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Watching the Andean Chocó 24/7 and with Stunning Results

Understanding tropical diversity requires technological support provided by camera traps. Documenting the forest is as important as protecting it.

By Francisco Dousdebés

The Andean Chocó is one of Earth’s most biodiverse environments, and its 2018 UNESCO declaration as Biosphere Reserve, invites Ecuador to full immerse in the protection, conservation, and restoration of its ecosystems. In order to achieve the various goals of these fronts, science is highly needed for gradually assembling and designing an inventory of flora and fauna. These contents will be used as scientific support for designing sound strategies for conservation planning, which will guarantee the long-term survival of species and their diverse habitats.

For Fundación Futuro, it’s really important to be able to contribute for the development of science in the territory where we work, particularly at the Mashpi Reserve and Tayra Reserve. These efforts will add to the goal of becoming a game changer in the sustainable development of the region. We must acknowledge that the total area declared as Biosphere Reserve (286,805 ha – 709,000 ac) is a region where nearly 900,000 people reside and they belong to the different towns, villages, and communities of the area. This fact, quite naturally, amplifies the spectrum and outreach of our work.

It is estimated that the Andean Chocó hosts about 10,000 species of plants, and its endemism reaches nearly 25%. Local fauna has reported 270 species of mammals, 210 reptiles, 200 birds, and 130 amphibians. These high numbers are the ones that define a true biodiversity hot spot.

There are various scientific methods and initiatives regarding the application of science to a particular territory; perhaps, the most obvious one is field work. However, in today’s world technology has changed the ways things are done, especially if certain areas face some geographic challenges. One of these visual technologies includes the use of camera traps. Results from images and footage collected captured are not only interesting, but have captured the deep attention of scientists, because they document locations and habitats that are somewhat inaccessible and normally cannot be monitored on-site 24/7 for an extended amount of time. The accumulated work of more than a decade has produced remarkable observations, data, results, and early conclusions about the distribution and behavior of local fauna.

At the reserves in charge of Fundación Futuro (an area above 2,700 ha – 6,700 ac), and together with the dedicated work from the Research and Biology Department at Mashpi Lodge, a total of 19 camera trap units across the newer section of the reserve (acquired in 2019), covering a total of 1,300 hectares (3,200 ac). Field results have been truly inspiring. So far, 17 mammal species have been recorded, including key feline-predator species such as Andean puma, ocelot, margay, oncilla, and jaguarundi. Species such as squirrels and agoutis were also observed. These sightings show a forest in excellent condition, since these smaller mammals are key to forest ecology, as they serve as seed dispersers for plant regeneration. The efforts at observing felines deserves special attention, as an important conclusion already tells us that the Mashpi Reserve harbors 5 species from a total of 7 from Ecuador’s feline inventory. This automatically elevates the commitment for both protection and conservation.

But the work doesn’t stop there. Once the data is collated, new research questions arise: What is the species’ distribution within the reserve? How do they migrate according to climatic seasonality? What threats do they face? What level of awareness is required for each species’ conservation? Answering these questions makes science a permanent working front, and it is here where the unconditional support of the various belonging to Grupo Futuro align their decisive contribution to biodiversity conservation. During 2023, field observations will continue, and constant monitoring of camera traps will surely generate support for our vision, and a deeper understanding of the area.

Mashpi Lodge shows us how the camera trap program works here

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