“We only protect what we know; it’s not easy to create a protected area and as such, this is a historic milestone,” said Tarsicio Granizo, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment.
Cheers erupted as Ecuador declared Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, Ecuador’s first national park in nearly a decade, on January 23, 2018. The new park, encompassing 75,654 acres of pristine páramo and cloud forest ecosystems, eliminates an unprotected gap in the highly diverse and biologically significant Sangay-Podocarpus Corridor, and now serves as a critical link in a 100-mile chain of protected ecosystems in the Andes Mountains.
Home to a wealth of flora and fauna, Río Negro-Sopladora National Park establishes habitat connectivity that is essential for the long-term survival of such far-ranging and charismatic species as the spectacled bear (globally threatened), Andean tapir (critically endangered within Ecuador) and Andean condor (critically endangered within Ecuador). Additionally, dramatic altitude changes within the park encourage the evolution of diverse species and provide what some have called a critical “escape valve” for climate change – an upward migration path to cooler temperatures to help species survive as the Earth warms.
Nature and Culture International’s biological studies in 2017 registered 546 species in the area, including threatened and uncommon species, and high levels of endemism. Among the species registered, there are three entirely new species of amphibians – a frog, a salamander, and a caecilian (a type of limbless serpentine amphibian). The study, conducted in 12 days and under poor weather conditions, reflects only a small portion of the National Park’s ultimate biodiversity.
The Andean Corridor, encompassing the Sangay-Podocarpus Corridor and the new National Park, is a biodiversity hotspot in the Andes Mountains of southern Ecuador. Not only is the Corridor home to more than 450 bird species and 100 mammal species, including many threatened and endemic, but its forested watersheds supply water to millions of people living downstream.
Roberto Villarreal, mayor of Morona Canton, recognizes the National Park as a critical source of water. “We are aware of the importance of this natural area since it will benefit the neighboring communities and guarantee water for various hydroelectric projects, namely Paute Integral and San Bartolo,” said Roberto Villarreal.
Río Negro-Sopladora National Park is a result of extensive collaboration over several years between Nature & Culture, the Ministry of Environment, and local communities and authorities. Nature & Culture was critical in achieving this declaration, among other things producing the management alternatives plan and building community and political support, in addition to conducting biological studies.