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Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment approves expansion of Yacuri National Park

Conserva Aves helps expand Yacuri National Park by 12% or 50 km² of unprotected tropical forest to safeguard endemic and threatened bird species, such as the Andean Condor.

Yacuri is one of the youngest National Parks in Ecuador. It was founded in 2009, and is a crucial component of the Podocarpus – El Cóndor Biosphere Reserve. Spanning 431 km² across the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, the national park preserves unique species inhabiting the Andes highlands and upper Amazon basin, one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world.

Thanks to the close collaboration between the Conserva Aves consortium, through its direct strategic grants mechanism, and the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition (MAATE), a milestone was achieved on November 22, 2023 with the expansion of the National Park by more than 5,000 hectares of land, towards the southern border with Peru.

“The expansion of Yacuri will help prevent habitat destruction driven by the growth of the agricultural frontier, keeping the paramo and cloud forests intact“.

Alejandro Trelles, Yacuri National Park Ranger

Yacuri National Park  lies along the southern border of the Podocarpus National Park and the Colambo State Forest to the South. Yacuri NP is also adjacent to the Tapichalaca Reserve, a private reserve established by BirdLife Partner, the Jocotoco Foundation to protect threatened species like the Jocotoco Antpitta (Grallaria ridgely).

New map of Yacuri National Park showing, in red, its most recent extension.

The recent expansion of the Yacuri NP resulted from cooperation among multiple organizations and experts in protected areas, including organizations like the Bezos Earth Fund and other individual donors. Conserva Aves spearheaded the coordination efforts and provided resources to achieve this milestone. .

“Yacuri is a mix of Andean shrub paramo and montane cloud forest in fairly good conservation status,” said Alfonso Hernandez, manager of the Conserva Aves initiative at BirdLife International, Americas. “Moreover, it is a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) where many emblematic species reside, such as the Red-faced Parrot (Hapalopsittaca pyrrhops), Masked Mountain-tanager (Tephrophilus wetmorei), the Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) and Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), currently classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.

Black-and-Chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) © thibaudaronson

The expansion of the Yacuri NP is in essence a commitment from the Ecuadorian government to safeguard the area’s rich biodiversity and its ecosystem services like water supply and carbon sequestration which are critical for both nearby communities and our planet’s climate regulation. Although there are no human populations settled within the park or its expansion, the surrounding communities are aware of the benefits of the forest and some communities are already in the process of establishing municipal protected areas adjacent to Yacuri.

Indigenous woman working her fields for the sustenance of her community in the Ecuadorian Andes © stephen reich

Yacuri currently faces threats such as fires, deforestation driven by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, and mining concessions. This expansion of the park provides protection against extractive activities and provides park guards with the authority to manage and protect these key areas.

“The surrounding communities have seen the negative impact of mining activities in other areas, for example on the quality of the water in the rivers. This is one of the reasons why they pushed to put “a padlock” to protect these sites from extractive activities”. Mentions Cristhian Acurio, a specialist in protected areas within the Ministry of Environment, who was in charge of the technical process for the expansion.

Mining, especially illegal mining, destroys landscapes, species and communities that struggle every day to preserve their land © Ammit Jack

Yacuri is also home to 280 species of vascular plants, 32 of which are endemic and some of which are endangered. This lively and fragile tapestry also protects 18 species of mammals, including the puma, the Andean tapir and the spectacled bear, as well as several species of endangered amphibians, such as the Gastrotheca yacuri, endemic to this area.

“The population of the Andean Condor in southern Ecuador is isolated from the rest of the country and consists of only 20 to 30 individuals“.

Sebastián Kohn, Executive Director, and Researcher at Fundación Cóndor Andino Ecuador

Endangered Andean Condor couple in a stone © PlataRoncallo

Aware of the importance of protecting the upper Amazon basin, Conserva Aves is supporting other projects led by local communities in this region to establish and manage protected areas, particularly in Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Bolivia. 

In summary, this expansion, achieved through strategic collaboration between the Conserva Aves consortium, empowered by direct strategic grants, and Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition, represents another milestone for the conservation of Ecuador’s cloud forests and paramo ecosystems.. It marks a crucial step toward preventing habitat destruction, especially along the southern border with Peru and the other South American countries where Conserva Aves is promoting a world in which nature and humanity thrive together.

The Andean landscapes in southern Ecuador are characterized by being sources of water for the country, one more reason to protect these important water sources that are also found in Yacuri © yiannisscheidt

Conserva Aves is an initiative led by American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Network of Environmental Funds in Latin America and the Caribbean (RedLAC), which supports indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, local communities, and local governments to establish and sustainably manage subnational protected areas in Latin America. It works through different granting mechanisms: requests for proposals and direct strategic grants. Moreover, it directly supports communities on technical and organizational aspects to ensure their projects succeed. Its inclusive, diverse, and dynamic approach is addressing conservation gaps in Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) where threatened endemic and declining migratory birds inhabit.

Header image: Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) about to take flight at the top of a mountain © Fabideciria