The Ecuadorian mountain forests on the border to Colombia are one of the habitats most rich in species in the world. There each tree is a small Botanical Garden. In these thinly populated areas large areas of primeval forests can still be found. Continuously these are being cut down now, mostly to gain two years of Agricultural production. After that the soil is exhausted. The land is abandoned and consequently dominated by secondary forest.
|Center, left and rear: primeval forest. Front and right: clearings and secondary forest||Enlarge: 2'000 px | 4'000 px|
If we act now, the forest could be purchased untouched. For this reason the Botanical Garden Basel has launched a protection project which has already secured the means for one square kilometer (about 250 acres). For another fore square kilometer (1'000 acres) the Garden lacks the necessary funds. One tree amounts to 5 Swiss Francs. This action also saves all the orchids, bromeliads etc., which live in the crowns and last but not least all the animals like hummingbirds, frogs, butterflies, depending on the forest.
Why do we commit ourselves
During the Titanwurz events 2011 and 2012 the organizers decided to reserve part of the income for a Titanwurz protection project. Unfortunately we could not find a reliable partner for a long term project in Indonesia. The funds would probably have melted away in corruption.
Inayat Olmedo, orchid gardener of our garden since Summer 2012, pointed out that in Ecuador some primeval forests extremely rich in species and endemics are being slashed down by farmers in order to gain new land which subsequently is only of short term use. Such forest plots can now be purchased (in Swiss standards) for a bargain. As we possess one of the largest collections in Europe of Ecuadorian cloud forest orchids our decision to spend the «Titanwurz money» for the protection of these forests seemed a logical step.
Nature protection is not done with money alone. Motivated and competent institutions in place which can protect and defend such a project against various user interests are a must. Luckily we were able to find a very experienced and flexible Nature Conservation Foundation «EcoMinga» which already possesses some 50 square kilometers of Rain forest and therefore was very interested in our project. Nevertheless it seemed appropriate to study the local conditions in the form of a tour also in order to meet all the involved parties personally.
In August 2013 a delegation of seven undertook the journey to the project area (supported by the foundation of promotion of plant knowledge). At this occasion the forming of a local project team actually succeeded. Together with all the partners we were in the field and were able to discuss conceptual, legal and practical questions on the spot. Regarding goals and approach we have a consensus, and also a consensus on how cocaine cultivation and trafficking in nearby Colombia has to be assessed.
Conservation without local partners is an illusion. Only professional commitment and presence on the ground is able protect the forest from illegal use. We know all our partners personally and know that they cooperate with us and with each other reliably.
Lou Jost, Javier Robayo (EcoMinga in Baños), Luis Baquero (Floare in Quito), Don Héctor Yela (local supervision in Maldonado), Dr. Andreas Kay (Cotacachi, field inspections and photo documentation), Carolina Jijón (Botanical Garden Quito)
The Naranjilla issue
Naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) is a fruit of mandarin size, related to tomatoes, very sour, very aromatic but less watery. The fruits are not exported, but processed on a large scale in Ecuador itself to frappé (jugo de naranjilla). The plant is a 1-2 m tall shrub with a few large leaves. It has a high requirement for nutrients and is heavily infested by pests.
The local farmers, who usually also are the forest owners, are clearing a piece of forest one after another and thus make fast money for two years. Then the soil is exhausted and more or less worthless. The plot is abandoned. It turns into bush and with the years to a poor secondary forest.
Furthermore: inexpensive, but highly toxic insecticides (toxic class 1B) can be purchased without restriction. Mostly young men, unprotected and unaware of the dangers, deploy these substances by spray guns. The dosage is unclear. Sooner or later, the pesticides end up in the rivers and in the drinking water.
The rural population is poor and in a difficult economic situation. The area is poorly developed. The slopes are steep. The soils are not very fertile and the farmers are cut off from one of the most important sources of income in the directly neighboring Colombia: cocaine. Due to the cocaine issue, it will be hard to develop Tourism. Rural exodus prevails.
Nevertheless, there are alternative crops (guava, sugar cane, passion fruit, bananas, blackberries, Borojó etc.). The local foundation «Al Tropico» promotes these options, but currently suffers under the reduction of government funds.
The most effective protection against deforestation is the land acquisition. The forest plots are usually large (0.2-0.5 square kilometers resp. 50-125 acres). Legally valid titles exist for some plots, but not for all. Therefore, the legal process can be costly, but there is no way around it (GPS mapping, field survey with an attorney, notarization).
Currently, there are about five square kilometers for sale (about the size of the municipality of Binningen). Funds are already available for about one square kilometer. With our partners in Ecuador, we agreed that three types of plots should be acquired primarily:
1. Plots close to the road to stop an advance of deforestation.
2. Plots with difficult access in the interior, which are particularly cheap and have the best forest.
3. Emergency purchases
Sometimes, forest owners are in a sudden need of money (death, home buying, relocation, etc.) and then are interested for selling plots that were previously unmarketable. In such cases, it has to be acted immediately.
Unfortunately, we just shortly missed to buy this large plot.
Smaller plots don't protect all animals and plants, but the vast majority. Many species can also use smaller forest islands as corridor between contiguous areas.
What is more important: research or conservation?
Both are important, but research can wait, protection not. Nevertheless, we are dependent on inventories for the selection of the sites and therefore, parallel to the protective efforts, we try to document as much animal and plant species as possible. Due to similar, but much better explored conservation areas further south in Ecuador, in the area of the 'Dracula Forest Reserve' about 2,000 plant species can be expected. The number of animal species is probably about 10 times higher.
Orchids and frogs are already partially investigated. In both cases, local endemics were found (species found only here). We expect that this will be repeated within other groups of animals and plants.
Flowers and fruits
Man and landscape
In the cloud forest belt, the weather can change within minutes, especially in the afternoon.
Flüsse, bewaldete Steilhänge und Dreitausender prägen die Landschaft des 'Dracula Forest Reserve'. Rivers, forested slopes and high peaks characterize the landscape of the 'Dracula Forest Reserve'.
During the national holiday of Ecuador, the river at the Colombian border is flowing uphill.
The soil are slippery as soap. Without boots, there is no way through.
On market day, the entire region meets in the village. The remaining days are very quiet.
An overloaded truck chugs leisurely over the country roads.
Turkey vultures are related to the condor and widespread from the United States to Argentina. Wingspan180 cm.
Recording from a forest reserve near Mindo, 160 km (100 mi) south of the 'Dracula Forest Reserve'
'Landing' in slow motion
Recordings from the Bellavista reserve, 140 km (85 mi) south of the 'Dracula Forest Reserve'
This native tree (Bellucia pentamera, Melastomataceae) is cauliflorous. The local population seems to like it, otherwise it would not have been allowed to stand at the edge of an orchard.
The soil lichen Dictyonema is a pioneer on open grounds. Dry it is white. Upon wetting it turns to blue green (symbiosis with cyano-bacteria).
Dracula orchids blooming discreetly on the underside of a branch.
In the low elevation areas there exist still about a dozen of huge Chanul trees with their high quality wood. The fruit set of the trees is rich, but almost all fruits are affected, including this one here.
Chanul wood is extremely hard. Since there is no saw mill in the area, the work is done by hand. Here a small bar is cleanly divided with 69 machete blows.
Naranjilla: fields and harvest. The farmer has collected caterpillars to determine the minimum dose of insecticide.
Preparation of naranjilla juice (jugo de naranjilla) in a well-equipped restaurant kitchen. Tap water is used for cleaning. Dilution with purified water. Then, sugar and ice are added. The flavor is excellent.
Botanischer Garten der Universität Basel, Spalengraben 8, 4051 Basel, Schweiz