Monitoring some of our endangered species in the Dracula Reserve

P1320056One of the Rhaebo colomai individuals found by Juan Pablo on this monitoring trip. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

Our Dracula Reserve protects the only known protected populations of several critically endangered species. The survival of these species in the wild depends entirely on us. We are starting a project to monitor the populations of some of these species, to make sure they are doing well and to detect problems early.

Atelopus coynei from a previous trip. Photo: Jordy Salazar/EcoMinga

Last month EcoMinga  manager and herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes and his team (Mario Yanez and Miguel Urgilez of INABIO, and Daniel Chavez, our Manduriacu administrator) set up the transects for our program to monitor two of our critically endangered frogs. The two species, Rhaebo colomai and Atelopus coynei, are nearly extinct except for small populations in and around the Dracula Reserve. On this trip, Juan Pablo was able to find only Rhaebo colomai, not Atelopus coynei. This is worrisome, but we don’t know what it means yet. We will repeat the surveys in November/December and again in April. If A. coynei is not detected in those surveys, we have a problem.The good news is that R. colomai is doing well, and Juan Pablo has learned to recognize individuals by their face masks, so that the monitoring program will be able to observe not only population size but also longevity and population turnover.

Juan Pablo also saw this Nymphargus grandisonae. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

He found this orchid as well, Pescatoria lehmannii. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.


The primary risk for these frogs is the dreaded chytrid fungus. Here team members Miguel Urgilez (left) and Daniel Chavez  take a swab from the skin surface of a Rhaebo colomai to test for the presence of the fungus. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

We also have the only protected population of the critically endangered orchid Phragmipedium fischeri. Our collaborator Marco Monteros checked the status of this population last month. The adult plants seemed to be in good shape, and he was excited to fine lots of baby plants growing around the adults.

Phragmipedium fischeri. Photo: Callie Broaddus.

A mix of big and small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros.

Some small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros

Small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros.

We have a small update on our critically endangered mammal, the Brown-headed Spider Monkey–new sightings outside the reserve, which give us a better idea of its range. We have seen evidence that hunters are entering the reserve with greater frequency due to the covid-19 economic crisis. This could put our monkeys at risk of local extinction. We are organizing  increased patrols, along with food aid for the local communities, but these are challenging times.

Juan Pablo ran into some poachers, who fled, leaving a trail of blood-soaked leaves. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Monitoreando algunas de nuestras especies en peligro en la Reserva Drácula
IMG 01 – Uno de los individuos Rhaebo colomai encontrados por Juan Pablo en este viaje de monitoreo. Fotografía: Juan Pablo Reyes / EcoMinga
Nuestra Reserva Drácula protege las únicas poblaciones conocidas de varias especies en peligro crítico. La supervivencia de estas especies en la vida silvestre depende totalmente de nosotros. Estamos comenzando un proyecto para monitorear las poblaciones de algunas de estas especies, para asegurarnos de que están bien y para detectar problemas de forma temprana.
IMG 02 – Atelopus coynei de un viaje previo. Fotografía: Jordy Salazar / EcoMinga
El mes anterior, el gerente de EcoMinga y herpetólogo Juan Pablo Reyes y su equipo (Mario Yánez y Miguel Urgilés de INABIO, y Daniel Chávez, nuestro administrador de Manduriacu) establecieron los transectos para nuestro programa para monitorear dos de nuestras ranitas en peligro crítico. Las dos especies, Rhaebo colomai y Atelopus coynei, están casi extintas excepto por pequeñas poblaciones en y alrededor de la Reserva Drácula. En este viaje, Juan Pablo pudo encontrar sólo Rhaebo colomai, no Atelopus coynei. Esto es inquietante, pero todavía no sabemos que significa. Repetiremos los estudios en Noviembre/Diciembre y de nuevo en Abril. Si A. coynei no se detecta en esos estudios, tenemos un problema. Las buenas noticias son que R. colomai está haciéndolo bien, y Juan Pablo ha aprendido a reconocer a los individuos por sus máscaras faciales, así que el programa de monitoreo será capaz de observar no solo el tamaño de la población si no también la longevidad y la rotación de la población
IMG 03- Juan Pablo también observó esta Nymphargus grandisonae. Fotografía: Juan Pablo Reyes / EcoMinga
IMG 04 – Él también encontró esta orquídea, Pescatoria lehmannii. Fotografía; Juan Pablo Reyes / EcoMinga
IMG 05 – El riesgo primario para estas ranas es el temido hongo quitridio. Aquí los miembros del equipo, Miguel Urgilés (izquierda) y Daniel Chávez toman un hisopo *una torunda* para examinar la presencia del hongo quitridio en la superficie de la piel de Rhaebo colomai. Fotografía: Juan Pablo Reyes / EcoMinga
También tenemos la única población protegida de la orquídea en peligro crítico Phragmipedium fischeri. Nuestro colaborador Marco Monteros revisó el estado de la población el mes pasado. Las plantas adultas parecen estar en buena forma, y él estaba emocionado de encontrar montones de plantas bebe creciendo alrededor de los adultos.
IMG 06 – Phragmipedium fischeri. Fotografía: Callie Broaddus
IMG 07 – Una mezcla de plantas pequeñas y grandes. Fotografía: Marco Monteros
IMG 08 – Algunas plantas pequeñas. Fotografía: Marco Monteros
IMG 09 – Pequeñas plantas. Fotografía: Marco Monteros
Tenemos una pequeña actualización en nuestros mamíferos en peligro crítico, el mono araña de cabeza marrón (Brown-headed Spider Monkey / Ateles fusciceps) – tiene nuevos avistamientos fuera de la reserva, lo cual nos da una mejor idea de su extensión. Hemos visto evidencia de que los cazadores están ingresando a la reserva con mayor frecuencia debido a la crisis económica del COVID-19. Esto podría poner a nuestros monos en riesgo de extinción local. Estamos organizando más patrullajes, junto con ayuda alimentaria para las comunidades locales, pero estos son tiempos difíciles.
IMG 10 – Juan Pablo corrió hacia algunos cazadores, quienes huyeron dejando un rastro de hojas empapadas de sangre. Fotografía: Juan Pablo Reyes
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

Incredible frog discoveries in our Dracula Reserve


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.


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



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.”


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


Atelopus coneyi1

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.

Rhaebo colomai

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.”


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.


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.


 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!


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.


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.


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.