Family visit

Last week two of my brave family members from the US visited some of EcoMinga’s reserves with me.  My sister Lorie Koessl and my brother Brad’s 17-year-old daughter Saige Jost are both nature-lovers and hikers, so they were perfect companions. Here are some of the things we saw in and around our reserves in six days of hiking.

Mammal encounters are rare here. Usually we only see them in our camera trap videos, or we find their tracks or scat. But on our visit to EcoMinga’s Rio Anzu Reserve in the Amazonian foothills, we were sitting on rocks along the river when we heard a strange call,  not quite bird-like….a few seconds later two tayra (Eira barbara) appeared on the opposite bank, jumping from rock to rock. These are relatives of the wolverine and mink, fairly large muscular omnivores that are capable of killing large birds and mid-sized mammals. This was one of the best views I have ever had of them. They were not concerned by our presence. My sister had borrowed one of my cameras for the day and she managed to snap a few pictures of them as they went along.

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Tayra (Eira barbara) on the limestone along the shore of the Rio Anzu. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Of course there were many invertebrates in the Rio Anzu Reserve. Here is a colorful grasshopper photographed by Saige on her cell phone:

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Grasshopper. Photo: Saige Jost.

In our Rio Zunac Reserve, we encountered a couple of rodents. One especially cute individual had made a nest in an abandoned cabin that used to belong to our park ranger Fausto Recalde before we bought the land from him:

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Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai). Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Incredibly, this turned out to be a recently discovered new species of mammal,  Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai), that was only described a few months before our visit, by our friend Jorge Brito and coauthors:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23766808.2017.1292755

From the Climbing Rat’s cabin Lorie spotted our magnificent pair of Black-and-chestnut Eagles, though they were too far away to photograph. This cabin is just below their former nesting site, but it seems they are not currently nesting there. Perhaps they are still caring for last year’s fledgling.

On a day hike to our Cerro Candelaria and Naturetrek Reserves, we were able to spend time watching the well-named Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata) feeding in a raging whitewater stream that would have quickly killed almost any other bird or mammal.

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Female Torrent Duck resting on a rock in the rapids. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

This is a very distinctive duck appears not to be closely related to the familiar north temperate duck species, but its position in the tree of life is still uncertain.

On the day of the Torrent Duck sighting, our ranger Fausto Recalde brought his 5-year-old daughter Amy along. She was an excellent guide, who found several interesting things that we had not noticed. She was also very playful; she did this controlled falling trick about 20 times in succession, laughing all the while:

Amy Recalde playing.

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A spider (genus Gasteracantha?) along the river of the Torrent Duck. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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A plant with irritating spines, Nasa (Loasaceae), along the river of the Torrent Duck.

Night hikes are always special in the tropics. We took a night hike during our three-day stay in EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac Reserve, and in the space of less than a half hour we saw a non-stop show of fascinating insects, arachnids, frogs, and sleeping lizards:

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A tropical harvestman (“daddy longlegs” to US readers). Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Frog at night. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Sleeping lizard. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Exuberant antennae. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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One of many variations on this theme seen during our night walk. Parobrimus sp. (could be Parobrimus horridus) according to a comment below by Yannick. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

There were neat invertebrates during the day too along the Rio Zunac. On our return home we saw these:

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Walking stick. Male Oreophoetes sp (maybe a new species) according to Yannick in the comments below. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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A water bug. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Saige plays with a millipede. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Some of the invertrebates were less welcome. There was an eruption of biting horseflies in the Zunac Reserve that week, and here are some that we killed while they bit us during a quick dinner:

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Dead horseflies killed as they tried to bite us during dinner. This is about a quarter of the total number we killed during that dinner; most were completely squished….Photo: Lou Jost.

On the same rock wall where we piled the dead horseflies, there was a fascinating construction of waxy tubes made by large black bees:

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This is an open cell under construction. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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This is a sealed cell with larva inside. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

Lorie and Saige, thanks for your visit! It was fun to show you EcoMinga’s reserves!

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Myself, Saige, and Lorie at the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall just below EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve. Photo: unknown stranger.

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Approach to Quito’s airport. Photo: Saige Jost.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga.

Incredible frog discoveries in our Dracula Reserve

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A potentially new species, a blue-eyed Pristimantis! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

A few weeks ago our executive director Javier Robayo and our ranger Hector Yela organized an expedition to investigate the poorly known amphibians, reptiles, and mammals in an area we are trying to purchase for our Dracula Reserve expansion, in the province of Carchi in Ecuador. Trips into unexplored territory are always exciting, especially when the exploration is done by a team of experts who are famous for finding new or unusual creatures. Besides Javier and Hector, this expedition included Mario Yanez, Glenda Pozo, and Jorge Brito, from Ecuador’s Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes who is also our reserve manager, Tito Recalde and Jordy Salazar, who are two of EcoMinga’s Banos-area rangers, and several brothers of Hector: Elias, Rigoberto and Rodolfo, who helped prepare trails and keep the expedition supplied with food.  The mission was supported by the University of Basel Botanical Garden.

The excitement in Juan Pablo’s voice was palpable when he called me as soon as he had reached cell phone coverage at the end of the expedition. He reported not just one but at least three exciting discoveries! The most amazing was an apparently new species of frog that was yellow with blue eyes!!!!  It belongs to the huge genus Pristimantis. None of the herpetologists had ever seen anything like it. Still, it could be some rare color mutant, so its DNA will be analyzed by frog expert Santiago Ron to make sure it is new.

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Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

 

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Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

In addition to this fancy frog, the expedition also discovered a new population of a fancy toad, Atelopus coynei, named by the late Ken Miyata for the famous evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. The often-colorful Atelopus toads are disappearing throughout their range due to the invasive chytrid fungus.  This species too had disappeared from most of its former range, but was recently rediscovered by Andreas Kay about 15kms from this population. The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Mario Yanez wrote “Otras localidades históricas con composiciones similares como Tandayapa o Río Baboso están severamente fragmentadas y han perdido las especies que hoy se mantienen en Carchi. [Este sector] mantiene composiciones taxónomicas y funcionales altamente diversas.” Translation: “Other historic localities with similar compositions, like Tandayapa or Rio Babosa, are severely fragmented and have lost the species which are still present today in Carchi. [This area] still maintains  highly diverse taxonomic and functional compositions.”

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Critically endangered Atelopus coynei from this newly discovered population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

 

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Atelopus coynei from this population. Photo by Mario Yanez.

As if that wasn’t enough, the team also discovered a second population of Rhaebo colomai, a toad that had just recently been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve by another team of herpetologists. Like Atelopus coynei, it is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

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Critically endangered Rhaebo colomai from this new population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

Mario concludes: “Se ha registrado una comunidad de anfibios y reptiles taxónomica y funcionalmente completa. En menos de tres meses una segunda especie amenazada es registrada por la gestión Ecominga. Sobresale el hallazgo de especies endémicas y amenazadas de Bufonidos andinos sintópicos en el sector ….Potenciales nuevas especies evidencian que la comunidad de herpetofauna en la cuenca del Río Mira esta poco estudida y nada representada en el sistema nacional de áreas protegidas, al ser diferente a los sectores de Cotacachi – Cayapas, Mindo e Ilinizas. Es una gran oportunidad de hacer conservación efectiva.”

Translation: “We have observed a community of reptiles and amphibians that is taxonomically and functionally complete. In less than three months a second endangered species has been recorded thanks to the efforts of EcoMinga. The discovery multiple sympatric species of threatened Andean Bufonidae [toads] is striking. The presence of potential new species shows that the herpetofauna community in the Rio Mira watershed is poorly studied and not represented at all in national parks or other state protected areas, in contrast with the Cotocachi-Cayapas, Mindo, and Illinizas areas. This is a great opportunity for effective conservation.”

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Glass frog, Espadarana prosoblepon. Note the blue armpit flaps! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

I’ve heard that the mammals found by the expedition were also very interesting, including new records for Ecuador, but I have not yet received the details. I’ll post about that when I know more.

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Happy frogs along the stream. Apparently another new species, but more work is needed; this species had been seen on an earlier expedition in our Dracula Reserve. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

We are currently raising money to buy land in this area, which is at elevations not represented in the existing units of our Dracula Reserve. You can help by donating to the Orchid Conservation Alliance. Please mention that the donation is for EcoMinga. They have already raised over $90000 in the last few months for this project, and the Rainforest Trust will match that donation. We hope to convince the Rainforest Trust to continue matching future donations; they will probably decide this in February.

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 Anolis purpurascens found during the expedition. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Many thanks to our team of experts for their passion to investigate and save Ecuador’s biodiversity, and to the University of Basel who made this expedition possible.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

 

 

 

Andean toad, thought to be extinct in Ecuador, has just been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve!

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Rhaebo colomai, a critically endangered species of Andean toad. This is the first individual found in Ecuador since 1984. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

A few weeks ago, at a major herpetology conference in Ecuador, our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes presented his recent work. After the conference his sister, herpetologist Carolina Reyes Puig from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, led a group of herpetologists from the Natural History Museum of London (Jeffrey Streicher, Mark Wilkinson, Gabriela Bittencourt Silva, Simon Maddock), and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (María Torres Sánchez)  on a field trip to our Dracula Reserve in northwestern Ecuador. The Natural History Museum group was primarily interested in caecilians, strange legless snakelike amphibians that are very poorly known.

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A caecilian found by this group of scientists in the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

While they were exploring our reserve mosaic, they found a fancy toad which Carolina immediately recognized as a species thought to be extinct in Ecuador, Rhaebo colomai! This species had been discovered near Chical, the town closest to our reserve, in 1983. It was last seen in Ecuador in 1984. Another population was discovered two years ago in nearby Colombia. It is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Here is an excerpt from a news item about this discovery, which just appeared in the Amphibian Survival Alliance newsletter:

An expedition in July 2017 found a small population in the Dracula Reserve, in the northwestern Andes of Ecuador. The expedition was carried out by scientists from the Laboratory of Terrestrial Zoology of University San Francisco de Quito USFQ, the Natural History Museum of London, and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad INABIO.

“We found these little toads near streams of crystal clear water with lush surrounding vegetation. When we saw the first individual, we immediately knew that we were in front of a species thought extinct”, said Carolina Reyes-Puig, professor and researcher at University of San Francisco de Quito USFQ.

The Dracula Reserve is the only protected area in Ecuador that could maintain populations of this threatened species today. This reserve is managed by the Ecominga Foundation and is key for the conservation of not only amphibians but also other rare and threatened biodiversity, such as Dracula and Lepanthes orchids and Spectacled Bear.

This toad is the closest living relative of another “lost” species, Rhaebo olallai, which was rediscovered recently in our new Manduriacu Reserve. These discoveries are exciting news for conservation—they prove that the current mass extinctions affecting so many tropical amphibian species can sometimes leave pockets of survivors. If those pockets can be preserved, perhaps the species will survive. EcoMinga now protects the only known Ecuadorian habitats for both these Rhaebo species.

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Rhaebo olollai from our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch

We’d like to thank the School for International Training (SIT) for sponsoring Juan Pablo’s participation in the herpetology conference!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

 

 

 

Frog fanciness

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Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

A recent trip to the Rio Zunac Reserve turned up some beautiful frogs in the genus Pristimantis. This is the largest genus of vertebrates, and its local diversity in our area is staggering. Most of them seem nondescript at first glance, but many of them have bright species-specific “flash colors” on their sides, bellies, or inner thighs. This lovely P. katoptroides photographed  by our forest guard Fausto Recalde is an example. Its inner thighs are an intense indigo blue:

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Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve showing blue flash pattern. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Here is another Pristimantis found on an earlier trip to the forests adjacent to the reserve, which we are raising money to purchase. This one has dramatic yellow stripes on its inner thighs and sides . Juan Pablo says that this is almost certainly a new species!

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Possible new species of Pristimantis in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

The eyes can also be very colorful, as in this Pristimantis eriphus found on the same trip as the P. katoptroides:

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Pristimantis eriphus in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

This is probably the same species, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve:

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Pristimantis eriphus? [Edit 10 Dec 2016: Juan Pablo tells me that this is actually a new frog currently being described] in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping

Here’s Pristimantis galdi from the Rio Zunac Reserve with green eyes:

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Pristimantis galdi in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Javier Aznar/TropicalHerping.

Here’s a Pristimantis lacrimosus with copper eyes:

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Pristimantis lacrimosus from our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

A “lost” toad rediscovered: We join the effort to protect Rhaebo olallai

Fig. 4. Andinophryne ollalai
Juvenile Rhaebo olallai, a “lost” amphibian recently rediscovered after a 43 year disappearance. Photo by one of the rediscoverers, Ryan Lynch.

In my last post I wrote about the amphibian experts who had secluded themselves in a remote cloud forest lodge, San Isidro, in order to work on updating the IUCN Red List status of 200 Ecuadorian frog species. They have finished their task, but the proposed threat categories for each species still need to be reviewed by other specialists. The categories assigned to each species will only become official after this review.

Nevertheless for some species, conservation can’t wait, and I will write a few posts here about some species that we believe are likely to be officially classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, and which require urgent conservation action.

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Another view of Rhaebo olallai, the Tandayapa Andean Toad. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the most dramatic frog conservation stories involves the Tanadayapa Andean Toad, Rhaebo (formerly Andinophryne) olallai. This species was first discovered in 1970 near the town of Tandayapa about 50 kms west of Quito, but then it disappeared. The area has become a very popular ecotourism destination and is often visited by scientists, so its disappearance from the area seems to be real and not the result of lack of searching. In fact the area was searched multiple times by trained herpetologists looking specifically for this toad, for a total of at least 150 hours of search effort, without success. Another Ecuadorian member of the genus, R. colomai, also disappeared shortly after its discovery, and the current IUCN Red List notes that R. colomai may be extinct.

In 2012 biologists Ryan Lynch and Sebastian Kohn (whose parents are EcoMinga board members) were surveying the forest of Manduriacu, 40 kms north of the site where R. olallai had been discovered forty-three years earlier. They were surprised to find an unusual fancy toad during their night walks, and immediately realized this was something special. Upon investigation they realized that they had rediscovered R olallai! And not just a few individuals. They eventually found large numbers of them, in all age categories. Their photos were the first ones ever published of live individuals. They also were the first humans to see the fancy color pattern of the juveniles, as shown in Ryan’s photos at the top of this post. As they mature they lose their pattern, as shown in the photo below. These dramatic color changes are not found in most other species of the genus.

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Adult Rhaebo olallai. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The rediscovery was described in a scientific article, and also in article for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. The latter article explains the conservation situation of this toad:

Its scarcity earned the species a spot on the World’s “Lost Frogs” List by Conservation International. “This is a truly exciting and important rediscovery,” stated Dr. Robin Moore who launched the Global search for Lost Frogs, adding “In order to prioritize what and where to protect, it is imperative to know whether rare species such as this still exist. Hopefully this remarkable find will lead to some concrete conservation actions to ensure the species stays off the Lost Frogs List.”…

The article continues:

The region surrounding Manduriacu has received attention by conservationists in recent years due to the expansion of hydroelectric, mining, and logging activities, all of which could threaten the well-being and survival of unknown numbers of rare and endangered species such the Tandayapa Andean Toad in the region. “The last time we visited the property we encountered a freshly clear-cut plot of land less than a kilometer from the rediscovery site, which is home to the only currently known population of the species” stated Lynch, adding “so land preservation in the region can’t come quick enough.”

Santiago R. Ron from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, who oversees ongoing population studies of Andinophryne [Note added by LJ: that genus is now included in Rhaebo] in Ecuador stated “The discovery of the Tandayapa Andean Toad in Manduriyacu demonstrates that the forests have unique properties and, presumably, unique communities”, adding “so the study and conservation of this area should be considered a priority for both the Ecuadorian government and the international conservation community.” In addition to the Tandayapa Andean Toad, four threatened amphibian species have been recorded in Manduriacu…

Fig. 1. Manduriyacu Location
Map of Manduriacu.


The habitat of Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the other threatened amphibian species of Manduriacu is the Darwin-Wallace Poison Dart Frog, Epipedobates darwinwallacei, recently described by Diego Cisneros-Heredia and EcoMinga director Mario Yanez. It is endemic to foothill forests just west of Quito, in Pichincha, Santo Domingo, and Cotopaxi provinces. Poison dart frogs are unusual among frogs for the care they give to their offspring; the adults sometimes carry their tadpoles on their backs to put them in new pools of water in the canopy, often bromeliad crowns. Females of some species visit these pools and lay infertile eggs in them to feed their offspring. The first photo below shows an adult carrying tadpoles.

Another rare and local endemic is Lepidoblepharis conolepis, restricted to Pichincha and Cotopaxi provinces:

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Lepidoblepharis conolepis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Some other reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu, all from Ryan Lynch’s website:

Anolis gemmosus
Anolis gemmosus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Anolis aequatorialis
Anolis aequatorialis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis muricatus
Pristimantis muricatus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Diaphorolepis wagneri
Diaphorolepis wagneri. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Centrolene peristictum
Centrolene peristictum. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Espadarana prosoblepon
Espadarana prosoblepon. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Hyloscirtus cf. alytolylax
Hyloscirtus cf alytolylax. Note that this species is hiding under a leaf while calling, exactly like the Hyloscirtus I had photographed in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis scolodiscus
Pristimantis scolodiscus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Since this is the only known place in the world where the Tandayapa Andean Toad exists, and since other very rare species are also present there, clearly this threatened forest should be preserved. Sebastian Kohn has long been committed to conserving this forest, and he was able to buy several lots in the Manduriacu watershed where the toad lives. These lots total 969 acres and range in elevation from 1100 to 2100m. He enrolled these properties in the Ecuadorian government’s SocioBosque program, which pays the owner to conserve the forest. Sebastian uses all of the annual government payment to fund the salary of a permanent forest guard, who happens to also be the president of the local community.

Shortly after they rediscovered the toad, Ryan and Sebastian approached us for help in protecting this watershed, and we agreed. The Manduriacu lots protected by Sebastian are now under our control. Sebastian has turned them over to us to manage, and will give us all the money he receives from the SocioBosque program, to pay our costs for that management, so that there is no cost to us. In addition he has generously agreed to donate all of his land to EcoMinga when his SocioBosque contract ends. (We do not want him not to donate it to us now, because that would cut off the SocioBosque management money; the SocioBosque program applies only to individuals and communities, not to foundations.) So we are proud to announce that Manduriacu becomes EcoMinga’s newest reserve, with Sebastian’s original purchases as its core!

However, there is still a 325 acre property in the middle of this watershed that has not been bought. It splits our protected forest in half. EcoMinga has still not been able to find all the funding for this purchase. We have promises of about $10,000 but need another $63,000 for the lot. (We may be able to buy it with less money if we can find an entity that would match the donated funds; we have sometimes been able to do this in the past.) This property contains excellent primary forest and lots of wildlife, including big cats, peccaries, and much else. The highest parts, at 2000m elevation, have not yet been explored but should contain a very high diversity of Dracula orchid species (and these would mostly be different species from those in our Dracula Reserve, which is much farther north near the Colombian border). If there are any US readers who would like to help us with this purchase, the Orchid Conservation Alliance can accept donations and give tax deductions. Please specify that your donation should go to EcoMinga/Manduriacu, and also write me to let me know.

Note added July 28 2016: Something seems to be wrong with the Orchid Conservation Alliance Paypal button; it will be better to send a check directly to them and write an email to the president, Peter Tobias, with copy to me, advising him that the donation is for EcoMinga/Manduriacu:
Peter Tobias, President
Orchid Conservation Alliance
564 Arden Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024
USA
Thanks Jim Knight for bringing the problem to my attention.

The Manduriacu forest contains important mammals like the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and many other species. Below is a herd of Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) eating its way through the Manduriacu undergrowth at night:

and a Brocket Deer (Mazama species):

And here is a potential predator of the peccaries and deer, a Puma (Felis concolor):

There is also evidence that jaguars use the forest, including this camera-trap photo:

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian's camera trap in Manduriacu.

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian’s camera trap in Manduriacu.

But the weirdest animal of all is the Pacarana (Dinomys branickii), which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

For more inspiration see all of Ryan Lynch’s beautiful photos of the reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu Reserve:
http://ryanlynch.zenfolio.com/manduriacu

More info on Ecuador’s amphibians:
Amphibians of Ecuador, Universidad Catolica de Quito: http://zoologia.puce.edu.ec/Vertebrados/Anfibios/AnfibiosEcuador/Default.aspx

Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga