Releasing a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve

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Ukumari wakes up in his new home as the anesthesia wears off. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

Jeremy La Zelle and Greg Taylor, the men behind Backpacker Films, visited Banos in September 2015. When they heard about the pending release of a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve, they asked to join the release team.

The young bear had been found by a farmer two years earlier, badly injured. Doctors performed surgery on it and saved its life. Sebastian Kohn, director of Centro de Rescate Ilitio on the slopes of Volcan Cotopaxi, took it into his care and raised it, taking care to maintain its wild character and not turn it into a pet. The goal was always to return it to the wild. He fed it while hidden so that it did not associate food with people, and the bear kept its distrust of humans.

When Volcan Cotopaxi began to erupt, the Centro de Rescate suddenly had to close, so the bear had to be released quickly. The Ministry of the Environment asked us to receive the bear and assist in its release. Our rangers and a team of specialists carried the bear on a stretcher for several hours to take it to good habitat away from humans. Jeremy and Greg filmed the whole process, and the video below, released a few days ago, is the result.

 

It’s a testament to the best elements of our own species that so many people put so much effort and so much heart into the rescue and rehabilitation of this poor bear:

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The team of veterinarians, bear experts, “stepfather” Sebastian Kohn (yellow shirt at left), and EcoMinga rangers (Luis and Santiago Recalde, not in view, and Fausto Recalde holding the intravenous serum bag). Photo: Santiago Recalde?EcoMinga.

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EcoMinga Ranger Luis Recalde holds the bear’s head while the veterinarian tapes its claws to minimize danger to the crew. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

The bear, after its release, wandered widely and was filmed by camera traps up to seven kilometers from its release site. It was last recorded alive and well about six months after its release, but its body was later found by Ministry of the Environment field staff, well outside our reserve. Some speculated that the bear had been attacked by another bear, but we don’t really know.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Today Sir David celebrates his 90th birthday. For several generations of young naturalists in the English-speaking world, Sir David was THE voice of nature on TV and radio, a man who instilled his own sense of wonder about nature in countless listeners and viewers around the world, including me. Even at age 90 he is still passionate about nature, and not just as a spectator. He works tirelessly to protect nature, and as a patron of the World Land Trust he has been especially generous in lending his time to its work, and to EcoMinga as one of the World Land Trust’s partners.

I first met Sir David in London at a World Land Trust event at the auditorium of the Linnaean Society in London. The Linnaean Society has a long and central role in the history of biology; Darwin’s first presentation of the theory of evolution had been given at a Linnaean Society meeting. So this was an inspiring venue for me. Watching over us were famous large paintings of Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and other scientific giants on the walls. Sir David gave a talk on the importance of WLT’s work on preserving habitat, and I gave a talk on the orchid evolutionary radiations that I had discovered in Ecuador, which the WLT and EcoMinga were trying to protect. We had just recently discovered a fancy new species of tree in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, and Darin Penneys and I named it after Sir David to honor his legacy. That evening I was very pleased to be able to present Sir David with a photograph of “his” tree, Blakea attenboroughii, as a token of our appreciation.

A few years later Sir David was kind enough to write a Forward to our book of reptiles and amphibians of the EcoMinga reserves and those of the Jocotoco Foundation (another WLT partner in Ecuador, with whom we work closely). This was quite a kind thing to do for us. He wrote:

“If you protect a patch of the natural world, you should know what lives in it…In some parts of the world making such a faunal list, while time-consuming, does not present too great a challenge for competent naturalists. In the English Midlands where I grew up, there were eleven species of amphibians and reptiles. But in Ecuador there are at least 822. The numbers alone are daunting. When you add to that the wildness and inaccessibility of the places where the researchers had to work, from the bleak misty slopes of the paramo down to the warm humid rainforests of the Amazon basin, the magnitude of the task they faced becomes truly alarming. This book lists the amphibians and reptiles that are found in eleven reserves belonging to Fundacion Jocotoco and three of the five on the eastern side of the Andes belonging to Fundacion Ecominga. A team from the Ecuadorian Museum of Natural Sciences over ten years has worked in them all, in some cases several times and often in difficult conditions. They have identified and described 339 species of which 20 are new to Ecuador and at least eight new to science. This remarkable book is the fruit of all that labour. Its value is immense for it will make it possible to check on the welfare of the creatures it lists as the years pass and the threats to their survival continue to increase….It is to be hoped that this remarkable book will set an example for successive volumes that will survey all the other major groups of animals for which these Jocotoco and Ecominga reserves are such a valuable refuge…”

The next time I met him was at the BAFTA theater in London, where the UK’s equivalent of the Academy Awards are given out. This was one of the most technologically advanced lecture venues in London, and I enjoyed it very much. The event on this particular evening was the celebration of the World Land Trust’s 25th anniversary in 2014. It was an intimate evening with Sir David as the main guest. Five WLT partners from around the globe, including me, gave shorter talks on our work. Sir David spoke eloquently of the changes in our conservation concept over the years, and of the role of the World Land Trust:

Last year Sir David once again stepped up to help the WLT and EcoMinga. He agreed to make an introductory film clip for a short WLT film by Jonny Lu about my orchid discoveries, and he agreed to speak at its screening in London along with me. It was a very unusual star-studded and paparazzi-filled evening, which I described in this post; the attention the event received was due almost entirely to Sir David’s presence, as everyone in the UK adores him and is eager to meet him.

I gave my orchid talk in front of the crowd, with Sir David standing facing me just three feet away, apparently listening intently. Initially I felt nervous telling natural history stories to the world’s most famous teller of natural history stories. But once I started, Sir David somehow made me feel right at home with his attentive look. That look told me he shared my wonder, and so it was easy to let it all out. It was a very special experience for me.

So, Sir David, thank you for your lifetime of sharing wonder, and thank you for your work to help us protect those wonders.

This is how he celebrated his birthday last year:

Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

In the London high-fashion district, supermodels and superstars and even Superman come to learn about EcoMinga’s miniature orchids!

A couple of years ago our major UK supporters, the World Land Trust, sent a team of creative professionals– Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero–to our Cerro Candelaria Reserve to make a short film about its new species of orchids. Jonny Lu’s studio does mainly fashion work, with clients like Victoria Beckham, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton, so I was initially a bit worried about their intention to spend day after day climbing high muddy mountains in pouring rain. I needn’t have worried– they did it in style and with real pleasure! The results of their four-day trip were presented last Tuesday at the famous Bourdon House in London, once the home of the Duke of Westminster and now home to the Alfred Dunhill fashion house. Fabrizio Cardinali, CEO of Dunhill, graciously opened this house to us at no charge and donated the catering for the event. Sir David Attenborough, the great natural history presenter whose voice is instantly recognized around the world, came to the screening and also appeared in the film’ introductory segment. Thanks to Jonny’s and Emma Beckett’s and the WLT’s hard work and personal connections, an amazing set of people, including not only Sir David but many well-known British stars and supermodels, came to this event.

I gave a short talk to them about our orchids. It was an unusual venue and audience for an orchid talk, but it went well, and everyone was genuinely interested.


The audience even attracted paparazzi and the British tabloid press!

Film maker Jonny Lu, right, and Brooklyn Beckham, the paparazzi’s main target:

David Attenborough and Henry Cavill (aka Superman):

One of the main purposes of the event was to raise funds for the conservation of the forests where these special orchids live. We are in the process of naming some of our new species of orchids after our major donors, past and present, as a way of thanking them for their help. In this event we attempted to encourage new donors by offering to name some additional species after them or after a loved one. Several donors came forward, and the World Land Trust has set up a website where the remaining un-named species can be viewed by potential donors:
http://www.wlt-orchids.com/donate
This site will be updated as the orchids are named.

The site also contains the story of Jonny’s, Jeremy’s, and Vava’s challenging trip to our Cerro Candelaria mountain to film these orchids in their extraordinary remote habitat. The photos nicely capture the ambiance and the challenges of working in this area.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve.
Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Lou Jost

EcoMinga and the Universidad Estatal Amazonica sign 5-year collaboration agreement

The rector of the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, Dr Julio Cesar Vargas (left) and EcoMinga's Juan Pablo Reyes sign a five-year agreement of scientific and educational cooperation in Puyo last week.  A screen capture  from the Universidad Estatal Amazonica's TV channel; click here for the video. announcement.

The rector of the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, Dr Julio Cesar Vargas (left) and EcoMinga’s Juan Pablo Reyes sign a five-year agreement of scientific and educational cooperation in Puyo last week. A screen capture from the Universidad Estatal Amazonica’s TV channel; click here for the video. announcement.


Our Rio Zunac and Rio Anzu reserves are less than twenty kilometers from a major Ecuadorian public university, the Universidad Estatal Amazonica (UEA), which specializes in biological sciences. Juan Pablo Reyes and I have given guest lectures to classes there, and Juan Pablo has worked closely with UAE biologists on studies of large mammals in and around the two reserves just mentioned. We’ve also helped and hosted botanical studies by UEA professors Dr. David Neill, Dr. Antonio Vasquez, and their students. Last week Juan Pablo formalized our collaboration with this university by signing an agreement with its Rector, Dr Juio Cesar Vargas (who recently had one of our new Rio Zunac species of Magnolia tree named after him). We look forward to promoting good science in our area, and we are sure this collaboration will also lead to many new discoveries here. The agreement puts the university facilities and labs at our disposition, and encourages UAE faculty and students to do research in our forests. It may also give us access to funding for research. This is an exciting step for us–congratulations to Juan Pablo for taking the initiative on this collaboration!

Universidad Estatal Amazonica professor Dr Antonio Vasquez, expert on Neotropical magnolias, explaining evolution at our Rio Zunac scientific station. Dr Vasquez discovered two new species of Magnolia near this station, and last week confirmed the presence of a third newly-described species there. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Universidad Estatal Amazonica professor Dr Antonio Vasquez, expert on Neotropical magnolias, explaining evolution at our Rio Zunac scientific station. Dr Vasquez discovered two new species of Magnolia near this station, and last week confirmed the presence of a third newly-described species there. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Here is the University’s press release on the agreement:

UEA y ECOMINGA suscriben convenio para la ejecución de proyectos ecológicos

La Universidad Estatal Amazónica (UEA) y la Red de Protección de Bosques Amenazados “Ecominga” firmaron un Convenio de Cooperación la tarde del 26 de marzo de 2015, por un periodo de 5 años, cuyo objetivo se orienta a desarrollar actividades conjuntas de colaboración e investigación en temas de biología y monitoreo de especies amenazadas en los cantones Baños de Tungurahua y Mera de Pastaza.

Entre los compromisos adquiridos, ambas instituciones podrán ejecutar programas de prácticas, proyectos, asesorías/consultorías que contribuyan a la conservación, manejo y gestión del medio ambiente, así como la realización de acciones de desarrollo social o comunitario.

Juan Pablo Reyes, biólogo y director ejecutivo de la Fundación “Ecominga” habló sobre los alcances de este acuerdo e indicó que este tipo de iniciativas impulsa el cuidado de las especies que habitan en los corredores ecológicos de las áreas protegidas de los parques nacionales Llanganates y Sangay, garantizando la conservación de los recursos asociados a este ecosistema.

“En el tema de especies amenazadas hemos venido trabajando con la UEA para el monitoreo de grandes mamíferos con cámaras trampa y también hemos brindado apoyo en nuestras reservas para el descubrimiento de especies nuevas en el campo de la botánica”, puntualizó Reyes.

Por su parte, el Dr. Julio César Vargas, rector de la UEA, hizo hincapié en la importancia de formalizar estas alianzas con el objetivo de potenciar la preservación ambiental, asimismo aseguró el bienestar y disponibilidad del equipo humano y la infraestructura de la universidad amazónica para el desenvolvimiento acertado de los proyectos a desarrollarse.

“Las diferentes áreas que estamos protegiendo pueden servir como una especie de aula viva para que los estudiantes puedan observar las diferencias entre los ecosistemas que existen en la región” Juan Pablo Reyes, Director Ejecutivo Fundación Ecominga.

—RELACIONES PÚBLICAS UEA

Lou Jost

New species discovered by EcoMinga staff and co-workers, Part 1: Plants

Meriania aurata, a tree species we discovered in what is now EcoMinga's Rio Zunac Reserve. Flower is large, about 7 cm across. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Meriania aurata, a tree species we discovered in what is now EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac Reserve. Flower is large, about 7 cm across. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

I’m compiling a list of all the plant and animal species discovered by our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes, our director Javier Robayo, myself, and our students and co-investigators in and around our EcoMinga reserves near Banos, Ecuador. In this first installment, I’ll deal with the plants. (I’ll be saving some major as-yet-unpublished plant discoveries for a later post.) Nearly all of these species are still known only from our immediate area and nowhere else in the world. Adding these new discoveries to the previously-known locally endemic plants of the area, there are now more plant species unique to this area (the upper Rio Pastaza watershed) than there are in the world-famous Galapagos Islands! This is one reason why we are so committed to its conservation.

I’ll start with two spectacular new species of trees in the melastome family, Meriania aurata and Blakea attenboroughii. Meriania aurata (above) is the most spectacular tree I have ever seen. Imagine big heavy inflorescences half a meter across whose stems look as if they are made of bright shiny yellow plastic, each yellow winged stem carrying an orange rosebud, which becomes a short-lived bright salmon flower 7 cm across with a bizarre row of anthers lined up under the stigma. I first noticed fallen buds of this species here in the Banos area in the 1990s, but that was before I realized just how special the area was. I wrongly assumed that such a dramatic flower must be well-known. By 2001 I understood the area better, and I organized a 15-man expedition to reach new elevations in the Rio Zunac watershed (now part of our Rio Zunac Reserve). David Neill, the renowned Ecuadorian tree expert, came along. We saw this tree; he recognized it as a new species (the sister species of the also-beautiful Meriania hernandoi) and published its description (co-authored by Carmen Ulloa). Even so, we did not find a fresh, fully-opened flower, so the paper does not include a full flower drawing (see below). It was only recently that I finally was able to make these close-up photos of the open flowers (with the help of EcoMinga’s agile tree-climbing guards).

Meriania aurata, from the scientific description of the species, Ulloa, Fernandez, and Neill (2007),  Meriania aurata (Melastomataceae), una Especie Nueva de los Llanganates, Ecuador. Novon 17: 525-528.

Meriania aurata, from the scientific description of the species, Ulloa, Fernandez, and Neill (2007), Meriania aurata (Melastomataceae), una Especie Nueva de los Llanganates, Ecuador. Novon 17: 525-528.

Meriania aurata inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Meriania aurata inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

The next species, Blakea attenboroughii from the same family (Melastomataceae) was discovered by Javier Robayo, myself, and Andy Orchard of Puro Coffee, donor to the World Land Trust for the first purchases of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. I am not an expert in this plant group (I’m an orchid taxonomist), but as soon as I saw it I realized it was something I’d never seen before anywhere. Expert Darin Penneys confirmed it was a new species. We decided to name it after World Land Trust patron and famous BBC TV presenter and conservationist Sir David Attenborough, to thank him for his support for our conservation efforts. I had the pleasure of presenting a picture of it to him at a World Land Trust event in the Linnaean Society headquarters in London, where the centuries-old specimens of Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, are carefully kept. Sir David is a wonderful man.

Blakea attenboroughii, from our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Blakea attenboroughii, from our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Me presenting Sir David Attenborough with a photo of his tree, Blakea attenboroughii, in London. Photo: Nigel Simpson.

Me presenting Sir David Attenborough with a photo of his tree, Blakea attenboroughii, in London. Photo: Nigel Simpson.

On to the new orchids! First and foremost was an amazing evolutionary radiation my students and I discovered on the tops of the highest mountains in the area. At the time I started exploring, the orchid genus Teagueia had only six species in the world, three in Ecuador and three in Colombia. But here on these few mountaintops around Banos we discovered THIRTY new species of this genus!

Some of the thirty new species of Teagueia orchids my students and I discovered on the mountaintops here. You can see a high-resolution printed version of this picture on p 2545 of the Dec 2012 issue of the journal Ecology. Click to enlarge.

Some of the thirty new species of Teagueia orchids my students and I discovered on the mountaintops here. You can see a high-resolution printed version of this picture on p 2545 of the Dec 2012 issue of the journal Ecology. Click to enlarge.

One single mountain, which eventually became our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, had 16 of these new species! They are currently the subject of several ecological and evolutionary studies. It is an unprecedented local speciation event. So far taxonomist Carl Luer and I have described six of the thirty species, including one named after Puro Coffee and another named after the mother of Albertino Abela, in honor of their very important donations to the World Land Trust for EcoMinga, which let us preserve these mountain peaks for posterity.

Teagueia puroana, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Teagueia puroana, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

There are lots more new orchids….here are the citations for some of the first ones I discovered in the Banos area, published in Dr Carl Luer’s many volumes of orchid monographs for the Missouri Botanical Garden. (Note: Carl decided to name some of them after me…NOT my idea, though I am honored!)

Luer, C. A. 2002. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XXIV: A First Century of New Species of Stelis of Ecuador, Part 1. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes exigua Luer and Jost, p. 94.

Luer, C. A. 2000. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XX: Sytematics of Jostia, Andinia, Barbosella, Barbodria, and Pleurothallis subgen. Antilla, subgen. Effusia, subgen. Restrepioidia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
New genus Jostia Luer, p. 1.
L. tetrachaeta Luer and Jost, p. 119.
Teagueia alyssana Luer and Jost, p. 131.
T. cymbisepala Luer and Jost, p.132.
T. jostii Luer, p. 132.
T. sancheziae Luer and Jost, p. 133.

Luer, C. A. 1999. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XVIII: Sytematics of Pleurothallis subgen. Pleurothallis sect. Pleurothallis subsect. Antenniferae, subsect. Longiracemosae, subsect. Macrophyllae-Racemosae, subsect. Perplexae, subgen. Pseudostelis, subgen. Acuminatia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes abitaguae Luer and Jost, p. 139.
L. aprina Luer and Jost, p. 139.
L. barbigera Luer and Jost, p. 140.
L. elytrifera Luer and Jost, p. 140.
L. hispidosa Luer and Jost, p.141.
L. hydrae Luer and Jost, p. 141.
L. jostii Luer, p. 142.
L. marshana Luer and Jost, p. 142.
L. privigna Luer and Jost, p. 143.
L. ruthiana Luer and Jost, p. 147.
L. staatsiana Luer and Jost, p. 147.

Luer, C. A. 1998. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XVII: Sytematics of Subgen. Pleurothallis sect. Abortivae, sect. Truncatae, sect. Pleurothallis subsect. Acroniae, subsect. Pleurothallis, subgen. Dracontia, subgen. Unciferia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes ariasiana Luer and Jost, p.104.
L. mooreana Luer and Jost, p. 106.
L. serialina Luer and Jost, p. 107.
L. viebrockiana Luer and Jost, p. 108.
Scaphosepalum jostii Luer, p.116.

My painting of Lepanthes (now Neooreophilus) viebrockiana from our Rio Zunac Reserve.

My painting of Lepanthes (now Neooreophilus) viebrockiana from our Rio Zunac Reserve.

Lepanthes ruthiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes ruthiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes pseudomucronata from our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes pseudomucronata from our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Some more recent discoveries or co-discoveries of mine in the Banos area include Masdevallia stigii, M. loui, Stellilabium jostii, Trichosalpinx jostii, Lepanthes spruceana, L. ornithocephala, L. mayordomensis, L. pseudomucronata, and quite a backlog of species I still haven’t had time to describe and publish.

Masdevallia stigii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia stigii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia (Alaticaulia) loui, discovered by Stig Dalstrom and myself. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia (Alaticaulia) loui, discovered by Stig Dalstrom and myself. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Stellilabium jostii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Stellilabium jostii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

All these discoveries in an area only 20 km x 40 km (12.5 miles x 25 miles), smaller than many cities! A paradise for botanists. And as we’ll see in the next installment, a paradise for herpetologists too.

Lou Jost
http://www.ecominga.com
http://www.loujost.com