Antpitta discovery triggers 20 years of conservation

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In 1997, a chance encounter with a newly discovered species of Antpitta resulted in the launch of the Jocotoco Foundation, and the protection of thousands of hectares of habitat in the Ecuadorian Andes.

The discovery was made by world-renowned ornithologist, Dr Robert Ridgely who, whilst trekking through raincloud forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes, heard a bird calling which he had not heard before. The sharp owl-like hooting turned out to be, the now celebrated, Jocotoco antpitta.


Jocotoco antpitta at Tapichalaca Reserve, Ecuador
Jocotoco antpitta at Tapichalaca Reserve, Ecuador – Patty McGann under CC license


Listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Jocotoco antpitta is known from only five locations with its stronghold being the Tapichalaca Reserve created by the Jocotoco Action Fund (Jocotoco Foundation) in partnership with the World Land Trust (WLT) in 1998.

Jocotoco Foundation

Since establishing the Tapichalaca Reserve, Jocotoco Foundation has continued to work with the World Land Trust and other organisations to purchase land and protect habitats for Ecuador’s wildlife. It now owns ten reserves covering a wide range of habitats.

Tapichalaca treefrog discovered in Jocotoco Foundation reserve
Tapichalaca treefrog a rare species discovered in 2003 on the Tapichalaca Reserve – © Nigel Simpson WLT

Tapichalaca Reserve: Since its launch the reserve had grown from 650 hectares to over 3,000 in a particularly wet area of temperate forest on the east slope of the Andes. As well as the Jocotoco antpitta, the reserve is home to other Globally threatened bird species, including: bearded guan; golden-plumed parakeet; white-breasted parakeet; masked mountain-tanager; and coppery-chested jacamar.

Amongst over 130 endemic plants, 65 endemic orchids are recorded from Tapichalaca, 29 of which have been seen nowhere else in the world. Nine Threatened species of frog have been recorded and spectacled bear and mountain tapir are quite abundant at the higher elevation.

Buenaventura Reserve: Over 2,000 hectares of rare remnant tropical cloud forest at about 1000m altitude on the west slope of the Andes. The reserve is an important site for rare and endemic flora and 30 near threatened and restricted range (endemic) species of birds including the El Oro Parakeet which was discovered in the reserve in 1980.

Jorupe Reserve: Consisting of nearly 1,500 hectares in the Tumbesian region of south west Ecuador, this reserve preserves endangered Tumbesian deciduous forest habitat. The reserve is dominated by statuesque Ceiba trees and supports many rare species of plants and animals, including eight globally threatened birds such as henna-hooded foliage-gleaner.

Narupa Reserve: Almost 800 hectares of tropical forest just above the Amazon lowlands. Over 300 species of bird have been recorded on the reserve in addition to key mammal species such as: puma; ocelot spectacled bear and tapir.

Rao Canada Reserve: A lowland rainforest reserve in the North-West of Ecuador, it comprises fragments of Choco habitat. As well as being one of the world’s wettest habitats it is also considered to be one of the most biodiverse. Many threatened species can be found here, including: jaguar; howler, spider and capuchin monkey; Baird’s tapir; plumbeous forest-falcon and great-green macaw.

Utuana Reserve: A small reserve (60 hectares) situated near the Peruvian borders conserving high altitude, epiphyte rich montane forest which is transitional between evergreen and the deciduous Tumbesian forest.


Golden-plumed parakeet in Jocotoco Foundation's Tapichalaca Reserve,
Golden-plumed parakeet in Tapichalaca Reserve, Ecuador – Mark Harper under CC license


Yanacocha Reserve: A 1,200-hectare area of high altitude Polylepis forest. Initially established to protect the critically endangered hummingbird, the black-breasted puffleg, it now provides protection for 110 bird species including a number of Tumbesian endemics.

Yunguilla Reserve: Created to protect the only known population of Pale-headed Brush-finches, the reserve consists of 153 hectares of scrubby Andean hillside south west of Cuenca.

Antisanilla Reserve: the newest of the Jocotoco Foundation reserves, covering over 4000 hectares on the western slopes of the Antisana volcano. The reserves cliffs for an important habitat for Andean condors. Antisanilla supports approximately 30% of Ecuador’s condor population.

Rio Ayampe Reserve: Established to provide a sanctuary for the critically endangered Esmeraldas woodstar, the reserve was made possible due to a unique partnership between the Jocotoco Foundation and the community of Las Tunas.


Male Esmeraladas woodstar inspired Jocotogo Foundation reserve
Male Esmeraldas woodstar – Bert Harris under CC license


Working in partnership

The Jocotoco Foundation has had a long-standing relationship with the WLT since 1998. Through its supporters and additional fund-raising efforts the WLT has made a significant contribution to the land purchases made by the Foundation. It provides further support through its ‘Keepers of the Wild’ incentive.

Other partners include American Bird Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, March Conservation Fund and International Conservation Trust of Canada.

The Jocotoco Foundation also works with the local communities, providing job opportunities and creating awareness of conservation activities in the areas where its reserves are based.


Jocotoco antpitta
Jocotoco antpitta – Francesco Veronesi under CC license


The legacy of the antpitta

When Dr Ridgely happened across the Jocotoco Antpitta 20 years-ago, I wonder if he realised that this one brief encounter would lead to the protection of over 15,000 hectares of prime habitat.

Many species, both rare and common, widespread and endemic have been protected as a result. In a recent BirdBlitz, a two-day count of the birds in the Jocotoco reserves, 693 species were recorded. In addition, multiple mammals including spectacled bears, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths and deer, were also seen. Add this to the hugely diverse flora and vast numbers of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians the reserves support and you are left in no doubt that protecting the land is key to conserving its biomass.

Inspired by a bird, the Jocotoco Foundation and its partners have built a legacy that will continue to be at the forefront of conservation in Ecuador for the next 20 years and beyond.


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