PIÑAS, Ecuador – More than 700,000 trees, thousands of birds and countless amphibians and reptiles, as well as foxes, peccaries and other mammals, all coexist in southwestern Ecuador’s Buenaventura reserve, which was once a massive grassland used for cattle ranching.
In 1999, the Jocotoco conservation foundation purchased an initial 200-hectare (490-acre) plot to protect the extremely rare El Oro parakeet, thus kicking off a “buena adventura” (good adventure) in successful reforestation.
Located some 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Quito and 60 km from the Peruvian border, this reserve in El Oro province now is covered with enormous trees and plants whose leaves could completely envelop a medium-sized person.
Buenaventura, the only reserve in southwestern Ecuador that harbors species from the biodiversity hotspots of Tumbes and Choco, “is one of the treasures of El Oro province” and the nucleus of a still budding ecological corridor that is aimed at protecting hundreds of species, said Byron Puglla, the foundation’s southern reserves director, told EFE.
The nearly 3,000-hectare reserve harbors 361 species of birds, 15 of which are under threat globally, and is home to endangered species such as El Oro parakeet, El Oro tapaculo, the grey-backed hawk and the grey-cheeked parakeet.
Ranging in altitude from 400 meters (1,310 feet) to 1,800 meters, the reserve boasts felines, sloths, squirrels, ferrets, frogs and otters, as well as howler monkeys measuring around 80 centimeters (31 inches) in height that are known for their loud, deep roars.
The main road winding through the reserve is like a long, undulating snake surrounded by thick vegetation, from which the songs of a medley of birds and the loud, non-stop drone of cicadas emanate and inundate a visitor’s ears.
Viewing the lush, verdant landscape from a high vantage point, an observer can clearly distinguish the areas acquired by Jocotoco from other sections that have only grass and different owners.
On land where cattle once grazed, cedars, guabos and more than a score of other native tree species, some of which rise to as high as 15 meters, now grow in a reserve with a temperature range of between 14-26 C (57-79 F).
In Buenaventura, the trained eyes of ornithologists, biologists and park rangers are able to make out birds, insects and other animals where others see only trees and leaves.
“Look, a toucan! There, near the tree with the hawk that’s getting ready to eat that hummingbird,” a member of the foundation told EFE on a terrace of the “Umbrellabird Lodge” while a friendly coati (a mammal that resembles an anteater) walked at the feet of a group of tourists.
A short distance away a Jocotoco expert noted a snake had shed its skin and pointed to his discovery at a spot to one side of the terrace. “And the rest of it?” a startled woman asked. “It must be on the roof, sleeping. They come out at night,” he replied.
Buenaventura also is a paradise for birders, who wherever they turn can find species of many different colors and sizes flapping their wings.
Hiking along paths in the reserve is a veritable adventure. “Don’t move!” “Why?” “Look over there,” one female visitor heard before observing the frenetic flight of a nearby violet-blue-colored, racket-tailed hummingbird, while a few steps away a Central American agouti and further on a peccary could be seen crossing by.
Suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer variety of flora and fauna in an area that used to be pasture, she jokingly remarked, “it’d be better to tell me what isn’t here. It’d take less time.”