Darwin replaces Jesus (no, not that Darwin, and no, not that Jesus)

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Jesus Recalde. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Our most senior reserve guard, Jesus Recalde, has just retired. He worked with us for twelve years, almost since our inception, and has helped guide our evolution and growth with his gentle wisdom. Jesus’s place will be taken by his only son, Darwin Recalde.

Jesus first came to my attention through his signs. Long before Fundacion Ecominga existed, I encountered these signs during my botanical explorations in the area which is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. One of the signs, in the middle of this fairly remote forest, said “No cazar los aves” (“Don’t hunt the birds”), an unusual sentiment at a time when every kid in rural areas carried a slingshot to kill birds. Years later I learned that Jesus was the author of these signs, and that he had even planted a quarter-hectare plot with flowers and fruits that attracted birds, instead of with human crops. Around here nobody does that. This was an unusual man.

The first reserve guard we hired, Abdon Recalde, was Jesus’ brother and was also an exceptionally sensitive and honest man. It was through him that I came to know Jesus. At the time, the country was in an economic crisis, and Jesus and his family were desperate. Like many Ecuadorians, he was considering moving to Spain to find work so he could send money home to support his family. His young daughter Diana made him rethink that plan when she asked him point-blank how he could abandon her for money… So he and his wife Piedad found my house in Banos and asked if he could be a second guard for our growing reserves. I was nervous about being able to find donations for his salary, but we took the risk and hired him.

Soon he made me feel like part of family. At various times his daughter Diana, his son Darwin, his daughter Rosa’s husband Israel, and David the son-in-law of Abdon also joined our team for brief periods, as did his other brothers Fausto and Luis more permanently (Luis, an expert woodsman and brilliant photographer, retired a few years ago to be replaced by Fausto’s stepson Jordy, also an exceptional photographer). This extended family’s personal qualities — curiosity, intelligence, and integrity — were the key to the success of our foundation; we did not have to micro-manage them but rather we worked as a team of equals, co-managing the reserves, parts of which we bought from them (including Jesus’ quarter-hectare bird plot). Every visitor who interacted with them came away impressed. Today our “Team Recalde” is famous among Ecuadorian biologists, and they are frequently asked to help out in field research.

Curiously, Jesus and his brothers were originally voracious hunters when they were younger, until the day that Jesus shot a mother monkey with a baby. As the mother died in front of him, she looked at him with a face so full of pain that it could be understood across species. Jesus was shaken to his core; this was his conversion experience, and he never again killed anything. He planted his bird plot as repentance, and vowed to live the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for the damage he had caused in his youth.

He became a leader of his community, and was elected its president. In this position he helped his community develop an ecological conscience, and worked to integrate the community with our conservation work.

He was an energetic guard, but one day when crossing a road in Banos he was hit by a fast police motorcycle clearing a parade route. Initially there was some doubt whether he would ever walk again, but we helped him get an aluminum stud to join parts of his shattered leg bone, and eventually he recovered enough to resume his life.  He worked for many years after the accident, but this year he began to feel that he couldn’t keep up with the younger guards, so he asked to retire.

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EcoMinga asociate and friend Andreas Kay has brain tumor removed, needs help

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Photo: Andreas Kay

Andreas Kay, well-known macro photographer, friend, and close collaborator of EcoMinga, has just had a golf-ball-sized tumor removed from  his brain here in Quito. He is in great pain and under heavy medication. He posted the following message on his Facebook page, and I would like to share it here:

“Dear friends of Ecuador, I had an unexpected brain tumor and surgery by Dr. Danilo Pasternak in Quito and await the biopsy at the hospital now for further treatment.
I hope to be able to share more photos and videos from Ecuador soon. Especially I have plans to improve my footage in field macro videophotography.
If you want to support my recovery a donation would be highly welcome: http://www.paypal.me/EcuadorMegadiverso
I also have a TransferWise account by private message.
Thank you so much for your help.”

No photo description available.

Andreas’ brain tumor

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Andreas has discovered many new species of plants, and several are named after him, including the orchids Lepanthopsis kayii and Lepanthes kayii. He also re-discovered and photographed the toad Atelopus coynei, once thought to be extinct:

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/my-frog-is-alive/

and he helped us set up our Dracula Reserve. He is best known for his magnificent collection of 29,048 macro insect and  plant photos from Andean Ecuador, published on his “Ecuador Megadiverso” Flickr site:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andreaskay/sets

This vast collection of breathtaking photos surely contains many more species new to science.

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Lepanthes kayii. Photo: Andreas Kay

Andreas has lived a simple life devoted to nature photography.  His brain tumor was not discovered until it was very large, and he is currently under heavy medication. We await the biopsy report in the next few days. Meanwhile we are trying to arrange additional medical care for him. Any help would be appreciated and should be sent directly to him. (Be aware that he may be under too much medication to respond promptly.)

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

 

 

 

Noblella naturetrekii, a new frog from our Naturetrek Reserve

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Meet Noblella naturetrekii, a new species of frog from our Naturetrek Reserve mosaic. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Another new species of frog from our reserves was published a few weeks ago in the open-access journal PeerJ: “A new species of terrestrial frog of the genus Noblella Barbour 1930 (Amphibia: Strabomantidae) from the Llanganates-Sangay Ecological Corridor, Tungurahua, Ecuador“, authored by Juan Pablo Reyes-Puig, Carolina Reyes-Puig, Santiago Ron, Jhael A. Ortega, Juan M. Guayasamin, Mindee Goodrum, Fausto Recalde, Jose J. Vieira, Claudia Koch, and Mario H. Yánez-Muñoz.

Noblella is a small genus of frogs that is active during the day, unlike most neotropical cloud forest frogs which must be searched for at night. The genus is primarily Andean but has a few representatives in the Amazon basin as well. Our new Noblella species was first found by our “Keepers of the Wild” reserve warden Fausto Recalde in the Viscaya Unit of EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve (see map). Further field research by our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes and his colleagues, and by Mindee Gudrum, a student at the School for International Training, turned up more individuals, which provided a more complete picture of the species’ range of variation. Molecular work by Santiago Ron of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador confirmed that it was new and in fact was one of the most phylogenetically distinctive species of Noblella. (The molecular study included almost all known Noblella species and many of their closest relatives; the resulting phylogeny revealed that the genus Noblella as currently recognized is really a mixture of two different lineages, and should be split up, but that is a story for another day.)

Noblella naturetrekii was named after the UK nature tour company, Naturetrek. Before EcoMinga existed, I had helped Naturetrek set up their Ecuadorian plant tours, and I guided the first ones. I was impressed by the level of knowledge of their tour participants. Naturetrek and its CEO David Mills was a strong supporter of the World Land Trust‘s worldwide conservation efforts, and after my friends and I founded EcoMinga, WLT reconnected us with Naturetrek. Since 2009 Naturetrek has given more tha $400000 to WLT for us, and with those funds we have built two “Naturetrek Reserve” units in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed, encompassing more than a thousand acres, to protect strategic and highly threatened Andean cloud forests. The main Naturetrek Reserve unit fills the gap between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and our Machay Reserve, forming a critical link in our Llanganates-Sangay biological corridor between the two national parks in our area. The second unit, which we call the “Naturetrek-Viscaya Unit,” protects the lower slopes of the mountain range above the settlement of Viscaya. The new Noblella has now been found in both of these units. An additional population was discovered just outside the Naturetrek-Viscaya Unit, but this population was destroyed by deforestation and road-building just a few months after its discovery.

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Our Banos-area reserves, with the properties of the Naturetrek units outlined in yellow (thin yellow lines are still in process of purchase), other units in red, and national parks in green. Click to enlarge.

This is not the only special species found in the Naturetrek Reserves. We have also found another new species of frog there, currently being described, and in the Naturetrek Viscaya Unit we have also found a new species of lizard, which is quite surprising. There are also many special plants in both units, including our recently described Blakea attenboroughii  in the main Naturetrek Reserve Unit. I am sure there will be more new species from these reserves, because they have been carefully selected to protect unusual microhabitats.

David Mills and Naturetrek’s support for our work is ongoing, and Naturetrek will be helping us enlarge the area we protect. It is a model company in its support for nature, and deserves all the recognition it can get for this. Naturetrek has just been nominated ‘Best Safari, Wildlife & Nature Holiday Company’ in the prestigious British Travel Awards. Currently they’re in second place in the voting, and they’d greatly appreciate our readers’ support. Click here to vote: https://www.britishtravelawards.com/btaform.php?nomLink=117 They deserve it!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Pristimantis mallii, our tenth new frog species discovered in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed

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Pristimantis mallii in amplexus. Photo: Carolina Reyes

Over the last two decades, scientific work in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed between Banos and Puyo has shown it to be one of Ecuador’s most diverse and under-appreciated biological hotspots. We are regularly discovering new species of plants and animals there, especially frogs, orchids, and melastomes, reflecting the interest of our staff in these groups. Quite a number of new species from this area have been described by us or by our colleagues over the last few months, and I will report on some of these over the next few days.

Today we highlight Pristimantis mallii , a new species from our Rio Zunac Reserve. This is the tenth(!) new species of frog discovered in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed in the last ten years. This one was cryptic; though collections were made as early as 2009, the variability of this species and its closest relatives was not well enough understood to describe it as new until this year.  Its closest relative (as shown by DNA analysis) is P. miktos, a species of the eastern lowlands of Ecuador and Peru from 200-300m elevation. Pristimantis mallii is found only at much higher elevations, 1300-2200m, and it has not yet been found outside the Rio Zunac Reserve.

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Female P. mallii. Photo: Bioweb

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A different female P. mallii. Photo: Bioweb.

 

At our request, the authors of the species description kindly agreed to name this species after my late friend Malli Rao, one of the earliest supporters of the EcoMinga Foundation. The article explains this choice: “The new species is named in honor of the late Dr V. N. Mallikarjuna “Malli” Rao, of Wilmington, Delaware, USA. A winner of the Lavosier Medal at DuPont, he helped develop an environmentally safe alternative to the fluorocarbons that were depleting the ozone layer. His donation to EcoMinga in 2007 started the Río Zuñag Reserve, the type locality of P. mallii.”

 

A national newspaper picked up the story of this discovery and gave it a nice treatment:

https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/03/20/nota/7242944/descubren-nueva-especie-rana-provincia-tungurahua

Para mas informacion en espanol vea aqui.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Our reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, is one of the scientists interviewed on an Ecuadorian national television feature about endangered frogs

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Juan Pablo Reyes, our reserve manager, and his colleagues have discovered more than ten new species of frogs in our Baños-area reserves. As one of Ecuador’s leading herpetologists, he was interviewed for the well-known weekly national television program “Dia a Dia”, which aired yesterday.

The program chose to broadcast a segment where he talks about one of his new species, Pristimantis puruscafeum. He named this species in honor of Puro Coffee, an organic coffee brand in the UK which gave us the initial support for what is now our largest reserve, Cerro Candelaria:

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Pristimantis puruscafeum. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

To see the whole program, go to this site and choose the May 5 2019 edition. The frog part begins at 32:00.

http://www.teleamazonas.com/actualidad/dia-a-dia/

We are pleased to have this national exposure!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga