A new glass frog has been discovered in our Manduriacu Reserve

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New glass frog species, Nymphargus manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jose Vieira/Tropical Herping

Last month saw the publication of a new species of glass frog, Nymphargus manduriacu (Centrolenidae), discovered in EcoMinga’s Manduriacu Reserve, in Imbabura province northwest of Quito. Glass frogs are famous for their transparent belly skin; from below, depending on the species, you can often see structures such as their bones, the contours of their intestines, and even their hearts pumping away! Of the roughly 150 species of glass frogs in the New World tropics, the genus Nymphargus has about 36 known species, mostly very local endemics.

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Sebastian Kohn, founder of the Manduriacu Reserve, admires the new species. Photo: Scott Trageser

The new species was found and studied by a team of biologists from The Biodiversity Group, Fundacion Condor Andino, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the Third Millenium Alliance, Tropical Herping, and Fundacion EcoMinga. Team members include Juan Guayasamin, Ross Maynard, Paul Hamilton, Scott Trageser, Jose Vieira, Sebastian Kohn, Gabriela Gavilanes, Ryan Lynch, and Diego Cisneros-Heredia.

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The new species, Nymphargus manduriacu. Photo: Scott Trageser.

The authors analyzed the new species’ DNA, along with that of many other glass frogs, and this analysis revealed that its closest relative is  “lost species” Nymphargus  balionotus, which previously had been tentatively placed in the glass frog genus Centrolenella. Nymphargus balionotus had not been seen anywhere for the last fifteen years, but this team of scientists found healthy populations of both N. manduriacu and N. balionotus living together at Manduriacu. The genetic divergence between these two sister species is considerably greater than the divergence between most sister-species pairs in the genus; the N. manduriacu and N. balionotus  lineages each contains more unique evolutionary history than all but two of the other Nymphargas species analyzed. This makes N. manduriacu and N. balionotus  especially important species for conservation of phylogenetic diversity, and our Manduriacu Reserve maintains the only known breeding populations of these two species.

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Nymphargus balionotus, the closest relative of N. manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

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Nymphargus balionotus, the closest relative of N. manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

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Developing eggs of Nymphargus balionotus in the Manduriacu Reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

The “family history” constructed by the authors based on their DNA sequences gives some clues about how the different Nymphargus species evolved. The authors noted that on the eastern slope of the Andes, most of the species evolved by geographical isolation. On that slope, sister species are usually geographic neighbors, and the distributions of sister species usually do not overlap. In contrast, on the west slope of the Andes, sister species can overlap, as N. manduriacu does with N. balionotus. Apart from N. balionotus, the other two species most closely related to N. manduriacu are actually from the east slope of the Andes in southeast Ecuador and Peru; this sub-group of glass frogs is an ancient one, and N. manduriacu is one of its few surviving lineages.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Ecuadorian government has concessioned almost the entire Manduriacu Reserve to Cerro Quebrado, the Ecuadorian arm of the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, without our consent or that of the previous owners. (In Ecuador the government owns all subsoil rights and can concession them to whoever it wants, though its constitution recognizes the rights of nature and gives local communities a voice about land use.) The goal of this company is probably to mine copper here, in an open-pit mine similar to the one proposed for nearby Intag. Intag has been the scene of an intense conflict between  members of the community and the mining interests, as documented in the film “Under Rich Earth”. Something similar may happen in and around Manduriacu Reserve. BHP Billiton is one of the mining companies responsible for one of Brazil’s biggest environmental disasters:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/03/brazil-iron-mine-samarco-fined-disaster

We cannot and should not oppose all mining. We use copper just like everyone else, and the people of the region do need jobs. But neither should open-pit mines be dug indiscriminately in the region; the long-term consequences of such mining can be serious. A reasonable balance would be to avoid affecting the region’s privately and publicly protected ecological reserves, especially when those reserves contain unique species not found anywhere else in the world. Our Manduriacu Reserve is now the only known home not only for the Manduriacu Glass Frog and its sister species N. balionotus, but also for another amphibian, Rhaebo ollalai, the Tandayapa Andean Toad, which still survives in our reserve but has become extinct everywhere else in its former range. Nearby Los Cedros Reserve is also concessioned for mining and likewise holds unique species. A recent scientific paper explores the potential impact of mining on the biodiversity of this area. The paper did not specifically study Manduriacu, but the authors found that the impact of mining on the region’s biodiversity would be devastating. Inclusion of Manduriacu’s unique species would have substantially strengthened the paper’s conclusions.

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Critically endangered Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu Reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The mining company involved in our Reserve, Cerro Quebrado/BHP Billiton, has entered our reserve and made campsites without our permission, contrary to Ecuadorian law. Bitty Roy, lead author of the scientific paper just mentioned, has talked with a manager of BHP Billiton about their plans for the region. The manager claimed that the company had written permission to enter our land, though EcoMinga had not been asked about nor given this permission. We suspect the local company representatives either misidentified the ownership or misled their superiors.

After these conversations with a manager of BHP Billiton, Dr Roy reports that the company is unlikely to respect private conservation areas or even state-protected forests (such as Bosque Protectores) apart from the National Park system, since the state which sets the rules for protection is also the entity that gave them the mining concession to those areas.  The company was also unaware of the sensitivity and conservation importance of Manduriacu.  Their corporate operating guidelines state “We do not operate where there is a risk of direct impacts to ecosystems that could result in the extinction of an IUCN Red List Threatened Species in the wild. When the concession was granted, the threat level of the most endangered Manduriacu species, the Tandayapa Andean Toad (Rhaebo olallai), was not officially evaluated by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).  Like many poorly-known species, it was listed as “Data Deficient”, meaning there was not enough information to assess its status. It had been discovered near Tandayapa, about 30km south of Manduriacu, but it has disappeared from there, perhaps eliminated by the frog-killing chytrid fungus that has swept Central and South America beginning in the 1980s.  No additional individuals were found for the next 40 years, until a healthy population was discovered in Manduriacu in 2012. Now, after 40 years of failure to find it anywhere outside of Manduriacu Reserve, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has officially listed the species as “Critically Endangered”, the highest threat category. Dr Roy noted that the company’s management told him that the presence of critically-endangered species would be a reason for not mining the area, so perhaps they will follow their own directives and leave us alone. Manduriacu also hosts Ecuador’s most critically endangered mammal, the Brown-headed Spider Monkey.

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Rhaebo olallai along a stream in Manduriacu reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The discovery of the Manduriacu Glass Frog, and the threat that mining poses to its future survival, has been widely covered in the media. See for example:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/03/translucent-glass-frog-species-found-in-ecuador/

https://www.geek.com/news/incredible-new-see-through-glass-frog-is-threatened-by-mining-1777380/

The Ecuadorian and international conservation community will continue to monitor and publicize the fate of this frog and the other endangered species of the region. Dr. Roy says that the corporate manager he spoke with has decided not to mine the nearby Los Cedros Reserve, because of the presence of critically endangered species. We hope that BHP Billiton will do the right thing and avoid our Manduriacu Reserve (which is small compared to Los Cedros) for the same reason.

Many thanks to the team that investigated our reserve and contributed their wonderful photos to this blog, and to the supporters of this reserve!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

One of the most emblematic Andean birds is the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera. We have them in most of our reserves, but they are elusive and hard to photograph when we are hiking around. A few days ago, however, one of these wonderful birds landed in front of my kitchen window and stayed long enough for me to get my camera, so I finally got a picture of it. This species has co-evolved with several species of cloud forest plants with long tubular flowers; this hummingbird is the only organism able to pollinate these plant species. This particular individual may have been attracted to two of these co-evolved species, Passiflora mixta and Passiflora tarminiana, which both grow wild around my house (though this hummingbird is also perfectly able to feed from regular flowers too).

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Passiflora tarminiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Passiflora mixta (“Taxo”). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A large hummingbird like this needs lots of nectar for fuel, and each of the flower species that have co-evolved with this hummingbird have large nectaries loaded with sweet liquid.  Below I’ve made cross-sections of both these passionflower species, so you can see the nectar chambers at the base of the tubes:

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Left: P. tarminiana; right, P. mixta. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

All that nectar is a big temptation of other species too. Since  other species don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, they have to rob the nectar by breaking into the nectaries, drilling or biting holes in the back of the flower. Nectar -robbing doesn’t pollinate the flower, so the robbed nectar is wasted as far as the plant is concerned. Flower variations that happen to be more resistant to robbers will have more nectar to offer the Sword-billed Hummingbird,  and will therefore get visited more often by it, and  will get pollinated more often and leave more descendants. Thus natural selection will eventually lead to flowers whose backsides are somewhat protected against robbers. The thickened “armored” walls of the nectaries are visible in the above cross-sections.

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The base of this passionflower has been pierced multiple times by nectar robbers, probably flowerpiercers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Still, some robbers get through. Several entire genera of nectar-robbing birds have evolved to take advantage of this resource. The most dedicated thieves are the eighteen bird species belonging to the genus Diglossa, the Flower-piercers. They often have sharp hooks on their bill tips to rip holes in the backs of flowers. Some of the species that rob these particular passionflowers are the White-sided Flower-piercer, the Masked Flower-piercer, and the Glossy Flower-piercer. Many short-billed hummingbirds also drill holes in the backs of the flowers, or use the holes made by flower-piercers. Bees also rob the nectar by biting holes in the back of the flowers, and butterflies steal their share by visiting the holes made by all these other thieves. Some passionflower species put tiny nectaries on the backs of their flowers to attract ants and wasps, which might deter some of these thieves.

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Black Flowerpiercer feeding on Fuchsia. Photo courtesy Roger Ahlman.

The Slater Museum of Natural History of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington kindly gave me permission to show their scan of the skeleton of this bird, surely one of the weirdest of all vertebrate skeletons. Note the huge keel of the breastbone (sternum), where the powerful wing muscles are attached in the living bird. Note also the bony base of the enormous tongue circling underneath and behind the head, and the little feet pointing backwards:

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Sword-billed Hummingbird skeleton, scan courtesy of the Slater Museum of  Natural History.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird occurs in most of our Banos-area EcoMinga reserves, at elevations from about 2000m to 3400m: Cerro Candelaria Reserve, Viscaya Reserve, Naturetrek Reserve, Rio Verde Reserve, Rio Zunac Reserve, Rio Machay Reserve, and Chamana Reserve. Our lowland Rio Anzu Reserve is too low for it.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Rainforest Trust’s Species Legacy auction program includes new Dracula Reserve frog, forest mouse, and orchid

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: EcoMinga/Jordy Salazar.

 

[Traducion en espanol abajo]

Tomorrow, December 8, 2018, the Rainforest Trust will put up for auction the naming rights for a number of new species from around the world. The goal is to raise money for Rainforest Trust’s partners, such as EcoMinga, to permanently protect each of these species, and then name each new species after the donor who protects them, or after a person or thing that the donor designates.

Rainforest Trust describes the program as “A historic opportunity to name a species new to science and protect their habitat… Rainforest Trust is celebrating 30 years of conservation success with the largest ever public auction of species naming rights. The twelve newly discovered species pictured below need scientific recognition and we’re providing an exclusive opportunity to preserve your legacy through purchasing the naming rights. Or bid to give the ultimate gift to a loved one this holiday season! Proceeds from this auction go directly to the nature reserves in which these species live, so a bid for one of these species’ names is a chance to both save them from extinction and honor someone or something you care about.”

Rainforest Trust has included three species from the Dracula Reserve and its vicinity, including the most beautiful frog of the whole auction, and the only mammal, and the biggest orchid:

 

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: Mario Yanez

Pristimantis sp. nov.  (blue eyes)

This stunning new frog with unusual blue to blue-gray eyes was featured in an earlier post. It was found after a long journey into one of the best foothill forests our herpetologist reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, had ever seen in western Ecuador. This forest is adjacent to our current Dracula Reserve, and a target for future purchase, so Juan Pablo and Mario Yanez (INABIO) were charged with investigating it. On their first night in this magnificent forest, these experienced frog scientists quickly became aware of a series of strange unfamiliar frog songs, most of them coming from the canopy above their heads. (Like the best birdwatchers, good frog scientists know the calls of all the local frogs, and hunt for new species mostly by sound.) Searching for the sources of these calls with their flashlights, Juan Pablo and Mario finally located the eye reflections of one of the mystery frogs singing on an aroid leaf about 3.5 meters above  the ground. Juan Pablo climbed a neighboring trunk and was able to use a stick to knock off the leaf, which spun to the ground while the frog stuck firmly to its surface! The herpetologists caught it, and the moment they saw its blue eyes contrasting with the yellow body mottled with brown, they knew they had found a species new to science.

 

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New forest mouse. Photo: Jorge Brito

Chilomys sp. nov.

This little animal was first encountered during our initial Dracula Reserve expedition in 2015, with scientists from the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) and University of Basel (Switzerland) in search of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Jorge Brito from INABIO was the mammal expert. During the first week of the expedition very few animals were found, but among them were three small individuals in the small genus Chilomys (forest mice) that caught Jorge’s attention, since there were no reports of a Chilomys like this from the region. He could not identify them to species at that time, and listed them as “Chilomys sp.” in his report. No more individuals were found until a new expedition in 2016, when more were found in the highest part of the reserve. With these new individuals Jorge was able to judge the range of variation in the species’ traits. Another individual was collected in 2018 in one of the lower parts of the reserve, showing that this animal was in fact widely distributed throughout our Dracula Reserve mosaic, though most abundant in the highest parts.

Once all the individuals were studied, it became clear that these enigmatic mice were different from the other known species of Chilomys, showing that the region protected by the Dracula Reserve was not only special for plants and frogs but also for mammals.

 

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New Trevoria orchid. Photo: Luis Baquero

Trevoria sp. nov. (orchid)

This species discovery needed a lot of patience. The first known plant was found eight years ago in a remote part of what is now our Dracula Reserve, by orchidologist Luis Baquero and local resident Hector Yela, who is now our reserve guard. It did not have flowers so nothing could be concluded about it. Over the succeeding years several other plants were found in distant parts of the future Dracula Reserve, always without flowers. One of them was collected alive and kept in the Quito Botanical Garden, where it finally flowered for the first time this year. The flower has a strong odor of olive oil. Sadly the creation of our reserve did not happen in time to save the largest population of this species, but we have  managed to protect some of the other populations.

Please spread the word about this opportunity to support conservation and name a species. Remember, tomorrow is the day!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Nuevas especies de ranas, orquídeas y ratones de bosque de la Reserva Drácula se incluyen en Subasta de Nominación de Especies de Rainforest Trust
Traducido por: Alejandra Solórzano Flores
 
IMG 01- Nueva rana de Pristimantis. Fotografía: EcoMinga/Jordy Salazar.
 
Mañana, 8 de diciembre 2018, la organización Rainforest Trust pondrá en subasta los derechos para nombrar nuevas especies alrededor del mundo. La meta es recaudar dinero para los socios de Rainforest Trust, como EcoMinga, para proteger permanentemente cada una de estas especies, y nombrar cada nueva especie en honor del donador que las protege, o de una persona o cosa que el donador designe.
Rainforest Trust describe el programa como “Una oportunidad histórica de nombrar una especie nueva para la ciencia y proteger su háibitat… Rainforest Trust está celebrando 30 años de éxito en conservación con la mayor subasta pública de derechos para la denominación de especies. Las 12 nuevas especies descubiertas que se muestran a continuación necesitan un reconocimiento científico y estamos brindando una oportunidad exclusiva para preservar su legado mediante la compra de los derechos de nominación. ¡O haga una oferta para darle el mejor regalo a un ser querido en estas fiestas! Los ingresos de esta subasta irán directamente a las reservas naturales en las cuales estas especies viven, por lo que una oferta por la nominación de estas especies es una oportunidad para salvarlas de la extinción y honrar a alguien o algo por quien te preocupas“.
Rainforest Trust ha incluido tres especies de la Reserva Dracula y sus alrededores, incluyendo el más hermoso anfibio de la subasta, el único mamífero, y la orquídea más grande.

IMG 02 – Nueva rana Pristimantis. Fotografía: Mario Yanez


Pristimantis sp. nov.  (ojos azules)
Este nuevo anfibio con inusuales ojos azules a gris-azules fueron reportados en un post anterior. Fue encontrado después de un largo viaje en uno de los mejores bosques de las estribaciones que nuestro gerente de reserva herpetólogo, Juan Pablo Reyes, ha visto alguna vez en el oeste de Ecuador. Este bosque se encuentra adyacente a nuestra Reserva Drácula actual, y es un objetivo para futuras adquisiciones, así que Juan Pablo y Mario Yánez (INABIO) se encargaron de investigarlo. Durante la primera noche en este magnifico bosque, estos cientificos experimentados en ranas se dieron cuenta rápidamente de una serie de extraños cantos de rana desconocidos, muchas de ellos provenientes del dosel sobre sus cabezas (Como los mejores observadores de aves, los buenos científicos de ranas conocen las llamadas de todos las las ranas locales, y buscan nuevas especies en su mayoría por el sonido). Buscando la fuente de estas llamadas con sus linternas, Juan Pablo y Mario finalmente encontraron el reflejo de los ojos de una de las misteriosas ranas cantando en una hoja de aracea unos 3.5 metros sobre el suelo. Juan Pablo trepó un tronco vecino y logró usar un palo para golpear la hoja, la cual cayó al suelo mientras la rana se sostenía firmemente a su superficie! Los herpetólogos la atraparon, y el momento que vieron sus ojos azules contrastando con su cuerpo amarillo con manchas color café, supieron que habían encontrado una nueva especie para la ciencia.
IMG 03 – Nuevo ratón de bosque. Fotografía: Jorge Brito
Chilomys sp. nov.
Este pequeño animal fue encontrado primero durante nuestra expedicioón inicial a Reserva Drácula en 2015, con científicos del Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) y la Universidad de Basilea (Suiza) en la búsqueda de mamíferos, reptiles y anfibios. Jorge Brito del INABIO fue el experto en mamíferos. Durante la primera semana de la expedición, muy pocos animales fueron encontrados, pero entre ellos hubo tres pequeños individuos del género Chilomys (ratón del bosque) que captó la atención de Jorge, ya que no había reportes de Chilomys como este en la región. Él no pudo identificar la especie en este momento, y lo enlistó como “Chilomys sp.” en su informe. No se encontraron más individuos  hasta una nueva expedición en 2016, cuando se encontraron más en la parte más alta de la reserva. Con estos nuevos individos Jorge fue capaz de evaluar el rango de variacion de las características de esta especie. Otro individuo fue colectado en 2018 en una de las partes más bajas de la reserva, demostrando que, de hecho, este animal se distribuye ampliamente dentro del mosaico de nuestra Reserva Drácula, aunque es más abundante en las partes altas.
Una vez todos los individuos fueron estudiados, se volvió claro que estos enigmáticos ratones eran diferentes de otras especies conocidas de Chilomys, demostrando que el área protegida por la Reserva Drácula no fue especial sólo para plantas y anfibios, si no también para mamíferos.
IMG 04 – Nueva orquídea Trevoria. Fotografía: Luis Baquero
Trevoria sp. nov. (orquídea)
El descubrimiento de esta especie necesitó de mucha paciencia. La primera planta conocida fue encontrada ocho años atrás en una parte remora nde lo que hoy es Reserva Drácula por el orquideólogo Luis Baquero y el residente local Héctor Yela, quien ahora es nuestro guardia de la reserva. El individuo no tenía flores, así que no podía concluirse nada acerca de este. A lo largo de los siguientes años, muchas otras plantas se encontraron en diferentes partes de la futura Reserva Drácula, siempre sin flores. Una de ellas se colectó viva y se envió al Jardín Botánico de Quito, donde finalmente floreció por primera vez ese año. La flor tenía un fuerte aroma a aceite de oliva. Tristemente la creación de nuestra reserva no ocurrió a tiempo para salvar a la población más grande de esta especie, pero hemos logrado proteger a algunas de las otras poblaciones.
Por favor difundan la voz acerca de esta oportunidad para apoyar la conservación y nombrar una especie. Recuerden, mañana es el día!
Lou Jost, fundación EcoMinga.

New species of Anolis lizard described from our Dracula Reserve

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The new Anolis lizard. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

The deep, dry Rio Mira valley separates the montane forests protected by our Dracula Reserve from the montane forests further south (such as those protected by our Manduriacu Reserve). Evidently this Rio Mira valley has served as a barrier for many cloud forest organisms over evolutionary time, leading to the evolution of different sister species on each side. The endangered Andean toads Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu and Rhaebo colomai in the Dracula Reserve may form such a species pair. A pair of still-undescribed forest mice, one in Manduriacu and the other in the Dracula Reserve, appear to be another instance of this phenomenon. EcoMinga’s Juan Pablo Reyes and his colleagues at the National Institute of Biodiversity (INABIO) have just added another example of this divergence, as they published a description of a new species of Anolis lizard from the Dracula Reserve that is the sister species of a common Anolis south of the Rio Mira. The article is published in ZooKeys.

 

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The Mira valley separates the new species, Anolis dracula, from its sister species A. aequatorialis. Map from the article.

This lizard is the most common Anolis of the area. Here is a comparison, from the article, of the new species and its closest relative, A. aequatorialis:

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Top: Anolis dracula. Bottom: A. aequatorialis. From the article.

The scientists who discovered this species were supported in this investigation by INABIO (National Institute for Biodiversity), SENECYT, UNAM (Mexico), the University of Basel Botanical Garden, and EcoMinga. We strongly believe that science should drive conservation, and we always encourage scientists to investigate our reserves. We provide logistical support and sometimes can also help fund studies. Such investigations help us understand the diversity we protect, and let us identify and prioritize new areas for conservation our conservation purchases.

We would like to thank recent donors who make these investigations and land purchases possible: World Land Trust, Rainforest Trust, Orchid Conservation Alliance, University of Basel Botanical Garden, Andean Studies Program, Fundacion Condor, and individuals including Henri Botter and Ardy Van Ooij, Judith Rapacz, Mark Wilson, Vera Lee Rao, and Vicki Byrd.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

An even closer encounter with a Mountain Tapir in our Rio Zunac Reserve!

 

A few days ago I posted Alyssa Kullberg’s video of a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) that came to dinner at our research station in the Rio Zunac Reserve. On the same trip, she and our staff ran into this fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Our guard Santiago Recalde caught the encounter on video.  These are extraordinary sightings of rare animals that seem to have lost all fear of humans, after being protected by us for the last dozen years.

Lou Jost. Fndacion EcoMinga

¡Un encuentro aún más cercano con un Tapir de Montaña en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac!
Unos pocos días atrás publiqué el video de Alyssa Kullberg sobre un Oso de Anteojos (Tremarctos ornatus) que vino a cenar en nuestra estación científica en la Reserva Río Zuñac. En el mismo viaje, ella y nuestro equipo se encontraron con este intrépido Tapir de Montaña (Tapirus pinchaque). Nuestro guardia, Santiago Recalde, captó el encuentro en video. Estos son avistamientos extraordinarios de animales raros que parecen haber perdido todo temor a los humanos, después de haber sido protegidos por nosotros durante los últimos doce años.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores