Nature and Culture’s Fall Newsletter

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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.

The Laderas Norte Community, the NATIVA Foundation, and Nature and Culture International established the first rural municipal protected area in Bolivia’s Southeastern Tarija Province that will protect important nesting ground for the emblematic condor.

On August 24, 2023, the City Council unanimously approved the law establishing the Quebracho and Condor Nature Reserve, covering 8,144.57 acres. The reserve is particularly special because of its role in the preservation of the Andean condor (Vultur Gryphus) and the rare white Quebracho tree (Aspidosperma quebracho blanco).

A tragic background 

In February 2021, a devastating incident struck the Laderas Norte community in Bolivia. Thirty-four majestic condors perished after consuming poisoned meat. This incident had a profound impact on both the local area and the entire nation.

34 Andean condors were tragically killed in 2021 leading to a communal effort to protect this magnificent bird

The condor is a symbol of South America and holds a special place as Bolivia’s national bird. Beyond its symbolic importance, this majestic bird serves as a crucial component of ecosystems. As a scavenger, it plays a vital role in preventing the spread of harmful bacteria that can pose health risks to humans. Additionally, it aids in regulating the populations of various species, contributing to the overall balance and harmony of local ecosystems.

However, its population has experienced a rapid decline, going from being listed as “Near Threatened” to “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List in December 2020. 

Condor flying over newly established protected area.

The community of Laderas Norte, known for its commitment to conservation, donated 141 acres to the municipality a decade ago to protect the condor and the only white quebracho forest in the Central Valley of Tarija. It was in this very place that the lifeless condors were found, worrying the local population, and prompting them to take action.

The only white quebracho forest in the Central Valley of Tarija.

A turning point toward conservation 

The community, in its eagerness to avoid future tragedies and protect its environment, requested support from the authorities and social organizations to improve their quality of life through conservation and sustainable development projects. In addition, they expressed their concern about the illegal exploitation of timber in the area, a threat to valuable species such as cedar (Cedrela lilloi), red quina (Myroxylon peruiferum), walnut (Junglas australis), tipa (Tipuana tipu), among others. 

Thus began the collaboration between the community of Laderas Norte, the NATIVA Foundation, our implementing partner in Bolivia, and Nature and Culture. Despite the challenges, such as border conflicts and misinformation, the creation of the Quebracho and Condor Nature Reserve was achieved. 

Reserve highlights

The reserve is notable for several key reasons: it plays a critical role in preserving the Andean condor, protecting the white quebracho tree, conserving vital ecosystems spanning from the Central Valley of Tarija to the Bolivian Tucuman Jungle, safeguarding water sources, and ensuring the safety of endangered species like the quirusilla plant (Gunnera apiculata). Furthermore, it serves as a picturesque destination, making it an excellent choice for adventure tourism.

This achievement is a testament to the commitment and determination of the Laderas Norte community. By declaring their territory a “municipal protected area in perpetuity,” they have taken a bold step toward conservation. 

This milestone has been made possible thanks to more than two years of collaboration between the community of Laderas del Norte, the NATIVA Foundation, the Municipal Government of Tarija, the Ministry of Environment, the Directorate of Tourism and the Municipal Council, with the Environment and Tourism commissions, backed by the financial support of Nature and Culture International and Andes Amazon Fund. 

Congratulations to the community of Laderas del Norte and all the organizations that made it possible! 

More than 450 bird species identified over 8 years!

Since 2015, research and fieldwork carried out by our technical team has led to the registering of more than 450 species of birds in one of the areas we’re working to protect in the northern tropical Andes. According to our research, 24% of all the bird species in Peru can be found in this region! More than 30 of these species are endemic, or found no where else in the world.

A Brief History of the Region’s Conservation Efforts

Following the creation of the Carpish Montane Forest Regional Conservation Area and the Unchog Private Conservation Area, Nature and Culture, with the support of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, conducted a Rapid Biological Study to determine the distribution of endemic species of the Carpish Montane Forest. This study served as a baseline for the development of monitoring and evaluation plans that help to track the health of the ecosystems in these areas.

The study also helped to prioritize other areas nearby in need of protection. Nature and Culture, together with the Huánuco Regional Government and funding from Andes Amazon Fund, began negotiations for the creation of two new Regional Conservation Areas in the department of Huánuco, Peru: Regional Conservation Area Yanajanca, and Regional Conservation Area San Pedro de Chonta. 

In 2021, the American Bird Conservancy joined the effort. They generated information on the behavior of birds and determined the conservation status of the forests that provide them with food and shelter.

At the end of 2021, Rainforest Trust joined Nature and Culture’s initiative with the Huánuco Regional Government, to conserve the work towards conserving proposed San Pedro de Chonta and Yanajanca Regional Conservation Areas. 

Tricolored brushfinch (Atlapetes tricolor)
House wren (Troglodytes aedon)
Plumbeous sierra finch (Geospizopsis unicolor)
Andean Guan (Penelope montagnii)

Our work in the Carpish-Río Abiseo Mosaic 

The Carpish-Río Abiseo Mosaic is 3,763,481.26 acres of very fragile ecosystems of biological and environmental importance located between the departments of Huánuco and San Martín. It also provides valuable ecosystem services to local populations.

The 3.7 million acres are divided into National Areas (Tingo María National Park and Río Abiseo National Park), Sub National Areas (Regional Conservation Areas Shunté and Mishollo, Regional Conservation Area Montane Forest of Carpish and Private Conservation Area Unchog), and Areas in the process of creation (Proposal of Regional Conservation Area Yanajanca and Proposal of Regional Conservation Area San Pedro de Chonta). 

Connecting and protecting these areas, and all of the key ecosystems and endemic spieces that live within the region is at the heart of what Nature and Culture International does.

Want to read more about Nature and Culture’s Carpish-Río Abiseo Mosaic in the News?

New study describes three new species of rain frogs found in the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador.

CloudForest Numbala
Cloud forests are hotspots of biodiversity

The Tropical Andes encompass some of the most important areas on Earth when it comes to biodiversity conservation. These majestic mountain ranges host an astounding array of species across various groups of vertebrates, making them a global hotspot for biodiversity.

Within the Andes, the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador, situated in the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, stand out as particularly remarkable in terms of their ecological richness. These unique habitats are characterized by a persistent mist or cloud cover that blankets the forest, creating a cool and moist environment conducive to the growth of a diverse array of plant and animal life.

Scientists Paúl Székely, Diana Székely, Diego Armijos-Ojeda, Santiago Hualpa-Vega, and Judit Vörös, discovered three new species of rain frogs in these high elevation Andean ecosystems. Their research was recently published in the journal, Herpetological Monographs, under the name of Molecular and Morphological Assessment of Rain Frogs in the Pristimantis orestes Species Group with the Description of Three New Cryptic Species from Southern Ecuador.

The study took place within the Podocarpus National Park and its surroundings, in Southern Ecuador. The park comprises an area of 358,285.51 acres and has a very irregular topography covering altitudes from 1,000 to 3,800 meters (3,280 to 12,467 feet), with large areas of diverse natural habitats. These high-altitude Andes are known for the endemism and speciation of anuran fauna (frogs).

These three new-to-science species of rain frogs have very compelling stories that inspire the scientific community to continue working toward research, species monitoring, and conservation.

Prismantis sagedunneae Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Sage Dunne’s Rain Frog (Pristimantis sagedunneae)

Pristimantis sagedunneae is one of 12 species recently discovered in Abra de Zamora, currently being described. It was found at 2,800 and 3,000 meters in sub-paramo ecosystems and it is believed to be a rare species.

The specific name sagedunneae honors Anne Dunne, in recognition of her passion for Andean wildlife and her family’s invaluable support of conservation work in Ecuador. Of particular importance is their contribution to the amphibian conservation in the Sangay-Podocarpus connectivity corridor, Ecuador’s first ecological corridor, which protects 1,401,253.074 acres of high-elevation paramo grasslands and cloud forest ecosystems, as well as chains of lakes and wetlands, with unique biological diversity and endemism.

Pristimantis paladines Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Paladines Rain Frog (Pristimantis paladines) 

Pristimantis paladines was recorded in Cerro Toledo within the Podocarpus National Park and surroundings at an altitudinal range between 2,800 and 3,100 m in sub-paramo ecosystems. The species is common and abundant in this region.

The specific name paladines honors the Paladines family from the city of Loja in Ecuador, in particular Felix Humberto Paladines Paladines for his valuable contribution to academic and cultural endeavors and for safeguarding the history and identity of Southern Ecuadorian people. In addition, this naming recognizes the remarkable work carried out by his children, Renzo, Bruno, Pedro, and Maria Gabriela, who created the nongovernmental organization Nature and Culture International (NCI).

Pristimantis numbala Photo: Museo de Zoología, UTPL

Numbala Rain Frog (Pristimantis numbala)

Pristimantis numbala has only been found in the Numbala Natural Reserve. The reserve, which gives the species its name, is an important private protected area managed by Nature and Culture International. It protects 4,448 acres of sub-paramo and montane cloud forest and is home to an important diversity of birds, amphibians, mammals, and plants. It is located between the two isolated extensions of the southern part of the Podocarpus National Park, guaranteeing the connectivity needed for the preservation of the biological diversity of the national park and its area of influence.

As described, all three species were found within or in the immediate vicinity of protected areas, hence, the study considers that these protected areas act as refuges for the permanence of this very special lineage of frogs. The study also reveals that at least 57% of amphibian species are under threat due to habitat loss, the expansion of the agricultural/cattle-raising frontier, and climate change. In this context, it is especially important to increase the research efforts toward the description of new species, to correctly evaluate extinction risks and implement adequate conservation actions.

Supporting research for conservation

For the past 6 years, we have coordinated efforts between Nature and Culture International (NCI) and the Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL) to study the biodiversity of the southern region of Ecuador and combat threats to tropical ecosystems in this area.

Thanks to the support of the Rainforest Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of threatened wildlife and the protection of habitats, we conducted a biodiversity study in the Numbala Natural Reserve (managed by NCI). The study aimed to explore priority sites and collect samples of faunal and floral species. During this study, we collected specimens of the species now known as Pristimantis numbala for the first time.

Similarly, with the support of the Rainforest Trust, we have been implementing a project to protect endemic amphibian species since April 2022. The project focuses on safeguarding the natural ecosystems of Abra de Zamora, located in the buffer zone of the Podocarpus National Park.

Also, thanks to the support of the Andes Amazon Fund, we launched a book on the biological wealth of Río Negro-Sopladora that opened the possibility for new research and the creation of protected areas in the region.

In 2019, the conservation and management measures established between the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and NCI led to the establishment of the Sangay-Podocarpus Connectivity Corridor (CCSP), the first ecological corridor in Ecuador. The corridor spans an area of 567,097 hectares and is distributed among the provinces of Morona Santiago, Azuay, Loja, and Zamora Chinchipe.

With the support of the Wild Wisdom Foundation, we have promoted research on new amphibian species within the corridor and its surroundings. This research aims to increase the conservation profile of these species through the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) program. The KBAs program enables identification, mapping, monitoring, and conservation efforts to safeguard species and their habitats.

On April 22th we commemorate Earth Day, an opportunity to recognize our role in caring for the planet and all the forms of life that inhabit it.

For our Peru Country Director, Guillermo Maraví, it is necessary to create immediate actions to stop the accelerated loss of biodiversity and generate effective actions collaboratively to address climate change.

In this sense, he emphasizes that Nature and Culture International, in addition to promoting the establishment of conservation areas connected to other conservation initiatives, also engages in their management and handling, with the aim of making them sustainable over time. For Guillermo, this work, which is only possible because we do it in collaboration with local, peasant and indigenous communities, must prevail, because it is there where the accumulated knowledge for years about caring for the land has many of the solutions to the world’s climate and biodiversity crisis.

In addition, in Peru, we help endangered and endemic species have a safe place to feed and move. We protect the habitat of animals such as the spatuletail hummingbird in Amazonas, known for being one of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world, or the emblematic spectacled bear that we have registered in Piura, Cajamarca, Amazonas, and Huánuco.

Marvelous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis), an endangered species of hummingbird endemic to northern Peru.

Peru is home to thousands of species whose habitats we must protect and rehabilitate! Our actions matter. Let’s be responsible! We have only one planet to live on, with hundreds of plants and animals that, like us, depend on the good condition of ecosystems, pure air, fresh water, and so many other services provided by Mother Earth.

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!

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!

“La abuela”, a female jaguar that had not been seen for almost 10 years, made a hopeful appearance on the outskirts of Ejido of Munihuaza, in Sonora, Mexico. 

The inhabitants of Ejido of Munihuaza had not seen jaguars on their land for a long time. The increase of livestock and open-range grazing in the area had significantly reduced jaguar habitat due to continuous conflict between the animal and ranchers who take action out of fear that the cat would hunt their livestock. 

“There is a lack of community awareness,” says Gilberto Díaz, a Nature and Culture technician in Mexico, “there is a lack of knowledge about the importance of caring for the jaguar’s habitat since its survival is closely tied to the integrity of the ecosystem,” he points out. 

Ejido de Munihuaza is in the protected area of Sierra de Álamos-Río Cuchujaqui, in northwest Mexico. There, the thorny scrub, pine and oak forests, and riparian vegetation intermingle, creating an excellent biodiversity corridor that is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, among them the jaguar and other felines such as the puma, and the ocelot.

Thus, in an effort to protect the northernmost corridor of jaguar habitat, Nature and Culture joined the “Borderlands Linkages Initiative”, a project led by the Wildlands Network involving eight organizations from Mexico and the United States. This initiative includes monitoring the activities of the jaguar as well as assessing the restoration needs in the Sonora region. 

Nature and Culture chose to monitor the cat in Ejido de Munihuaza because it is adjacent to the Monte Mojino Reserve, a private reserve of the organization, and because it provided an opportunity to collaborate with locals on community projects with an environmental focus. “For us, it was essential that community members of Ejido participate in the activities,” says Gilberto. This is how he, Anselmo Palomares, Alejo Palomares, and José Bojórquez formed the monitoring team and worked together from August 2021 to April 2022 in the training, installation, and maintenance of camera traps to make the mythical jaguar visible.

Alejandro’s family got very involved in the project

In total, they installed 22 camera traps that covered 90% of Ejido. For the location of the monitoring stations, the team surveyed the area, cleaned it, and placed each camera strategically to avoid “junk images”, that is, photos activated by the wind, leaves, etc. Díaz highlights that, although it was the first time that José, Anselmo, and Alejo carried out wildlife monitoring, they took to the task quickly. “They were coming up with ways to make sure the camera traps worked, like walking like a jaguar,” he says. 

One of the park rangers mimics a Jaguar to activate the camera trap.

The installation work was arduous, not only because of the irregular topography of the region that goes from sea level to almost 4,000 feet above sea level but also because of the summer season. “We worked from 5 in the morning to noon and from 3 in the afternoon to 6 in the afternoon, avoiding the hottest hours,” says Díaz. They also helped themselves with mules to be able to travel long distances and reach the objectives of the day. Gilberto warmly remembers that the families of the community made him feel at home, offering him lodging and food when the days did not allow him to return home. 

Now all that was left to do was wait. The park rangers had to periodically monitor each of the monitoring stations, review the photographic record of the cameras, download the data, and delete it before reinstalling the cameras. Each of the rangers received economic compensation for this activity contributing to improving their home life. “The support is noticeable at the table,” said one of them, “this support allows us to buy gas,” added another. 

Months passed and the jaguar did not appear in the image. They saw, among other species, deer, pumas, squirrels, and many cows, but the characteristic black spots of the feline did not appear on the recordings. Every day of monitoring, the team looked for the jaguar enthusiastically, but as the project’s closing approached, it still had not appeared. It was not until the last shift that they saw her, in one of the cameras located in the best-preserved area of Ejido. 

Recording of the jaguar in one of the camera traps

With the recordings, the Northern Jaguar Reserve confirmed that it was not only a jaguar but that it was the second oldest female recorded in the region, an individual that had not been seen in the area since 2013. “Seeing a jaguar is very important since it is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. But seeing a female jaguar brings hope since it means that reproduction is possible”, explains Gilberto. The people of Ejido were filled with emotion upon hearing the news and collectively agreed to name her “la abuela” or grandmother, as a symbol of wisdom and hope for the community. 

Thanks to the monitoring of the species, the community of Ejido de Munihuaza understood the importance of protecting the habitat of species such as the jaguar. But the effort must continue, as Díaz mentions, “It is essential to strengthen monitoring strategies and disseminate information so that the people of the communities take ownership and take care of what is theirs”, because “conservation is not only about protecting habitat, it is also the social environment”, he concludes. 

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:

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!


Nearly 30 years after the passing of two prominent conservation scientists, the Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has been declared.

On August 31st, 2022, the Provincial System of Protected Areas of Santa Elena was approved. This area protects 277,870 acres of both dry and humid forest and one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador. It also provides water regulation services for the entire province of Santa Elena. In addition to protecting 97.5% of Santa Elena’s water sources, the area stores 17 million tons of carbon and contributes to the mitigation of global climate change.

Ted Parker was the first to realize the importance of using audio acoustics to identify birds in neotropical forests. Image courtesy of The Field Museum.

Nature and Culture would like to celebrate this achievement in remembrance of ornithologist Ted Parker and botanist Al Gentry who reported deforestation in the area since the 1990s.

Ted Parker and Al Gentry were killed in a plane crash surveying these very forests. In fact, they were on a Rapid Assessment Program when they crashed. Their work in conservation, with members of MacArthur Foundation and Conservation International, inspired the development of the Rapid Assessments Program in 1989 which has led to the creation of many protected areas.

This new assessment model was an important milestone for helping to prioritize ecosystems for conservation.

The evaluation examines areas based on several factors including, uniqueness, total biodiversity, degree of endemism, and degree of risk. The Santa Elena Protected area is a prime example of a high priority landscape with positive conservation potential.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has one of the highest numbers of endemic bird species in the world.

56 unique species of birds have been recorded here. Parker was considered one of the world’s top ornithologists. He was among the first to realize the importance of using acoustics and behavior to identify birds in neotropical forests. In his lifetime, he contributed over 10,000 recordings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.

Al Gentry, a field botanist, published close to 200 scientific papers and collected nearly 80,000 plant specimens. He prioritized South America and collected data in several of the areas Nature and Culture still works to this day, including Nangaritza in Ecuador and Allpahuayo in Peru.

One of his studies focuses on plants of Northwest South America. In it, he describes woody plants in a new way, using vegetative characteristics (such as leaves, bark and odor) for identification, rather than relying only on fruits or flowers.

Within the country of Ecuador, the coastal region currently has the fewest terrestrial protected areas and increasingly fragmented coastal forest which leads to loss of biodiversity.

Al Gentry
Al Gentry. Image courtesy of The Field Museum.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is home to one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador.

Furthermore, it will establish connectivity with nearby national parks and other legally protected areas in the region.

The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is an incredibly unique and important landscape for conservation. Field scientists Parker and Gentry did not get to see this land protected; however, the Provincial Government of Santa Elena and the Sustainable Landscapes Foundation, with support from Nature and Culture and Andes Amazon Fund, will uphold the long-term control and monitoring, research and restoration to conserve this area for years to come.

Nature and Culture is working to develop a connectivity corridor that spans 5 million acres, protecting key ecosystems and diverse habitats.

We are working with community partners and government officials to develop the first “bi-national” corridor in South America. The proposed Andean Corridor will connect mountain habitats in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, creating an intact biological corridor that crosses international borders. The end result will unite three of our existing landscape mosaics. With this corridor, wide-ranging species that traverse the area will have unencumbered mobility in their natural habitat.

Nature and Culture Spotlights Connectivity

The Andean Corridor was initially set in motion fifteen years ago with the establishment of our Sangay Podocarpus mosaic, Ecuador’s first connectivity corridor. The impetus for this mosaic was a noteworthy gap in protected areas between Sangay National Park and Podocarpus National Park in the southern Ecuadorian Andes. Because our conservation model values connectivity, we partner with local expert conservationists to customize conservation areas based on the needs of endangered species.

Since the establishment of the Sangay Podocarpus mosaic, we’ve added 11 protected areas in the region. The Andean Corridor will expand this area even further to 236 miles along the Andes thus linking a chain of protected areas.

Andean Corridor
The proposed Andean Corridor will include 3 of Nature and Culture's existing landscape mosaic protected areas.

Three of our Landscape Mosaics Already Contribute to the Andean Corridor

The Sangay Podocarpus and Podocarpus El Cóndor mosaics in Ecuador span the páramo grasslands, montane forests, and cloud forest ecosystems. Whereas the North Andes mosaic in Peru encompasses some of the most diverse, fragile, and complex cloud forests on Earth.

Overall this region encompasses some of the most biologically diverse places on our planet. The Tropical Andes are a global biodiversity hotspot. For example, the area contains about one-sixth of all plant life in the world and boasts the largest variety of amphibian, bird, and mammal species. Its ecosystems help to regulate the natural cycles that produce and renew the planet’s air, water, and climate.

Species Monitoring to Improve Conservation Efforts

Habitat range is a strong indicator of species’ vulnerability. By combining ecosystems together into landscape mosaics, networks of wildlife movement are protected. This helps maintain whole species’ survival.

Some wildlife travel long distances to migrate seasonally, others need to disperse away from their natal groups to find new home ranges to prevent inbreeding and competition. For these wide-ranging species, like the Andean bear that can traverse up to 150 miles of terrain a day, protecting these far-reaching ecosystems means giving these animals adequate room to roam.

To learn more about how we are partnering with local wildlife specialists, watch our panel discussion, Conserving Habitat for Wide-Ranging Species in the Andes. Our team and local species specialists presented on the conservation needs of three wide-ranging, endemic species — the Andean bear, black-and-chestnut eagle, and the pampas cat.

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. 


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.

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On Friday, May 6, 2022, the declaration for the establishment of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area of Quilanga was approved. This measure will protect 26,250 acres of native forest and páramos in the province of Loja, Ecuador. This area is of great importance in ensuring the protection of local water sources of the canton and unique species of flora and fauna.

Quilanga Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area Water Source
Quilanga Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area Water Source

This area is habitat for mammals such as the Andean bear, the tigrillo and the mountain tapir. In addition, Quilanga is the area of greatest distribution of the vizcacha. It is the site where most documentation of the species has been done.

This small rodent is endemic to the province of Loja. In fact, this is the only place on the planet where it can be found. “The location maps of the vizcacha populations were used to delineate the borders of this conservation areas,” says Rodrigo Cisneros, a researcher at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL).

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

The declaration will help protect the home of this rodent, which is critically endangered, according to the Red List of Mammals of Ecuador 2021.

José Romero, Mosaic Coordinator at Nature and Culture International Ecuador, explains that, with this measure, the last remnants of forest and paramo of the canton will also be preserved, as well as important archaeological sites for the country.

Quilanga Municipal Conservation Area

Romero says that this Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area will protect areas of water interest for the largest number of urban and rural population of Quilanga.

Anthropic events, such as fires, are some of the most relevant threats in this area. In 2019, 17,000 acres of forest were burned. Other factors that endanger these ecosystems include the indiscriminate extraction of wood, the change of land use and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

The creation of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area is a step towards protecting the territory from these threats. Nature and Culture has worked with the Municipality of Quilanga since 2020 towards the establishment of this zone through the baseline study and in the delineation of the habitat of the vizcacha and the municipality’s water sources.

The Quilanga Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area also protects bird species such as the sparrowhawk, quillico, hornero or chilalo and tanagers. In addition, there is a wide diversity of flora including the higerón, arupo, guayacán, arabisco and arrayán.

This area joins other conservation areas that exist in the canton such as the Colambo Yacurí Protective Forest that together, contribute to protecting the region’s abundant natural wealth.


Quilanga Establece Una Nueva Área Para Conservar Sus Fuentes De Agua Y Su Biodiversidad

Este viernes 6 de mayo de 2022 se aprobó la declaratoria para el establecimiento del Área de Conservación Municipal y Uso Sostenible de Quilanga. Con esta medida se protegerán 10 623,22 hectáreas de bosque nativo y páramos de la provincia de Loja. Esta zona es de gran importancia para asegurar el cuidado de las fuentes de agua del cantón y de especies de flora y fauna únicas en el mundo.

En esta área se pueden encontrar mamíferos como el oso andino, el tigrillo y el tapir. Además, Quilanga es la zona de mayor distribución de la vizcacha o el sitio donde se han obtenido más registros de esta especie.

Este pequeño roedor es endémico de la provincia de Loja. Es decir, este es el único sitio en el planeta donde se lo puede encontrar. “Justamente para la delimitación de las zonas de conservación se utilizaron los mapas de ubicación de las poblaciones de vizcacha”, cuenta Rodrigo Cisneros, investigador de la Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL).

La declaratoria ayudará a proteger el hogar de este roedor, que se encuentra en peligro crítico de extinción, según la Lista Roja de los Mamíferos del Ecuador 2021.

José Romero, coordinador de Mosaico de Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional (NCI) Ecuador, explica que, con esta medida, también se conservará los últimos remanentes de bosque y páramos del cantón, al igual que sitios arqueológicos importantes para el país.

Romero cuenta que esta ACMUS protegerá áreas de interés hídrico para la mayor cantidad de población urbana y rural de Quilanga.

Los eventos antrópicos, como los incendios, son algunas de las amenazas más relevantes en esta zona. En 2019, se quemaron 7 000 hectáreas de bosque. A esto se suman otros factores que ponen en peligro a estos ecosistemas como la extracción indiscriminada de madera, el cambio de uso de suelo y la expansión de la frontera agrícola.

La creación de las Áreas de Conservación Municipal y Uso Sostenible busca proteger el territorio de sus amenazas. Para el establecimiento de esta zona, desde el 2020 NCI trabaja con el Municipio de Quilanga en el estudio de línea base y en la delimitación del hábitat de la vizcacha y de sus fuentes de agua.

El Área de Conservación Municipal y Uso Sostenible Quilanga también protege a especies de aves como el gavilán, quillico, hornero o chilalo y tangaras. Además, existe una amplia diversidad de flora que incluye al higerón, arupo, guayacán, arabisco y arrayán.

Esta ACMUS se suma a otras zonas de conservación que existen en el cantón como el Bosque Protector Colambo Yacurí que contribuyen a proteger su abundante riqueza natural.

The importance of biodiversity and the threats it faces

Biodiversity describes the “biological diversity” of life, whether that be throughout the entire planet or for an individual ecosystem.

It encompasses everything from variations in genetics to all the species in that area, including plants, animals, fungi, and even bacteria. The biodiversity that we know today is the result of billions of years of evolution and it dictates how life interacts with its environment.

Why is biodiversity so important?

We are much more reliant on the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides than it may appear. Biodiversity provides us with many services including clean air and freshwater. Biodiversity also acts as a barrier between us and zoonotic diseases and can also provide us with valuable medicines. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that there’s a positive link between increased biodiversity and our mental health. This makes maintaining biodiversity incredibly important for our survival, as well as all life on the planet.

Global biodiversity is so rich that we haven’t come close to discovering the number of species there currently is across our planet. There is so much we still don’t know about how these unknown species contribute to their ecosystem. We may lose essential parts of our world before it has even been discovered.

New species in Rio Negro by Juan Carlos Sanchez
New species of frog discovered in Rio Negro, Ecuador

This is particularly true for forests, which contain the largest amount of biodiversity on the planet. According to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) more than 80% of terrestrial animals, plants and fungi species are found in tropical forests. Nature and Culture emphasizes the importance of saving large areas of rainforest to protect these valuable ecosystems. We partner with Indigenous and local communities who live in the areas we work to protect and are best equipped to manage their territory. This leads to more successful biodiversity conservation.

Shuar man in forest

What is threatening biodiversity?

Human activity is having an extremely negative impact on biodiversity. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report estimated that there has been a 60% reduction in global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians in last 50 years. When this report was published, it was a major shock to the world and highlighted our fears of how critical the situation is. This loss of life has put many species on the brink of extinction and whole ecosystems are suffering.

Major threats to biodiversity and individual species include habitat degradation, climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation and increased pollution, most of which are a direct result of human activities. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is occurring at an unprecedented rate for agriculture (e.g. soy bean and palm oil plantations and cattle ranching), mining, unsustainable logging and development (e.g. roads and infrastructure). This degradation is also exacerbating climate change since the Amazon retains a large proportion of the world’s carbon, which would otherwise be in the atmosphere.

To make matters worse, fires have been increasing across major forested habitat. Even though fires naturally occur in many areas, degraded forests are particularly susceptible. By reshaping the biodiversity in an area, we are restructuring the whole ecosystem and making them less resilient to natural disasters.

Deforestation in Ecuador
In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is occurring at an unprecedented rate for agriculture, mining, unsustainable logging, and development.

Other risks to biodiversity include the wildlife trade, which pulls large numbers of animals from their natural environment for pets, bushmeat or traditional medicines. These include keystone species that are critically important to the structure of the ecosystem. This trade has dragged animals such as pangolins, multiple primate species, elephants and rhinos to the brink of extinction. Causing the elimination of one species is a tragedy on its own, but it also threatens the biodiversity of the area.

What can you do to help to conserve it?

It may seem as if we are on an unavoidable slope toward disaster, but there is still plenty that you can do to help reduce biodiversity loss. Making more sustainable choices is key since most deforestation, over-exploitation, and other destructive activities are driven by demand. Switching to local and in-season foods or checking for sustainable materials on packaging is a first step in helping to reduce the demand for unsustainable goods.

Chinapintza view
There is still plenty that you can do to help reduce biodiversity loss.

You can also help by supporting efforts to return land to Indigenous peoples. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Indigenous communities are better stewards of their land and protect vital ecosystems. Donating to organizations like Nature and Culture will increase resources to help with this transition. By supporting our work, and the work of similar organizations, you can be part of the change to protect our remaining crucial biodiversity, and hence, securing our future.

Ecuador is among the richest countries on the planet for its diversity of species.

The scientific community agrees that Ecuador is perhaps the most biodiverse country in the world if we also consider the Galapagos Islands. This immense variety of flora, fauna, microorganisms, and genes has developed over millions of years of biological evolution thanks to the particular conditions of the location, terrain, and climate. In addition to the environmental services provided by the diversity of species as a whole, the food, medicines, fibers, some construction materials, drugs, industrial products that are used in the country all come directly from our biodiversity. Certain species native to the south of the country, for example, have saved humanity from serious epidemics such as Malaria, whose cure came from the bark of the Quina or Cinchona trees still present in the forests of Loja. Or the flourishing industry of derivatives of tara (Caesalpinea spinosa), a tree native to Loja and the dry valleys of the country, whose seeds are one of the most recent products of national export (in the last 5 years more than 210 tons have been exported to foreign markets). Biodiversity is therefore a fundamental strategic resource for the development of the country.

Knowing how many and which species are in the country is one of the most challenging questions of national science. Biologists from Ecuador and around the world are racing against time to record the country’s species. In recent years in southern Ecuador, particularly in the provinces of Zamora Chinchipe, Loja and El Oro, there have been multiple finds of great importance for the thickening of the national catalog of species.

Near Podocarpus National Park, at the San Francisco Nature and Culture International Research Station 32 new plant species have been discovered.

32 new plant species have been discovered in the cloud forests near the San Francisco Station over the past 20 years an impressive number according to David Neill, co-author of a book cataloguing Ecuador’s plant species diversity. and former curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden. This includes new species for science, as well as “new country records.” Among the species are several epiphytic plants but also unique trees such as the “Meriania de San Francisco” (Meriania franciscana), named after the botanists who discovered it (Carmen Ulloa and Juergen Homeier) in honor of the river and the Scientific Station where it was found.

A new species in the Andes of Ecuador
Meriania franciscana: A new species in the Andes of Ecuador from Ulloa and Homeier 2008

A few kilometers from the Scientific Station, in the páramos that divide Zamora Chinchipe and Loja, is Abra de Zamora.

Abra de Zamora also stands out at a place of importance for the cataloging of new species. Scientists from the Laboratory of Tropical Ecology and Ecosystem Services of the Particular Technical University of Loja (UTPL) have found a total of 12 new species of amphibians in the last 5 years, which include two glass frogs, a salamander and two marsupial frogs, which are currently being formally described. Among them are the Samaniego frog (Pristimantis samaniegoi) and the Matilde frog (Pristimantis matildae), named in honor of a Lojana woman who was the first woman in Latin America to exercise the right to vote.

Abra de Zamora
Abra de Zamora

Likewise, to the south of the Podocarpus National Park in the Numbala Nature Reserve, administered by Nature and Culture International, the same group of biologists from UTPL found 5 species of amphibians considered new to science that are in the process of description, one of them, according to its descriptors Diego Armijos and Paul Szekely will be named as the reserve in which they found it (Pristimantis numbala).

The FierroUrco mountain range, between the provinces of El Oro and Loja has also been the scene of several very important scientific findings.

A unique hummingbird was observed in 2017 by ornithologist Francisco Sornoza. The scientists Juan Freile and Elisa Bonaccorso confirmed the exceptional discovery and published the finding of the blue-throated star hummingbird (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus), one of the most outstanding novelties of world ornithology. They estimate that only 750 individuals of this species survive in these magical páramos of the mountain range, but they are threatened by the transformation of habitats and mining concessions.

FierroUrco is also an amphibian-rich area, 16 potentially new species were documented in a report by the UTPL Laboratory of Tropical Ecology and Ecosystem Services. Likewise, in this same mountain range, the discovery of a new species of tree, Polylepis loxensis, was published in 2020. The trees of the genus Polylepis are among the few that can grow in extreme conditions such as those of the Andean páramo.

Blue-throated hillstar hummingbird
Blue-throated hillstar hummingbird

Another exceptional place in the south of the country is the Nangaritza River basin in Zamora Chinchipe.

New species of plants, reptiles, amphibians, rodents and insects have been found in the riverside forests of the Nangaritza and on the summits of the sandstone plateaus called “Mura Nunka” by the Shuar people just in the last decade.  To study potential new species of Nangaritza, two scientific expeditions sponsored by Conservation International and Nature and Culture International respectively, in 2009 and 2015, found 28 new species within a 15-day time period. These expeditions described new plants, amphibians, reptiles, insects and small rodents. Soon to be published by the herpetologist Alejandro Arteaga, a new species of snake – the snail eating snake of the genus Dipsas was found in Nature and Culture’s Maycú Natural Reserve. This impressive biodiversity is being permanently threatened by the destruction of riparian forests by illegal mining activities.

Nangaritza River
Nangaritza River

To conclude, these scientific discoveries have not only included the discovery of new species, but have also identified populations of known species that are threatened with extinction, such as the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and the golden-mantled howler monkey (Allouatta palliata aequatorialis) located in Nature and Culture’s Cazaderos Reserve in the dry forests of Loja. Darwin Nuñez of Nature and Culture International recorded around 97 crocodiles along 35 km of the Puyango River and the Cazaderos stream, probably the most important continental population reported in the country. Stefany Vega of Nature and Culture reported the discovery of 12 groups of the golden-mantled howler monkey in the dry forests of the reserve with a total of 119 individuals, a relatively healthy population for a species that is listed as endangered in the country.

Felipe Serrano - Ecuador

Felipe Serrano

Executive Director, Nature and Culture International Ecuador


El Sur de Ecuador: Una fábrica de especies

El Ecuador se encuentra entre los países más ricos del planeta por su diversidad de especies. La comunidad científica coincide en que es quizá el más biodiverso del mundo si consideramos su extensión territorial. Esta variedad inmensa de flora, fauna, microorganismos y genes ha sido fabricada durante millones de años a través de la evolución biológica y gracias a las particulares condiciones de ubicación, relieve y clima del país. Además de los servicios ambientales que nos proveen las especies en su conjunto, los alimentos, medicinas, fibras, algunos materiales de construcción, fármacos, productos industriales que se utilizan en el país provienen directamente de nuestra biodiversidad. Ciertas especies originarias del sur del país por ejemplo han salvado a la humanidad entera de epidemias graves como la Malaria, cuya cura provino de la corteza de los árboles de Quina o Cinchona todavía presente en los bosques de Loja. O la floreciente industria de los derivados de la Tara (Caesalpinea spinosa), un árbol nativo de Loja y de los valles secos del país, cuyas semillas son uno de los productos mas recientes de exportación nacional (en los últimos 5 años se han exportado mas de 210 toneladas a los mercados externos). La biodiversidad es entonces un recurso estratégico fundamental para el desarrollo del país.

Conocer cuántas y cuáles son las especies del país es una de las preguntas más desafiantes de la ciencia nacional. Los biólogos de Ecuador y del mundo mantienen una carrera contra el tiempo para registrar las especies del país. En los últimos años, el sur de Ecuador, particularmente las provincias de Zamora Chinchipe, Loja y el Oro, se han convertido en el espacio de múltiples hallazgos de suma importancia para el engrosamiento del catálogo nacional de especies.

En los alrededores del Parque Nacional Podocarpus, en la Estación Científica San Francisco de Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional, 32 nuevas especies de plantas han sido descubiertas en los bosques nublados de esta área de Investigación en los últimos 20 años – un número impresionante según David Neill, coautor de un libro que cataloga la diversidad en especies de plantas de Ecuador, y ex curador del Jardín Botánico de Missouri-. Esto incluye nuevas especies para la ciencia, así como “nuevos registros del país”.  Entre las especies destacan varias plantas epífitas pero también árboles únicos como la “Meriania de San Francisco” (Meriania franciscana), denominada así por los botánicos que la descubrieron (Carmen Ulloa y Juergen Homeier)  en honor al río y la Estación Científica donde la hallaron.

A pocos kilómetros de la Estación Científica, en los páramos que dividen Zamora Chinchipe de Loja se destaca también el lugar denominado Abra de Zamora, donde científicos del Laboratorio de Ecología Tropical y Servicios Ecosistémicos de Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL) han hallado un total de 12 nuevas especies de anfibios en los últimos 5 años, que incluyen dos ranas de cristal, una salamandra y dos ranas marsupiales, las que están siendo descritas formalmente en la actualidad. Entre ellas están la rana de Samaniego (Pristimantis samaniegoi) y la rana de Matilde (Pristimantis matildae) (nombre en honor a la mujer lojana que ejerció por primera vez el derecho voto en Latinoamérica).

Así mismo, hacia el sur del Parque Nacional Podocarpus en la Reserva Natural Numbala, administrada por Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional, el mismo grupo de biólogos de la UTPL hallaron durante el 2021, 5 especies de anfibios consideradas nuevas para la ciencia que están en proceso de descripción, uno de ellos, según sus descriptores Diego Armijos y Paul Szekely será denominado como la reserva en la que lo hallaron (Pristimantis numbala).

La cordillera de FierroUrco, entre las provincias de El Oro y Loja también ha sido el escenario de varios hallazgos científicos muy importantes. Un colibrí distinto a todos los conocidos, fue observado en 2017 por el ornitólogo Francisco Sornoza. Los científicos Juan Freile y Elisa Bonaccorso confirmaron el excepcional descubrimiento con los estudios científicos del caso y publicaron el hallazgo del colibrí estrella garganta azul (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus), una de las novedades mas destacadas de la ornitología mundial. Estiman que solamente 750 individuos de esta especie sobreviven en estos páramos mágicos de la cordillera, pero están amenazados por la transformación de los hábitats y las concesiones mineras. FierroUrco es también una zona rica en anfibios, 16 especies potencialmente serían nuevas y fueron reportadas en un informe del Laboratorio de Ecología Tropical y Servicios ecosistémicos de la UTPL. Así mismo en esta misma cordillera se publicó en el 2020 el hallazgo de una nueva especie de árbol, Polylepis loxensis. Los árboles del género Polylepis son de los pocos que pueden crecer en condiciones extremas como las de los páramos andinos.

Otro lugar excepcional del sur del país, es la cuenca del río Nangaritza en Zamora Chinchipe. Nuevas especies de plantas, reptiles, anfibios, roedores e insectos han sido halladas en los bosques de ribera de este río y en las cumbres de las mesetas de arenisca llamadas por el pueblo shuar como “Mura Nunka”, en la última década.  Para dimensionar el potencial de especies nuevas del Nangaritza mencionar que en dos expediciones científicas, patrocinadas por Conservación Internacional y Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional respectivamente, desarrolladas en los años 2009 y 2015, se encontraron coincidencialmente en cada una de ellas, 28 especies nuevas en tan solo 15 días de exploraciones. En estas expediciones se describieron nuevos hallazgos de plantas, anfibios, reptiles, insectos y pequeños roedores. Estos descubrimientos siguen. Recientemente está a punto de ser publicado por el herpetólogo Alejandro Arteaga, el caso de una serpiente caracolera del género Dipsas ubicada en la Reserva Natural Maycú. Esta impresionante biodiversidad está siendo amenazada permanentemente por la destrucción de los bosques de ribera por actividades de minería ilegal.

Para concluir, los descubrimientos científicos no solamente han incluido el hallazgo de nuevas especies. También se han encontrado poblaciones de especies conocidas pero amenazadas con desaparecer, tal es el caso de las poblaciones del cocodrilo americano (Crocodylus acutus) y del mono aullador de manto dorado (Allouatta palliata aequatorialis) ubicadas en la Reserva Cazaderos en los bosques secos de Loja, y estudiadas por biólogos de Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional y del proyecto Washu. Darwin Nuñez explica que se registraron alrededor de 97 cocodrilos a lo largo de 35 km del río Puyango y la quebrada Cazaderos, probablemente la población continental mas importante reportada en el país. De la misma manera, Stefany Vega reporta el hallazgo de 12 grupos del mono aullador de manto dorado en los bosques secos de la reserva con un total de 119 individuos, población relativamente saludable para una especie que está catalogada como en peligro de extinción en el país.

Our Mosaic Model is part of our conservation strategy to connect protected areas.

Although protecting each individual ecosystem is important, whether it be the habitat of an endangered species or an ecosystem that stores large quantities of carbon, our Mosaic Model emphasizes connecting and protecting larger eco-regions which we call “mosaics.” This strategy considers the connectivity and dynamic processes across ecosystems and large landscapes. Helping to improve ecological flows and species movement in more dynamic conserved areas makes long-term protection more likely.

So, what exactly are mosaics? 

In what is traditionally considered an “art mosaic,” an individual tile may be beautiful on its own, but when integrated with other tiles, working with varying colors, shapes and patterns a striking image emerges.

In the field of conservation ecology, “landscape mosaics” work similarly in that they combine varying ecosystems, or patches of land, ultimately coming together to form a networking, functioning landscape. While incredibly wonderful on its own, each ecosystem still relies on surrounding ecosystems to maintain full health.

Why are mosaics important? And what do they have to do with connectivity?

By combining ecosystems together in these landscape mosaics, networks of wildlife movement are formed. This helps maintain whole species’ survival. The movement of individuals is important for genetic flow, which allows for more adaptation to a changing climate and building resistance to degrading ecosystems. Some wildlife travel long distances to migrate seasonally, others need to disperse away from their natal groups to find new home ranges to prevent inbreeding and competition. For many animals, their movement across landscapes also pollinates or disperses seeds, which increases biodiversity.

Unfortunately, deforestation, development, and other extractive activities, are causing ecosystems or small areas of land to be isolated from surrounding ecosystems, thus making it harder for wildlife to roam. These ecological islands isolate wildlife, reducing landscape biodiversity and species’ genetic pools. Overall, the disruption of connectivity stifles ecological processes essential to the well-being of our planet – including clean air and water, nutrient cycling, food security, and climate regulation.

It is therefore vital to keep ecosystems interconnected and interacting, rather than just protecting individual ecosystems or small isolated habitats.

Our Mosaic Model

Our approach is unique in that we not only consider the dynamic web of nature across ecosystems but also work alongside communities and Indigenous groups, as well as national and subnational governments, to define and achieve conservation goals.

This model allows us to approach each new protected area with a number of factors in mind, including: connectivity, intact forest, jurisdictional boundaries, shared cultural values, and/or economic similarities, just to name a few.

Partnering with local communities, Indigenous nationalities and local governments for long-term management of our protected areas.

Gaining protection for these areas is just half the battle; our work is ongoing, and we must continue to ensure these areas maintain their protected status. In our 22 years, our strategy of partnering and building relationships with Indigenous communities and local governments has paid off, as we have not had a single protected area reversed. By working with Indigenous communities directly, we have a better chance of conserving these important landscapes for the long term. By protecting ancestral culture and the land they live on we are also helping mitigate climate change since millions of tons of carbon is stored in these ecosystems. 

Monitoring our Mosaics by examining “Vital Signs”

Forest Waterfall
Gonzalo Pizarro Municipal Reserve in Northern Ecuador

Nature and Culture has developed long-term strategies for the continued protection of our landscape mosaics. After an area is officially protected, it requires continuous monitoring and evaluation. In order to maintain healthy mosaics, we provide ongoing supervision, planning, and funding. We assess all our mosaics for “Vital Signs,” in the same way a doctor would for her patient. If the Vital Signs are in good health, we can protect the mosaic for the long haul. 

To demonstrate that the mosaic is healthy, the Vital Signs it must have are: 

  1. An official recognition of the mosaic by a state entity or international body. 
  2. A clear and recognized legal status of conservation areas by the corresponding state, through its different levels of government. 
  3. A governance mechanism and natural resource plans ensures that there is an entity responsible for the management of the conservation areas, those entities could be public, community, Indigenous and /or private. 
  4. A multi-year action plan aimed at guaranteeing conservation of the mosaic’s reserve areas. 
  5. A financial mechanism, such as conservation funds or water funds, that guarantees economic resources for the conservation and management of its protected areas. 
  6. A monitoring and control mechanism tracks the conservation status of natural ecosystems and assesses the effectiveness of the conservation measures that are implemented. 

By evaluating these Vital Signs, we can make sure that the work we do has maximum impact and that your donations go to the most valuable causes, to protect important landscapes and the communities that rely on them. You can assist with our ongoing work and help our continued protection of these extraordinary landscape mosaics by giving now using the link below.

Nature and Culture’s 13 Large-Scale, Eco-Regional Mosaics

Nature and Culture International understands the importance of protecting these large landscape mosaics and we work hard to protect combinations of ecosystems to conserve the world’s most amazing wildlife and safeguard the communities that rely on them.

We currently concentrate our efforts on 13 large-scale eco-regional landscape mosaics, encompassing about 30 million acres across Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, and Bolivia. We work to protect these amazing landscape mosaics for the long term, making sure that the policies put in place to protect them are enforced, which is why your support for our ongoing work in these areas is so important. Below are some highlights from the 13 mosaics that we currently protect across Latin America.

Our Conservation Mosaics


Podocarpus – El Cóndor Mosaic 

  • Spans the paramo grasslands, montane forests, and cloud forest ecosystems.
  • The eastern end of the mosaic is very rich in plant diversity. Forty percent of its plant species are only found in this region.
  • It is home to Indigenous populations, principally the Shuar and Saraguro nationalities, who help protect the landscape.

Dry Forest Mosaic 

  • This mosaic encompasses part of Ecuador’s remaining tropical dry forest.
  • It is home to 59 endemic bird species (found nowhere else on the planet), and almost 20% of plant species found in this region are also endemic.

Corredor Sangay – Podocarpus Mosaic  

  • This mosaic is the country’s first connectivity corridor.
  • Extending 1.4 million acres, this mosaic is home to 101 mammal species, 580 bird species, 182 amphibian species, 45 reptile species, and 31 fish species, with new species still being discovered.
  • Contains important water resources for populations and contributes to climate change mitigation by storing 125 million tons of carbon.

Morona Santiago Mosaic 

  • Contains the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sangay National Park, and contains everything from tropical forests to glaciers.
  • Encompasses more than 30 ecosystems, including tropical lowland evergreen forest, which stores large amounts of carbon.
  • Holds cultural significance and resources that indigenous populations rely on.

Pastaza Mosaic 

  • Spans nearly 5 million acres including parts of the Amazon rainforest.
  • Considered one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, and is home to multiple Indigenous nationalities, including Achuar, Shuar, and Andwa.
  • Captures 946 million tons of carbon, so assists in mitigating climate change.


North Andes Mosaic

  • Encompasses some of the most diverse, fragile, and complex cloud forests on Earth. Connectivity between its ecosystems is important for species, such as the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear.
  • An important water source for 2 million people and over 1.2 million acres of agricultural land.
  • Much is unexplored so additional expeditions for research, which NCI aims to support, are planned.

Carpish – Rio Abiseo Mosaic 

  • Spanning 3.6 million acres, and encompassing forest and paramo ecosystems, this mosaic is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. 
  • Contains a vast array of endemic bird species, including black-bellied tanager and endangered golden-backed mountain tanager. 
  • Creates atmospheric moisture and rainfall and stores carbon, which helps with climate change mitigation. 
  • Local communities rely on this area for freshwater and plants for medicinal purposes. 

Dry Forest of the Marañon Mosaic 

  • About one million acres of dry forest, savannah grassland, and montane forest located along the Marañon River between the Andean peaks.  
  • Contains the most biodiverse area within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, known as the Grand Canyon of South America.  
  • Home to hundreds of threatened and endemic species due to its unique microclimate and landscape. 

Nanay – Tigre Mosaic  

  • Comprises of large forest areas with 1.2 billion tons of Carbon stored and contains incredible biological and ethnic diversity. 
  • Located in Loreto, which has the second-highest deforestation rate in Peru. 
  • Habitat to endangered species, such as the Giant River Otter and the Harpy Eagle. 
  • NCI is assisting indigenous people with creating a sustainable fruit harvesting business, which increases the value of standing forest. 


Southern Sonora Mosaic 

  • Spans 1.7 million acres and contains a unique combination of arid and tropical ecosystems, including one of the last remaining Pitayal forests.
  • Creates a wildlife corridor that is used by a variety of endangered species, such as the jaguar.
  • Provides important water stores for several communities, cities, and agricultural land.


Southern Chocó Mosaic  

  • Includes the world’s wettest rainforest, mangroves, rocky cliffs, and coastal plains.
  • One of the most biologically rich areas in the world. Many species here cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, such as the golden poison frog from the Chocó rainforests.


Guaraní Mosaic 

  • This 18-million-acre mosaic encompasses the Chaco dry forest, Pantanal forest, and Andean Yungas forest, which the Guaraní people rely on for resources. 
  • 80% of the mosaic is forest, storing large amounts of Carbon, and is important for species like jaguars (potentially 1000!), peccaries, and lowland tapirs. 
  • Under the constant threat of deforestation from agriculture and cattle ranching.

IñaoTariquia Water Corridor Mosaic 

  • An important biodiversity corridor for species, such as the military macaw, ocelot and spectacled bear.  
  • Secures water for nearly half a million people, protected under the Reciprocal Agreements for Water. 
  • Contains endemic plant species found nowhere else on Earth, such as the cactus Cleistocactus candelilla and the Guabiyu fruit tree. 

Defining wildlife and ecosystems and how they’re linked

The term, “Wildlife refers to all life in the wild. It encompasses all living things, including mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds, collectively known as fauna, and sometimes includes plants or flora. These are the components of habitat and play an important role within them. 

In contrast, ecosystems are more like a network that includes all wildlife and living parts of the system (biotic factors), but also non-living parts of the environment (abiotic factors), including weather and landscape. Everything in this network is interlinked and is interacting with one another. Ecosystems can be either very small, such as a singular tide pool, or very large, such as a forest. The world is made up of many interlinking ecosystems and, in a few cases, the world itself is referred to as a singular ecosystem.

Why is wildlife so important to its ecosystem?

Standard food chain
Picture 1: Food chain with fox as predator (top), rabbit as prey (center), and grass as rabbits' food source (bottom).

So far, we’ve established that wildlife lives within an ecosystem, but why is it so important to the ecosystem, and why is there a push to protect individual species when whole ecosystems are threatened?

Imagine a simple food chain. In Picture 1, we have a fox as the predator, the rabbits as the prey, and the grass as the rabbits’ food source, also known as the primary producer. Each of these levels (more scientifically known as trophic levels) have a role to play in the chain. The grazing of the rabbits on the grass prevents too much vegetation growth, but the rabbit population is kept in check by the foxes who predate upon them.

Now, if we take one of these levels out, you end up with an interruption, which ripples through the rest of the food chain. For example, in Picture 2a, the grass has been removed. This could happen as a result of drought, or potentially habitat loss through human development. The result of this is that the rabbits do not have enough food and so many may die. This of course will pass on further up the chain and cause issues for the foxes since their food source is low, and it may result in the foxes dying.

Another example, in Picture 2b, is from the top-down, whereby the foxes may be removed or reduced from the chain. This is often seen in the wild when predators are hunted to near extinction or a fatal disease passes through the species. For this example, the rabbits have less predatory pressure and so their numbers increase dramatically. This may be good for the rabbits in the short-term, but if left to their own devices they could overgraze the area. Over time the grass would suffer since it would not be able to regenerate quick enough. Once the rabbits have overgrazed their food source, they then would not have enough food, would compete with one another, and many would be at risk of starvation.

Food chain missing link
Picture 2a (left) and 2b (right): Food chain where the red cross shows which level has been removed or reduced and images shaded in red show potentially threatened as a result.

The ecosystem network: Yellowstone National Park and the reintroduction of gray wolves

The food chain example is incredibly simple and does not consider the vast array of other wildlife and non-living parts of the ecosystem that could be affected by the loss of a single species like the fox. To truly understand how an ecosystem works, and why wildlife is so important to it, we need to expand further.

The most notorious case of how an entire ecosystem was altered by a singular species is the reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park. In the 1930s, the wolves in this world-renowned location were eliminated from the park through over-hunting, mostly due to the fear of them attacking people or killing livestock. Once wolves were gone, the elk, which had been important prey for the wolves, were able to thrive. With the elk under much less predatory pressure, their numbers increased dramatically and the changes in the ecosystem began.

In Picture 3, you can see a simple idea of what the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem looked like, with the elk at the center of the network. The elks’ increase in number caused a series of indirect consequences for the ecosystem (otherwise known as a trophic cascade) because they were over-grazing and over-browsing the land, including many of the berries that also fed the songbirds and grizzly bears. The elk’s browsing on young plant shoots prevented the growth of shrubs resulting in prey species, such as rabbits, having fewer areas to hide from their own predators. If you think back to the example of the food chain with the fox and rabbit, you should now understand how that would affect all the levels.

The elk were not afraid of staying for long periods at the riverbanks, where previously they could have been attacked by the wolves. They overgrazed young vegetation along the rivers, which weakened the banks and caused riverbank erosion, resulting in the rivers widening. The water also became warmer since the lack of trees and vegetation at the bank meant that there were fewer shaded areas cooling the water down. These changes to the river caused a biodiversity shift in the fish populations. Beavers were also suffering because willow trees on the riverbanks could not grow past shoots. Willows provide beavers with food as well as being the resource that beavers use to create their dams. Without larger willow trees, the beavers were unable to survive winters and so in Yellowstone the population reduced to just one beaver colony.

In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. As expected, the wolves started to predate on the elk, which kept the elk on the move and so reduced the pressure the elk were putting on riverbanks and other young plants. Suddenly, things began to change and there were berries for the birds and bears, and shrubs for the rabbits and other prey species. Riverbanks were stronger as they held more vegetation, this prevented bank erosion and created more shaded areas, which provided cooler water for fish. However, by far the most remarkable change was due to the growth of willows allowing beavers to use them to create dams to survive the winter. The beavers began to return to Yellowstone and the dams they built raised the water table, so water was available more consistently throughout the year to surrounding vegetation. Since 1995, beaver colonies have been increasing and their dams have changed the course of rivers in Yellowstone National Park.

The whole ecosystem has benefitted from the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone because the wolves are what is known as a keystone species, which is an important species, without which, can cause the collapse of their ecosystem. Without the wolves, the elk were not controlled, and the network was falling apart. Now with the wolves returned to the park, the course of the rivers has been altered.

Food web - Yellowstone 2
Picture 3: Yellowstone National Park network showing the connectivity of species in the park.

Protecting wildlife at Nature and Culture International

At Nature and Culture International, we believe in protecting wildlife and ecosystems. We are currently working on multiple conservation projects to protect endangered species, such as the spectacled bear in Peru and the Jaguar in Bolivia. Like the gray wolf in Yellowstone, these species are important to their ecosystems so, who’s to say what the consequences of their loss to the habitat would be? You can check out more of our ongoing work here.

All wildlife is vital to keep the scales of life balanced. The IUCN estimates approximately 40,000 species globally are threatened with extinction: including mammals, amphibians, sharks and rays, birds, and plants. Our global biodiversity is declining so we all need to come together to prevent our ecosystems from collapsing by protecting every last species.

Recent documentation of the distribution, population density, and habitat use of the tapir in Peru’s Northern Andes will aid in the conservation of one of the largest and most threatened mammals in the region.

The mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) is categorized as a globally endangered species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, despite its wide distribution in Colombia, Ecuador, and northern Peru. The population of this unique mammal has decreased in recent years due to habitat loss caused by forest fires, deforestation, cattle ranching, and agricultural activities. The global population is estimated at less than 2,500 mature individuals.

Three mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) in the wild
The mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) is categorized as a globally endangered species

Nature and Culture International Biologists in Peru, Elio Núñez and Katty Carrillo, gathered information on the distribution and conservation status of the mountain tapir in Peru along with professionals from the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC Peru), Research Center of Biodiversity and Sustainability (BioS), and the Catholic University of Peru. Studies on the distribution of the tapir in Peru were previously lacking and obtaining an updated review of its preferred habitats would help with conservation efforts.

Based on the occurrence of the species from local sightings and camera trap records, between 2016 and 2018, the scientists expanded on a map of current tapir distribution in the northern Andes of Peru. The Study Area covers a total of 468,814 acres of páramo and montane forest in the provinces of Ayabaca and Huancabamba in Piura; as well as in the provinces of Jaén and San Ignacio in Cajamarca and in the province of Ferreñafe in Lambayeque, of which approximately 60% is within protected areas supported by Nature and Culture International.

This research was recently published in the Journal for Nature Conservation and thanks to this scientific article, recommendations were obtained for the conservation of the montane forests, páramo, and Yungas, all habitats of the mountain tapir. In addition, binational initiatives have been proposed to guarantee connectivity with the populations between Ecuador and Peru. With this new research, the tapir is promoted as a key species in the protection of mountain ecosystems and their water sources.

Mountain tapir

In a recent interview, Biologist Carrillo shared, “It is important to generate scientific information in order to provide tools for communities and public institutions to continue protecting Peruvian highlands and montane forests, the habitat of the species in our region.” According to Carrillo, Nature and Culture’s mosaic of conservation areas in the Andes of northern Peru and southern Ecuador protect the mountain tapir habitat, and conservation actions for the species are being promoted.

She also mentioned that the team is currently working in coordination with the Ministry of the Environment, the National Service of Protected Areas, the Binational Plan, the Regional Governments of Piura and Cajamarca, and the local governments to achieve official recognition of the Northern Andes Conservation Corridor. This initiative aims to reduce habitat degradation, forest loss, and fragmentation through connectivity to protect endangered species such as the mountain tapir, one of the emblematic species of the northern Peruvian Andes.

Read more about the mountain tapir by clicking here.