[Editorial note: I’ve been in the field and otherwise occupied lately with urgent work, so posting here has been light. There have been many exciting developments in the last month, including new species of frogs and orchids, new wildlife sightings, and big new purchases! I will try to report them here as soon as I can, beginning today, and I will also try to return soon to the posts about our interesting student projects.]
This is a fairly high-quality video, so if your internet connection is decent, you may want to watch this at a larger size– click on the Youtube icon or the full-screen icon once the video starts.
Mountain tapirs (Tapirus pinchaque) are our most endangered mammals. They use many of our Banos-area reserves, mostly in areas far from humans. However there are also still Mountain Tapirs in the mountains right next to the town of Banos itself. The high Chamana valley just a few kilometers away from Banos, is connected to Parque Nacional Sangay via a long narrow ridge. Mountain Tapirs travel down this ridge to visit the Chamana river and the natural salt licks there. Unfortunately there are also cattle in the valley, setting up a potential conflict. These are the most vulnerable tapirs in the area, since they are more exposed to hunting pressure and habitat loss. These tapirs belong to the same population as the ones in our more distant reserves, so it is important to make sure that the Banos area does not become a “sink” that bleeds animals from the main population.
Several years ago our reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, who studies Mountain Tapirs intensively and is passionately involved in their conservation, used much of his EcoMinga salary to purchase and protect some of the primary forest tapir habitat above the cattle pastures in the Chamana valley. He has also been defending this area against hunters, once even confronting two armed hunters and confiscating their guns and the dead bird they had shot.
We have recently joined his efforts to buy up the cattle pastures and surrounding primary forest and return this valley to the native herbivores. Our first purchase a few years ago was made possible by a donation from my colleague in mathematical biology, Dr. Anne Chao. Now Natalia Espinza, president of Quito’s La Condamine High School student council (2014-2015), has raised funds towards buying the last remaining cattle pasture in the valley, along with and its surrounding primary forest, and she has donated these funds to us. Quito’s Centro de Estudios Internacionales donated additional funds to us for this purchase. The US-based Rainforest Trust then generously matched these donations, enabling us to finish the purchase. Thanks very much Natalia, Centro de Estudios, and Rainforest Trust!!
With the help of our EcoMinga forest caretakers (funded by the World Land Trust’s Keepers of the Wild program), the Proyecto Conservacion del Tapir Andino, and the Fundacion Oscar Efren Reyes, Juan Pablo has been placing camera traps in the Chamana valley to monitor the tapirs and other wildlife there. A few days ago he excitedly sent me the latest videos from these camera traps. The videos showed a beautiful mother Mountain Tapir with a small baby! The same mother-and-child pair of tapirs appear on several of the videos, both coming and going. The images were taken just 800m upstream from our new properties, and tracks show that the tapirs use the new properties as well. These rare images tell us that protection is working and the tapirs are not only surviving but reproducing.
The tapir videos are not the only ones Juan Pablo made. A camera also monitored another site inside the forest, where a small log crossed a trail. The camera revealed the surprising variety of secretive inhabitants of the forest interior. Some of the highlights are the shy Barred Ant-thrush (Chamaeza mollissima), the recently-described and rarely seen Western Mountain Coati (described in the genus Nasuella but probably best placed in the same genus as the other coatis, Nasua), some rodents, a White-throated Quail-dove (Geotrygon frenata), and a Tawny-breasted Tinamou (Nothocercus julius) which none of us has ever encountered in real life. There is also a Great Thrush and an opossum species.
This forest is not just home to rare animals and birds. It has a different set of orchids than the parallel ridges to the east, because of its slightly drier and more seasonal climate. The rarest of these orchids is Lepanthes elytrifera. Only one plant of this species has ever been found in the whole world, and that plant was found just a few hundred meters from our new properties. We hope that it occurs somewhere in the primary forests in our new properties. I’ll report back if we find it.