Named for the legendary bird of the Andes, Condor Bioreserve is perhaps the most ambitious single conservation project in Ecuador. The Bioreserve is a 5.4 million-acre mosaic of public protected areas, farms, ranches, and indigenous territories that encompass snow-capped volcanoes, cloud forests, páramos (high altitude grasslands), rain forests, and innumerable creeks, lagoons and rivers.
Condor Bioreserve is located east of Quito in the Andean region and includes seven protected areas: Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, Cotopaxi National Park, and Llanganates National Park, Cofan-Bermejo Reserve, Cayambe-Coca Reserve, Antisana Reserve and Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge, as well as several watershed protection areas and private reserves. It comprises the Cotopaxi, Antisana and Cayambe volcanoes and stretches into the Andean foothills and rain forests of the Amazon River Basin further east.
Due to the vastly different habitats it encompasses, Condor Bioreserve harbors a wide variety of fauna species. Some mammal species such as the spectacled bear and Andean tapir, which are more highly threatened in other parts of South America, are quite common in Condor Bioreserve. Other species include:
- Six different cat species: jaguar, cougar, ocelot, margay, little spotted cat and jaguarondi.
- Two species of odd-toed ungulates: mountain tapir and common tapir
- The endangered Neotropical otter
- More than 760 bird species, including Andean condor, the mountain gull and the grey-breasted mountain-toucan
- Nineteen poisonous frog species considered at high risk of extinction.
From the mountains to lowlands, plant diversity is enormous. In the high-altitude zones, the most common flora are pajonales (a type of grass), ferns and mosses that absorb water from the atmosphere and filter it toward creeks and rivers that travel down both slopes of the Andes. In the middle- and low-altitude zones, forests are formed by trees such as pumamaqui, quishuar, cedars, and oaks, and include several epiphyte species including ferns, orchids and bromeliads.
Why the Conservancy Works Here
The region provides freshwater for more than 1.5 million people living in and around city of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, but it has been adversely affected by unsustainable agriculture and cattle ranching practices, infrastructure projects, illegal hunting and inappropriate logging exploitation. The Conservancy has a unique opportunity to work in this region with well-established local partners that include non-governmental organizations, indigenous groups and governmental agencies. The Conservancy has been working in the region for more than eight years through several projects financed by international organizations and U.S. agencies for conserving biodiversity and promoting the sustainable use of the natural resources.
What the Conservancy Is Doing
The Conservancy has been working with local partners and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Condor Bioreserve since 1997 in several projects:
Strengthening protected areas
The Conservancy and its partners are implementing a vigilance and monitoring program by community park guards in Cayambe-Coca Reserve, Antisana Reserve, Cofán-Bermejo Reserve, Cotopaxi National Park and Llanganates National Park. Projects supported include basic facilities maintenance, developing work plans, vigilance training, and providing equipment, such as radios and bicycles, for the park guards. The Conservancy is also helping develop country-wide mechanisms for financing the entire protected areas system of Ecuador.
Working with landowners
Within the Condor Bioreserve there are privately owned lands whose owners can be strong conservation allies through sustainable agricultural practices and land protection. The Conservancy and partner Fundación Antisana are managing more than 2,000 acres in privately owned lands between the Antisana and Cayambe Coca reserves through developing conservation-friendly agricultural projects. The idea is to create a conservation corridor between these two protected areas. Furthermore, the Conservancy and Fundación Antisana are working with several ranchers to implement better cattle-grazing practices and conservation of freshwater resources.
Supporting indigenous people
The Cofán, a local indigenous community, the Conservancy and Fundación Antisana have been working in the Andean foothills of the Condor Bioreserve to protect 37,000 acres of natural habitats through the development of the area’s first-ever forest management plan. This plan, named “plan de vida” (plan of life), includes the development of sustainable agriculture practices. Recently, the Global Conservation Fund awarded roughly $500,000 to the Conservancy, Conservation International and Fundación para la Supervivencia del Pueblo Cofán de Ecuador (Cofán Survival Fund of Ecuador) to strengthen the management of Cofán territory in Cayambe Coca and Cofán Bermejo reserves. Through these funds, the Cofán will be able to self-manage the territory and conserve their traditional culture that supports the conservation of and respect for the rainforest.