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

Sibon canopy, one of the newly described species, appears to have fairly stable populations inside protected areas of Panama, although elsewhere nearly 40% of its habitat has been destroyed. At Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos, where it is found, there has been a reduction in the number of park rangers (already very few for such a large protected area). This makes it easier for loggers and poachers to reach previously unspoiled habitats that are essential for the survival of the snakes.

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, gold miners hide in the jungle during military controls and resume activities days later. Photo by Jorge Anhalzer.

An Ecuadorian miner shows the gold she has collected and that she will use to pay for any family emergency. Photo by Ivan Castaneira.

Lack of employment and the high price of gold aggravate the situation. No legal activity can compete against the “gold bonanza.” More and more often, farmers, park rangers, and indigenous people are turning to illegal activities to provide for their families, particularly during crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, when NGO funding was at its lowest.

Sibon ayerbeorum, a species previously known only from Colombia, was now also found in Ecuador. Photo by Jose Vieira.

“These new species of snake are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new species discoveries in this region, but if illegal mining continues at this rate, there may not be an opportunity to make any future discoveries,” concludes Alejandro Arteaga.

Fortunately, three NGOs in Ecuador and Panama (NCI, Khamai, and Adopta Bosque) have already made it their mission to save the snake’s habitat from the emerging gold mining frenzy. Supporting these organizations is vital, because their quest for immediate land protection is the only way to save the snakes from extinction.

Support NCI:

Support Fundación Adopta Bosque:

Support Khamai Foundation:

The Andwa nationality of the Ecuadorian Amazon released the Andwa Language Dictionary, Kupukwano in partnership with Nature and Culture International

The release of this stunning publication took place Thursday, February 16, 2023, during an event at Amazon State University, in the province of Pastaza.

Representatives, leaders, and young people of the Andwa Nationality attended. Nature and Culture Director of Ecuador, Felipe Serrano, moderated a conversation with panelists on the importance of strengthening ancestral languages.

“Nature cannot be separated from culture, even more in the Amazon, where the jungle depends on the people and the people depend on the jungle.”

Felipe Serrano, Director of Nature and Culture Ecuador

Language plays an important role in identity and culture, and many Indigenous languages are disappearing. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, 11 of the existing Indigenous languages are threatened with extinction. Once lost, traditional practices and ancestral knowledge begin to disappear as well. 

In a speech emphasizing his love for his Katsakati-Andwa language, Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality, officially introduced Kupukwano, the Andwa Language Dictionary.

“We are young people who have started to rescue our language which is in danger of extinction.” 

Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality

The official launch of the Andwa Language Dictionary, Kupukwano, was held at the emblematic Amazon State University, in the province of Pastaza, with the participation of representatives, leaders, and young people of the Andwa Nationality. 

The event was organized by the President of the Andwa Nationality, Daniel Dagua. It began with a conversation, attended by Felipe Serrano, Director of Nature and Culture International Ecuador, who moderated the space, together with the panelists Jorge Gómez Rendón, researcher and academic; Efrén Nango, leader of Education, Science and Research at the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE); and Trotsky Riera-Vite, Nature and Culture technician. 

Felipe Serrano, Director of Nature and Culture International Ecuador moderated a conversation with the panelists, including Efrén Nango from the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE). Photo by Lanceros Digitales

The conversation started by emphasizing the importance of strengthening ancestral languages.

The moderator mentioned that “the knowledge of the ancestors is transmitted through language”, focusing on the relationship between nature and culture: “nature cannot be separated from culture, even more in the Amazon, where the jungle depends on the people and the people depend on the jungle,” Felipe Serrano stressed. 

With this introduction, Serrano began the dialogue with Trotsky Riera-Vite, to learn about the research that the latter carried out in the book Nunkán Náari. Shuar place names of Zamora Chinchipe. Riera-Vite, based his presentation on the case of Zamora Chinchipe, where many names of mountains, rivers, towns, animals, and plants come from or originate from Shuar-Chicham. “By rescuing traditional names, identity is reconstructed, and linguistic and territorial rights are claimed”, all of this, Riera-Vite pointed out, is part of recovering language. 

Then, Efrén Nango, began his speech clarifying that although the languages of the eleven nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon are being threatened, he has witnessed a reaction from the nationalities to recover, revitalize and reintroduce their language. For him, there is a meaning behind each letter, and it is related not only to cultural identity, but also to cosmogony, worldview, rights of nature and defense of the territory. 

A view of an interior page of the Andwa Language Dictionary. Photo by Lanceros Digitales

But what will happen to the ancestral Amazonian languages in the future? 

Jorge Gómez Rendón, researcher and academic at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, answered the question and described that from a linguistic point of view, a discouraging panorama is observed. The loss of language and linguistic displacement is faster and faster, “languages are lost from one generation to the next,” said Gómez Rendón. 

However, faced with this reality, he is optimistic, because he considers that the vitality of languages is not exclusively linguistic, but rather has other aspects. “I declare myself an optimist because the nationalities are beginning to give the political value that language has, as an element not only of their identity but of their power,” said Jorge Gómez Rendón. 

“I declare myself an optimist because the nationalities are beginning to understand the political value that language has, as an element not only of their identity but of their power.”

Jorge Gómez Rendón.

The Andwa Dictionary is part of a process of reintroduction, not revitalization, since there are no longer native speakers of the language, and has only been possible thanks to the political will of the leadership of the Andwa Nationality. For Gómez Rendón, this is the only possible way that ancestral languages can survive. 

In a speech emphasizing his love for his Katsakati-Andwa language, Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality, officially introduced Kupukwano, the Andwa Language Dictionary.

He explained that the dictionary initiative had a consultation process within the Governing Council, that responded to an investigation that began in 2018 with the support of Nature and Culture International. 

Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality

“We are young people who have started to rescue our language which is in danger of extinction. We are going to continue empowering it,” mentioned Dagua. 

The event ended with a sample of dance and music of the Andwa Nationality. In addition, the participants shared a variety of pineapple, sweet potato, yucca and chonta chichas. 

The Andwa Language Dictionary, Kupukwano, is available on our website: 

Nature and Culture attends COP27, the U.N. climate conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, November 6 – 18, 2022.

The opportunity for Nature and Culture to attend COP, participate in the climate conversation and amplify Indigenous voices in climate action is a significant milestone for the organization.

Nature and Culture’s President & CEO, Matt Clark and Lolita Piyahuaje, Vice President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s (CONFENIAE) attended the conference, speaking together on a panel about Indigenous leadership within Pastaza Province’s jurisdictional REDD+ program. This program is the first of its kind in Ecuador, bringing together 7 Indigenous nationalities, the local provincial government, CONFENIAE, and Nature and Culture International to implement activities to reduce deforestation.

Nature and Culture President & CEO, Matt Clark and (CONFENIAE) Vice President, Lolita Piyahuaje at COP 27 with co-presenters, Marioldy Sanchez, Forest Alliance Manager, and Diana Mori, Shipibo-Conibo Indigenous Leader.

The project provides a new set of insights into the processes and structures that allow for meaningful Indigenous participation, equitable benefit sharing, and free and prior consent, all major themes of this year’s conference.

Watch the full presentation below.

COP27 Presentation: Indigenous Leadership in Amazonian REDD+ Program

COP27 Major Themes Related to our work

Providing carbon funding directly to Indigenous Peoples

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said earlier this year that Indigenous Peoples are “critical” to addressing climate change. Their report cited the fundamental importance of recognizing their land tenure, knowledge systems, and management of forests.

Reducing tropical deforestation can contribute as much as 20 percent of the solution to reach the U.N. Paris Accord target of halting the average global temperature to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Indigenous Peoples live on about 60 percent of the world’s tropical forests. And they are not receiving fair compensation for the sustainable management of these forests. Of the 1.7 billion that was pledged at COP26 to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ forest tenure, only about 7 percent, of the 19 percent already delivered, has gone directly to Indigenous-led organizations.

Although a theme from years prior, the slow pace of carbon funding reaching Indigenous nationalities received particular attention at this year’s climate meeting. Lolita addressed the issue in her remarks as did numerous Indigenous speakers on other panels and workshops. Among potential solutions, they highlighted the need for two-way knowledge exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors and a joint commitment to create funding and administrative structures consistent with Indigenous forms of governance. They also stressed the importance of building the technical, administrative and financial capacity of all actors in order to facilitate direct funding to Indigenous Peoples.

On the complex nature of providing timely carbon funding directly to Indigenous Peoples Matt Clark explains, “On one hand, there’s this urgency to combat climate change. We’re rapidly blasting past the Paris Climate Accord. That goal will soon be unattainable if we don’t take drastic actions now. There’s also clearly an urgency that Indigenous Peoples feel to be compensated for conserving their forests. They’re tired of waiting. On the other hand, it’s critical to take the time to build trust and mutual understanding. Carbon markets are technically, socially, and politically COMPLICATED and the free, prior, and informed consent that Indigenous Peoples demand and deserve cannot be completed quickly.”

Pastaza: a case study for Indigenous Inclusion in climate mitigation.

Nature and Culture has long-established relationships with Indigenous communities that are crucial to ensuring transparency and mutual benefit. Though a work in progress, the multi-stakeholder REDD+ Pastaza project is a good example of this.

The partnership Nature and Culture established with the provincial government of Pastaza, 7 Indigenous nationalities, and the Indigenous Confederation, CONFENIAE has led to a shared framework where all parties have endorsed guiding principles that recognize Indigenous rights.

The collaborative framework also utilizes a trust fund that accepts and channels funds to Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors alike with control and oversight from a board of directors that includes representatives of the 7 Indigenous nationalities, the Indigenous confederation, and the provincial and other local governments.

These funds are used to implement four actionable activities: restoration, conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and improvements to governance mechanisms. Throughout this process, local Indigenous communities are consulted and their Planes de Vida, or community development and territorial zoning plans according to an Indigenous worldview are incorporated into the project design.

These Planes de Vida are overseen by Indigenous representatives who understand the Indigenous worldview and can encourage further community participation.

It is important to empower women and youth. Revenues from this project may also support gender equality training, as well as improve healthcare, housing, education, better living conditions, and clean water.

Chakras, or multi-species traditional gardens, are another way funds are used which provide food security and a means for additional income. Medicinal, and/or culturally important crops can be harvested and brought to market. Furthermore, there is an interest in developing a bigger market for forest products. Products would use a ‘green seal’ that signals they are sustainably sourced from the tropical rainforests.

To have a real climate impact, Indigenous Peoples must be consulted, considered, and invited to participate as equal partners. This project in Pastaza is beginning to show that not only is that possible, but it also has direct and lasting conservation impacts.

The Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area of Portovelo was established by its Municipal Government on September 30, 2022. This area is part of the Fierro Urco Water Protection Area and is located at the head of the Puyango River Basin. The area was approved through the Protection and Restoration of Water Sources, Fragile Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Environmental Services of Portovelo ordinance. It promotes the management of municipal conservation areas and sustainable use that protect 29,305 acres of territory.

Fierro Urco
Fierro Urco Water Conservation Area

The Portovelo Municipal Protected Area conserves páramo grasslands where important rivers such as the Guayabal, Santiago, Tenta, Ambocas, and San Luis are born. The area, therefore, protects and conserves the water sources for the consumption of approximately 13 thousand inhabitants, distributed in three rural parishes: Morales, Curtincapac, and Salatí; and Portovelo, an urban parish.

A major objective in the creation of this area is to initiate strategic work to minimize threats in the reserve and the region, such as deforestation by livestock, agriculture, vegetation burns, and mining concessions. Luís López, Nature and Culture International Project Technician, says that there is a feeling of urgency in the Municipal Government of Portovelo. The hope is to protect and manage the conservation area so that the mining concessions in the area can be faced. These concessions put the water sources of this biodiverse area at risk.

The establishment of this new area in Portovelo together with the Zaruma, Atahualpa, and Piñas protected areas form an ecosystem and biodiverse connectivity corridor in the Puyango river basin. These areas combined cover 154,517 acres of forests, páramos, water sources, and endemic species, including the endangered blue-throated hillstar hummingbird (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus).

Portovelo Municipal Protected Area
The Portovelo Municipal Protected Area protects and conserves the water sources for the consumption of approximately 13 thousand inhabitants

This declaration is an inter-institutional achievement that began in 2019, after directing permanent coordination between the Municipal Government of Portovelo and the support and advice of Nature and Culture International. As a result of this joint work, the area of conservation, construction of the ordinance, and socialization with the Municipal Council, was delineated for subsequent approval.

In this process, the work led by the Municipal Government of Portovelo, its councilors, and its technical team, with the support of Nature and Culture International, and Andes Amazon Fund, has been fundamental.

Climate change adaptation, species discovery, and newly declared protected areas in Nature and Culture’s latest round-up of news from 2022.

Our strength as an organization lies within the passion of people around the globe who share our same dream. As part of the Nature and Culture community, you help us achieve so much — diverse vibrant cultures; wild places alive with plants and animals, and clean water and other ecosystem services for communities throughout Latin America. Thank you!


Sustainable Harvesting of Amazonian Super Fruits in Peru

Açaí, camu camu, and aguaje are just a few of what are called “super fruits” found in the Peruvian Amazon. For centuries, aguaje has been consumed locally for its powerful health benefits, but now our “Super Fruits that Conserve Forests” project supports sales outside of the region. This project will support local conservation efforts as well as provide an improved livelihood for local and Indigenous communities.


The best defenders of nature, Indigenous nationalities live sustainably within the most biodiverse places on the planet.

That is why Nature and Culture prioritizes people in our conservation efforts. We provide extensive technical and legal support for communities to define and achieve their own conservation goals. From land protection and sustainable use of the land to the documentation of Indigenous culture, our conservation process examines all components of a potential project.


The Shuar Kiim Center has fought for 22 years to establish the Tiwi Nunka Protected Area in their ancestral territory.

Not only is this area rich in biological diversity, a valuable connectivity corridor, and hydrologically important, but the most meaningful resource in this area is the ancestral wisdom of the people that live here.

Protecting this territory and the ecosystems found within it, protects the strong link that the Shuar nationality of Kiim has with biodiversity, which has been transmitted for centuries between generations.

A brief history of Tiwi Nunka

Although the Shuar nationality ancestrally had a semi-nomadic lifestyle and dispersed throughout the forest, this changed between the 1950s and 60s as much of their productive territory began to be occupied by settlers.

It was at this point that Shuar families began to form nucleated settlements, known as Centers. Around 1958, the first Shuar couple to settle in what is now the Shuar Kiim Center were Tiwi and Shama. Tiwi Nunka means “Territory of Tiwi” and pays homage to the first Shuar to settle in this area.

In 2008, at the request of the inhabitants of the Shuar Kiim Center, that the national environmental authority first declared the 17,238 acres of the land known as Tiwi Nunka as a Forest and Protective Vegetation Area.

This legal declaration did little to effectively protect their territory. Burning and invasion of their territory had intensified. A long process of mediation was developed with the invaders, however, there were no positive results.

Shuar Kiim Community member
Margarita Tiwi, a Shuar Kiim Community habitant at the Tiwi Nunka Protected Area Announcement Celebration. Image courtesy of Ecuador's Ministry of Environment

After many years of management, in 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition announced the titling of 14,021 acres of Tiwi Nunka forest to the Shuar Kiim Center.

Now, in 2022, in a ceremony which took place on July 20th at the Shuar Kiim Center, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE) officially announced that Tiwi Nunka will be the first protected area managed by an Indigenous nationality to enter the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP).

The Tiwi Nunka Community Protected Area spans 13,585.48 acres and is the first to involve the territory of an ancestral nationality. This marks a milestone in the declaration of protected areas since traditionally protected areas have been created on territories without the consent of their inhabitants.

Indigenous Protected Area
The Shuar Kiim community and Nature and Culture’s Zamora Chinchipe Coordinator, Trotsky welcome visitors for the July 20th announcement ceremony. Image courtesy of Ecuador's Ministry of Environment

The Tiwi Nunka Community Protected Area is of enormous importance both regionally and locally. On the one hand, it is part of a micro-corridor of approximately 500,000 acres, made up of various other protected areas in the region. All these areas include páramos and key forests to guarantee climate regulation, and the regulation of the quantity and quality of water for nearby inhabitants. In addition, it is a refuge for large mammals such as the Andean bear, mountain tapir, and the puma.

For the inhabitants of the Shuar Kiim Center, the protection of Tiwi Nunka protects the headwaters of the Kiim River, which is a source of protein. In summer, community members gather on its margins to fish, this reinforces the community unity and passes wisdom to the next generation. The area is also of spiritual value for the members of the Kiim Center because nearby waterfalls are considered sacred by the nationality.

This achievement may be an example, not only for Ecuador but for the entire Amazon Rainforest in the protection of Indigenous territories. That is why Nature and Culture will continue to work alongside the Shuar Kiim to ensure that this strategy bears fruit in terms of conservation of biological and cultural diversity, but also in the reduction of poverty and access to opportunities for those who live and protect the forest.

We are grateful to all our donors who give us the opportunity to work with Indigenous communities. If you’re interested in supporting our work, please consider making a donation today!

The Shuar nationality will be in charge of the management of Ecuador’s newest protected area, “Tiwi Nunka”.

In a ceremony, which took place on July 20th at the Shuar Kiim Center, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE) officially announced that Tiwi Nunka will be the first protected area managed by an Indigenous nationality to enter the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP).


A Message from Nature and Culture International on the Current Situation and Recent Events in Ecuador

After 18 days of national protest and strike in Ecuador, the government, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Council of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador (FEINE), and the National Confederation of Campesinos, Indigenous and Ecuadorian African Organizations (FENOCIN) reached an agreement on June 30 of this year to end the national strike and begin discussions. In response, Nature and Culture International is releasing the following manifesto: 

  1. We express our condolences to the families of the deceased and our solidarity with the victims of violence during the mobilizations. We deeply regret the loss of human life.   
  2. We also express our gratitude to those who did everything possible to stop the escalation of violence, in a social conflict that arose from a plea for justice and equity from Indigenous territories.  
  3. We recognize the willingness of those parties that wished to resolve differences through dialogue and to establish agreements to examine and review social, economic, and environmental policies in favor of all Ecuadorians.  
  4. We believe that the legal framework, the technical and scientific criteria, the consultation processes, and the social agreement are the fundamental elements on which territorial planning, the use of natural resources, and the administration of territories should be based, with a longview of achieving the sustainable use of natural resources, the conservation of megabiodiversity and the proper administration of territories.  
  5. Compliance with agreements and the efficient management of strategic ecosystems, protected areas, ancestral territories, areas declared as intangible, archaeological zones, and water-protected areas, require today more than ever the support of academic institutions, civil society organizations, and the State as a whole. We call for urgent collective action. 
  6. Regarding the conflict between mining and hydrocarbon activities with the use of hydrologic resources, the identification and protection of Areas of Hydrologic Importance and strategic ecosystems for the provision of this ecosystem service for the country is urgent. According to our approximations, more than 17 million acres have priority as “Areas of very high hydrological importance”. Likewise, more than 70 Decentralized Autonomous Governments have already identified and established special management frameworks in their respective Areas of Hydrologic Importance. The National Environmental Authority has so far established 16 Water Protection Areas. This knowledge and experience can be very useful in the framework of the development and fulfillment of the agreements signed on June 30. 
  7. The health of cities, the sustainability of industries, and the development of the country, in general, will be possible only through the adequate protection of nature and its ecosystem services, valuing the wisdom and the determining role of Indigenous communities, peoples, and nationalities, and providing facilities for adequate food production. 
  8. We send a message of hope to Ecuadorians for the future of their people and their extraordinary natural landscapes. May the agreements they have reached, and those that will be built by the parties, be an opportunity to renew trust, to put institutions and organizations at the service of the public. May this be the time to jointly develop peaceful solutions to the crisis that the country is experiencing, within the framework of the recognition of plurinationality and true inclusion, in a society free of prejudices and stigmatizations. 
  9. We commit ourselves as Nature and Culture International to continue to collaborate with communities, peoples and nationalities, NGOs, universities, and local and central government, with the aim of building a more equitable, productive, supportive, and sustainable nation.  

New protected areas, bioeconomy projects, environmental education, and some of our largest conservation efforts to date in Nature and Culture’s first round of highlights from 2022.

Nature and Culture International’s strength is in people who share the same dreams: of diverse vibrant cultures; of forests and savannas alive with plants and animals; of clean water and air and a livable climate.