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.

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! 

The Cazaderos Nature Reserve was declared a protected area within Ecuador’s National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), on November 9, 2022. This territory, which covers 12,108.16 acres, is located at the heart of one of the best preserved and largest remnants of tropical dry forest in Ecuador which, together with the Peruvian forests, constitute the most representative block of dry forest of flora and fauna of the Tumbesian region. 

The impressive flowering of the Guayacanes, an event that happens every year at the beginning of the winter season, the presence of animals such as the crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), puma (Puma concolor), howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), several species of migratory and endemic birds, as well as the colorful and diverse species of tumbesian flora, make it a priority for conservation. Currently in Cazaderos a model of sustainable management of the territory is being built, jointly with the population and local authorities that seeks to take advantage of the attractions of the Reserve and the surrounding areas. 

Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata)

This sustainable management model will identify areas that are threatened by land use change for agricultural activities, logging, and hunting. It is estimated that currently, only 5% of the original dry forest in Ecuador is in a good state of conservation. Catalina Quintana, a researcher at the Catholic University of Ecuador, in an interview for Mongabay magazine, explains the value of the reserve: “There is a genetic potential, a representation of plants unique to our country.” 

In addition, the Reserve is considered a natural laboratory to develop permanent research. The organization BirdLife Conservation (2009), due to the presence, abundance and endemism of birds, considers this territory as an area of global importance.  

This declaration strengthens and will increase collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, MAATE, in order to follow up on the construction and implementation of the management plan of the Reserve. In addition, the Dry Forest of southern Ecuador is positioned on the national map of protected areas; With this, it is expected that public and private organizations will increase their support for the conservation of these ecosystems and the local communities that inhabit them.  

The management of the Cazaderos Reserve is in charge of the Nature and Culture Foundation Ecuador FUNACE, which seeks to promote a model of co-management of the area, together with the neighboring communities of the Reserve.  

Species monitoring in the Cazaderos Nature Reserve  

The crocodile is one of the emblematic animals of Cazaderos. Therefore, programs have been developed to strengthen research, training, and tourism around this species, one of the southernmost and continental populations of the country and at the same time very, little known. 

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

The first studies carried out in this area reveal that there are approximately 97 individuals in the area of influence of the Reserve. “We have worked with local communities and guides to promote herpetological tourism (science that studies amphibians and reptiles). The program consisted of night outings to learn about crocodiles, amphibians and snakes in a non-invasive and friendly way,” explains Daniel Sanmartín, FANACE technician.   

A similar program is being carried out together with the Nature and Art Foundation/Washu Project to encourage research and conservation of the golden-mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata aequatorialis). The first preliminary study in the Reserve has identified 119 individuals.   

Sanmartín says that, as with crocodiles, through the training of local tour guides, the opportunity to develop sustainable tourism is encouraged in order to offer visitors the possibility of responsibly becoming familiar with the sites where this species is found.   


FUNACE is working together with the Parish Government of Cazaderos, the organized Veconas communities and institutions and people interested in supporting in order to improve capacities and build infrastructure that allow promoting this area as a sustainable tourism offer. Ángela Piedad Rueda, president of the organization Guardians of the Border, believes that this new declaration will help promote all the attributes of this area. 

Great news for conservation in Colombia! The Integrated Management Regional District, Cuchilla del San Juan extends its protection zone, now totaling 73,273.91 acres. 

  • Integrated Management Regional District, (DRMI) is a category of protected area that gives communities who live in the area the right to sustainable development activities.
  • Cuchilla del San Juan supplies water to 33 community aqueducts, 1,919 direct users, and 68 villages with around 8,000 residents.
  • Approximately 92.3% of the land cover of the protected area is Andean and sub-Andean forest in a good state of conservation.

The initiative to conserve Cuchilla del San Juan began in the early 1990s. In 2000, the area was officially declared an Integrated Management Regional District (DRMI) protected area. This declaration included an expansion of 27,277.96 acres. The DRMI category of protected areas in Colombia includes an action plan and regulates the use and management of renewable natural resources and economic activities that take place within them. Cuchilla del San Juan is home to communities whose main economic activity is agriculture; mainly sugarcane, plantain, cocoa, livestock, and fish farming.

In February 2020, Nature and Culture began the process of another expansion in coordination with the Humboldt Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, and communities that live within the protected area and its surroundings. Today 45,993.72 acres have been added to the area, totaling 73,273.91 acres of protected Andean and sub-Andean forests.

Panoramic of Cuchilla del San Juan | Photo: Humboldt Institute

A key area for conserving water and biodiversity 

Located in west-central Colombia, Cuchilla del San Juan supplies potable water to 33 community aqueducts, 1,919 direct users, and 68 villages with around 8,000 inhabitants. 

The most abundant river (96,091 ft3/sec) that empties into the Pacific Ocean in America is born in Cuchilla del San Juan: the San Juan River. This river is very important for the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities of the Chocó since they live on its banks and use it for fishing and navigation. 

Because it is located at the confluence of the Andean Chocó and the Tropical Andes, Cuchilla del San Juan is key to Colombia’s ecosystem connectivity and a hotspot for biodiversity. Findings from biological expeditions carried out in the expanded area recorded 1,636 species of both plants and animals; among them, the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the puma (Puma concolor) and birds of interest for ecological tourism such as the aurinegra tanager (Bangsia melanochlamys) and the Tatamá bangsia (Bangsia aureocincta). 

Puma descansando en un árbol
Puma (Puma concolor) Photo: Humboldt Institute

Of the identified species, 116 are endemic. Among plants, it is estimated that there are 47 endemic species; of which, 14 are threatened, including the Magnolia jardinensis (endemic and Critically Endangered) and Magnolia urraoensis (endemic and Endangered) trees. 

Of the species registered, 307 are declining in population. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN), 53 are Threatened, 8 are Critically Endangered, 13 are Endangered, and 27 are Vulnerable.

“We were blind to the wealth we have because we see it every day. We were unaware of its potential, not only for our environment but globally. It is a corridor that covers us from the south of Antioquia to Tatamá. We have a pantry rich in fauna and flora”. 

  – Luis Elías Grajales, Community Resident

Thanks to the expansion of the protected area of Cuchilla del San Juan, species in the area grow in status as Conservation Object Values (COV), demanding a management plan to maintain and increase the number of existing individuals and prevent their decline. 

Long-term protection of the area and local challenges

The abundance of life and richness within the protected area of Cuchilla del San Juan may increase its potential for threats.

Pressures on the health of the area include negative interactions between people and wildlife, such as cats and eagles, unplanned agricultural activities, and monoculture systems. It will also be a challenge to regulate local communities’ use of natural resources in the area and for the local environmental authority to minimize negative effects on the protected area through surveillance and control strategies.

With the declaration of this expansion, the management plan of the area will be updated, identifying opportunities for local benefit that contribute to the conservation, such as activities to strengthen governance, sustainable production systems, sustainable tourism, ecological restoration, and biodiversity monitoring. 

A collaborative effort 

Photo: Humboldt Institute

The expansion process of the DRMI Cuchilla del San Juan was made possible thanks to the active participation and commitment of the communities of the municipalities of Pueblo Rico and Mistrató, the articulated work of the Humboldt Institute, WCS, Carder, the environmental authority, Fecomar and the support of Nature and Culture International and Andes Amazon Fund. 

“Social dialogue is key to being able to consolidate a protected area project. Partnering with local social and environmental organizations is strategic to build capacities around conservation and thus give it sustainability over time. The communities that inhabit this area will also benefit through support for projects to promote sustainable ecological tourism and the strengthening of their capacities.” 

-Luis Santiago Castillo, Researcher at the Humboldt Institute and Nature and Culture partner 


For World Rainforest Day, will you join our community of monthly donors who have pledged to protect South America’s rainforests year-round?

Over the course of a year, you’ll care for 12 acres – the size of 6 professional soccer fields!

Your gift… 

  • Defends wild places from deforestation, mining, and other unsustainable activities  
  • Connects irreplaceable habitat for threatened plants and animals  
  • Supports Indigenous and local communities in mapping, monitoring, and managing forests for the long-term 
  • Preserves the services these ecosystems provide to us all, including clean water and a stable climate 

Not all rainforests are alike

Rainforests are ecosystems that experience a large amount of annual rainfall. They support an incredible number of plants, animals, and other life forms. Although they occur in different parts of the planet, tropical rainforests are found on and around the equator where sunlight is consistent throughout the year.

Nature and Culture International has projects and protected areas in rainforest ecosystems in many types of rainforest in South America. Our work occurs in the lowland Amazon rainforest, cloud forests in the Andes, and the Chocó forest of coastal Colombia and northern Ecuador. 

Andean Cloud Forest: Highland rainforest 

The extraordinary cloud forests of the Andes are a type of mid-altitude tropical rainforest. When humid air, transpired from the billions of trees in the lowland Amazon, moves west and up the mountain slopes of the Andes, some of it condenses and falls as rain. Some remain in the form of low clouds and mist, which condenses directly onto the foliage of cloud forest trees.

Cloud forests extend from about 3,000 feet in elevation up to about 8,000 feet, so temperatures tend to be cooler than in lowland rainforests. The terrain is often on steep slopes, with more open canopy, leading to more vegetation on the forest floor.

These higher-elevation forests are characterized by waterfalls and quick-moving, shallow rivers.

Cloud forest trees are often covered in plants called epiphytes, which capture much of the moisture found in cloud forests. Clouds and mist condense on the epiphytes’ leaves and pool at the bases of epiphytes (providing habitat for insects and some types of frogs). Trees here are generally shorter than in lowland rainforest, hence the cloud forest tree canopy is lower.

Nature and Culture is currently working with local communities and authorities in our North Andes Mosaic to protect highland forest in Peru which is essential for providing water resources to over two million people who live in the region.

Amazon: Tropical rainforest east of the Andes

The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical forest on Earth, with the highest density of plant and animal species anywhere.

This region provides essential ecological services, stabilizing the world’s rainfall patterns and storing massive amounts of carbon that mitigate climate change.

This lowland rainforest is east of the Andes mountain range and spans eight South American countries. The Amazon is impressively large, more than double the size of the next two largest rainforests combined. It is also well known for its mighty Amazon River which is made up of 1,100 tributaries, including the Marañón River which is considered the source of the Amazon in Peru. 

The province of Loreto, Peru, is facing the second-highest rate of deforestation in Peru. Nature and Culture is currently partnering with Indigenous communities and local authorities through sustainable livelihood projects in our Nanay-Tigre Mosaic.

Chóco: Coastal rainforest west of the Andes

On a strip of forest in western Colombia and Northwestern Ecuador, between the Pacific Ocean and the Andean mountain range is the Chocó forest.

It is a dense and diverse tropical rainforest that blends with adjoining mangrove forests, rocky cliffs, and coastal plains.

It is one of the world’s wettest rainforests and 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 (one of the three most poisonous vertebrates in the world).

Between two to three percent of this ecosystem is left, making it one of the most threatened and lesser-known forests in the world. With Nature and Culture International’s support, the Bajo Baudó protected area was established in 2018. This is the largest regional protected area ever created in Colombia. We are currently working in our Southern Chocó Mosaic to declare two new protected areas and establish sustainable management plans.

Why we protect rainforests

Although rainforests only cover 6 percent of our planet, an estimated 80 percent of terrestrial animals, plants, and fungi species worldwide live within them. Many species have not yet even been described by science. Rainforests contain a huge amount of biodiversity, which has major implications for our health, including improving mental well-being, preventing zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans – e.g. West Nile virus, Lyme Disease, and some types of coronaviruses, among many others) from entering human populations, and providing fresh water, clean air, and vital medicines. Indigenous peoples have lived in and sustainably managed tropical rainforests for centuries, if not millennia. Many Indigenous communities are reliant upon the natural resources that the rainforest provides, particularly clean water.

Shuar children

By destroying rainforests, humans are exacerbating the climate crisis by releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere. All rainforests have a huge volume of carbon stored in the vast amount of vegetation they house. There is so much carbon stored in these ecosystems that, if released, it would not be able to be restored by the 2050 global goal of reaching net-zero emissions; this is known as “Irrecoverable Carbon”.

For World Rainforest Day

and every day, it is important to support rainforest conservation and raise awareness of the threats they face.

We know we can do better for Earth. You can help by spreading awareness and supporting Nature and Culture’s nature-based solutions by pledging your $10 monthly gift today.

There are a number of ways our team works to conserve biodiverse hotspots throughout Latin America. We employ many different strategies to protect wild places, from municipal and local level government protection to national level protection, to land purchase when necessary. No matter the method, we always consider the local communities who live in these areas along with long-term ecosystem health.

Supporting local communities is key to long-term conservation

In 25+ years, Nature and Culture has never seen a protected area reversed and we believe that is because of our commitment to serving local communities. The relationships we have built with the people who live in the areas we work to protect are key to our success. Our co-management model is what sets us apart. Providing access to legal tools to establish a protected area, technical training for skills such as monitoring a protected area for threats, or investing in a new means of sustainably generating income from local resources are just a few of the ways we support the WHOLE ecosystem.

Our protected areas are living, breathing, dynamic spaces that require fostering relationships and understanding local needs. Indigenous Peoples and local communities are often the initial advocates for the protected areas we support. We simply provide them with the tools they need to safeguard their natural resources like clean water and fresh air. This approach in turn supports the health of the tiniest of species and the health of the entire planet.

Peru’s Ministry of Environment recognizes Nature and Culture and local communities

Last month Nature and Culture Project Managers, Lleydy Alvarado and Elvis Allauja attended the National Service of Protected Natural Areas (SERNANP) annual meeting. SERNANP, an agency of Peru’s National Ministry of Environment, presented the official declaration of two new Private Conservation Areas (ACP) Yasgolca-Santa Lucia, Montevideo in Amazonas, and Utco in Cajamarca. Both areas were declared in February of this year, and together they protect more than 19,000 acres of the dry forests of Marañón, Yungas, and montane forests.

SERNANP meeting in Peru where the team was recognized for their work with Utco and Montevideo Private Conservation Areas.

Our team in Peru was recognized along with the presidents of each of these two new Private Conservation Areas, with whom Nature and Culture’s technical team collaborated to create the new areas. In response to our team’s dedication to supporting the local effort, SERNANP recognized Nature and Culture for its important contribution to the declaration of both areas and for being an ally in the departments of Piura, Cajamarca, Amazonas, Huánuco, Loreto and Ucayali.

Alan Sánchez, Nature and Culture’s Environmental Legal Coordinator accepted the recognition award on behalf of the team.

Two new protected areas cover more than 19,000 acres

The Yasgolca-Santa Lucia Private Conservation Area, Montevideo protects 11,677.43 acres and is an important water source for communities in the Amazonas region of Northern Peru. Establishing this protected area was crucial for the local community because it plays a fundamental role in water regulation. This ecosystem is also a significant carbon capture and connects to other nearby protected areas. According to Lleydy Alvarado, both newly declared areas connect with other conservation areas, which creates a larger wildlife habitat. It’s not enough to simply establish areas, says Lleydy, they need to be connected so the team’s environmental services are more effective.

The Yasgolca-Santa Lucia Private Conservation Area, Montevideo protects 11,677.43 acres and is an important water source for communities in Amazonas.

The Utco Private Conservation Area protects 7,562.31 acres of dry forest. This unique ecosystem is known for being an epicenter of biodiversity. It is home to a large number of endemic birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants. Together these two new areas protect over 19,000 acres and are critical to local inhabitants’ well-being.

View from within the Utco Private Conservation Area that protects 7,562 acres of dry forest. Photo courtesy of Elvis Allauja

Congratulations to our team in Peru and the communities of Utco and Montevideo for their determination to conserve their ecosystems.

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!

  • There are two new conservation areas located in Cajamarca and Amazonas, Peru which protect 19239.74 acres of dry forest, pajonal, and montane forests.
  • The conservation areas will protect these ecosystems, the habitat of important species, and strengthen community organization.

The Ministry of Environment of Peru recognized two areas of private conservation (ACP) this week. The ACP UTCO in Cajamarca and the ACP Yasgolca-Santa Lucia, Montevideo in Amazonas. Both natural spaces have a unique natural wealth.


The UTCO conservation area protects 7562.31 acres of the dry forest, known for being an epicenter of biodiversity, thanks to the important endemism of flora and wildlife.

9 species of endemic birds, 9 species of endemic reptiles, and an endemic amphibian can only be found in the UTCO conservation area. In addition, “it is a natural research center, where 20 species of endemic flora have been reported in critical danger, such as Parkinsonia Peruviana, Cedrela Kuelapensis, Caesalpinia Celendiniana, and Piptadenia Weberbaueri,” said Elvis Allauja, Nature and Culture International.

The Yasgolca-Santa Lucia Private Conservation Area, Montevideo protects 11677.43 acres of pajonal and montane forest. The area is an important natural source of water, providing this vital resource to communities in Amazonas. Also, it is home to 140 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, and 14 species of mammals.

Aegialomys xanthaeolus

The area protects threatened species, such as Polylepis Racosa and Cedrela. This area is also home to species such as Johnson’s spatulilla (Poecilotriccus luluae), spectacled bear (tremarctos ornatus), and night monkey (Aotus miconax).

Life and the forest

The officially declared areas connect with other conservation areas, allowing wildlife to have more habitable space, according to Lleydy Alvarado, of Nature and Culture International.

Montevideo’s main ecosystem services are carbon capture and water regulation, which is why Alvarado points out that it is not enough to establish areas, they need to be connected so that their environmental services are more effective.

Long-term protection

For years, it was believed that ecosystems possessed inexhaustible ecosystem goods and services, which has led to the overexploitation of forests. Due to this, the communities of Utco and Montevideo decided to return to the forest and work to achieve the official recognition of their conservation areas.

Photo by Michell León

The process to establish both private conservation areas was made possible thanks to the effort and perseverance of both communities, with the technical support of Nature and Culture International and the support of Re:wild, and Andes Amazon Fund in Utco; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montevideo.

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.

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Indigenous Nationalities and Provincial Government Agree to Protect Over 3 Million Acres in the Ecuadorian Amazon



Macas, 01 February 2023

Tarímiat Pujutaí Nuṉka Reserve declaration

Tarímiat Pujutaí Nuṉka Reserve declaration. Photo: Nature and Culture International

On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, The Provincial Government of Morona Santiago, Ecuador, and four Indigenous nationalities agreed to the creation of the Territorio de Vida y Uso Ancestral “Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka.”

Located in the Morona Santiago province, in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon, the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is 3,057,670 acres and includes the communities of Taisha, Morona, Sucúa, Logroño, Méndez, Tiwintza, Limón Indanza, San Juan Bosco and Gualaquiza.

The Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve was created through an inclusive process, facilitated by Nature and Culture International, that began on November 9, 2021, with the signing of an agreement between the Provincial Government, and the four Indigenous nationalities that live within the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve: The Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH), the Shuar Nation of Ecuador (NASHE), the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador (NAE) and the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA).

Rio Yaupi Photo: Nature and Culture International

For the creation of this protected territory, an unprecedented Pre-Legislative Consultation process was carried out through 21 gatherings with different actors from the four Indigenous organizations of the province, with an overall participation of 893 people, collecting the various Indigenous nationalities’ visions and contributions, ensuring the protection of this area aligns with their specific Planes de Vida, or “Life Plans.”

The main purpose of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is to ensure the preservation, and ancestral and sustainable use of natural and cultural resources, seeking productive alternatives to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area.

In addition, respect for the rights of nature and collective rights, climate and fragile ecosystems regulation, and the protection of biodiversity and ancestral cultures, environmental principles, and the water sources that originate from the Kutukú and Cóndor Mountain Ranges will be guaranteed within the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve.

The president of NASHE, Felipe Mashiant, mentioned that the approval of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka ordinance will allow the centers and associations of his organization to continue protecting the forests in an adequate manner.

For his part, Waakiach Kuja, leader of the NAE, explained that after the Pre-Legislative Consultation in Morona Santiago, it is believed that the establishment of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve will benefit the entire province.

Josefina Tunki, president of the PSHA, pointed out that after many years, and thanks to the participatory work of many, the construction of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is a reality. “We, the organizations, had the opportunity to work together, for the first time, thanks to the current administration of Morona Santiago.”

Josefina Tunki. Photo: Nature and Culture International

In the same way, the representative of the FICSH commented that after the Pre-Legislative Consultation that was carried out in his territory, they decided to approve the creation of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve.

Finally, the Governor of Morona Santiago, Rafael Antuni, commented: “This is an initiative that will not only allow us to preserve, but also enjoy our forests and climate, to offer the world a healthy environment.”

Thanks to the political will of Governor Rafael Antuni, the participation of leaders and other representatives of the Shuar and Achuar Nationalities of Morona Santiago, and the support of Nature and Culture International, the approval of the ordinance for the creation of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Ancestral Life and Use Territory marks a historical milestone in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

This entire process of collective building was developed thanks to the support of Andes Amazon Fund; Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI); The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD); and Re:wild.


Nature and Culture International is a 501(c)(3) that works to ensure the conservation of biologically and culturally diverse landscapes in Latin America. Its conservation goals are born within local communities, from the protection of natural habitats to the sustainable use of natural resources, and the preservation of native cultures. Nature and Culture works together with Indigenous groups, local communities, as well as national and subnational governments to protect critical ecosystems. This methodology has been highly successful since the organization’s establishment in 1996. Since our founding, we’ve protected over 22 million acres and not a single area has had its protected status reversed. This success is partly attributed to Nature and Culture’s devotion to the long-term management and technical support of a protected area after establishing its protected status. Nature and Culture International has a committed team of local conservationists, environmental lawyers, and mapping experts, working to save critical ecosystems in Latin America. To learn more, visit


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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!


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.

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.


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.

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).


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The Municipality of Loja announced the expansion of its Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas, protecting 72 fundamental water sources for local populations 

Protected Area Landscape
On Saturday, June 18, 2022, with the support of Nature and Culture International, the Municipality of Loja announced the expansion of its Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas. This expansion adds an additional 109,279 acres to the 73,700 previously protected acres.