Mongabay Series: Global Forest Reporting Network

A new reserve for the world’s smallest deer

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Ecuador has established a new reserve to help protect endangered wildlife, forests, and an important watershed.

A new reserve for the world’s smallest deer
  • The new reserve is called the Provincial Area for Conservation and Sustainable Use in the Eastern Mountain Range. It's located in Ecuador's Carchi Province and will provide official protection to 16,800 hectares of mountain forest.
  • The region is home to a number of endangered species, as well as the headwaters to a major river that supplies water to downstream communities.
  • The reserve garnered much support from conservation organizations, local residents, and the provincial government.

The Ecuadorian government recently approved a new nature reserve in Carchi Province near the Colombian border, providing a meaningful victory for activists and locals who spent almost 14 years advocating for its creation.

Last December, government officials approved the reserve, called the Provincial Area for Conservation and Sustainable Use in the Eastern Mountain Range of Carchi. It covers a total of 16,800 hectares of cloud forests and mountains on the Pacific slope of the Andes in northwestern Ecuador, a vulnerable and heavily deforested area that has historically been the site of various mining projects, timber interests, charcoal production and large-scale agriculture.

According to data from forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch, Carchi Province lost 6,454 hectares – almost 3 percent – of its tree cover from 2001 through 2014. The province is home to a number of threatened species found nowhere else, including Lynch’s stubfoot toad (Atelopus lynchi) and the Carchi Andes toad (Rhaebo colomai). Both listed are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, with habitat degradation a primary driver of their decline.

Ecuador's Carchi Province is located along the country's northern border with Colombia. From 2001 through 2014, Carchi lost more than 6,000 hectares of its tree cover.
Ecuador’s Carchi Province is located along the country’s northern border with Colombia. From 2001 through 2014, Carchi lost more than 6,000 hectares of its tree cover.

Though its original goal was to inventory the biodiversity of Cofan lands in neighboring Sucumbios Province, indigenous rights organization Fundacion Sobrevivencia Cofan (FSC) said the idea for the reserve was born out of a desire to create a conservation area where the Pacific watershed of the Mira River begins, since the foundation had previously created conservation areas covering tributaries of the Amazon River on the eastern slope. The rivers running toward the Pacific, FSC explained, are economically very important as they give water to both urban and agricultural areas in the inter-Andean valleys.

“So we began to work on first, design, and second, on social and political issues on the western slopes of the region pretty much at the same time we began fighting for the control of the areas on the eastern slopes,” FSC Executive Director Randall Borman wrote in a statement. “Our goal was to create a new reserve area in the neighboring provinces, which would cover the western slope forests even as our other reserves were conserving the eastern slopes. “

FSC said that it was able to find supporters all over the region because there is widespread understanding of how forests and human communities are affected by the amount of water coming from the mountains. Those on board with the reserve included urban politicians concerned about water supplies, sugar plantation owners worried about irrigation and small farmers dependent on less-frequent rainfall.

Borman said the region is ecologically important and is one of the last bastions of the endangered mountain tapir, with threatened species such as spectacled bears and pudus — the world’s smallest deer — inhabiting its forests, as well.

The Pudu is the world's smallest deer. Two species exist, both endangered: the southern Pudu (Pudu puda, pictured) and the northern Pudu (Pudu mephistophiles), which the new reserve aims to help protect.
The pudu is the world’s smallest deer. Two species exist, both endangered due to hunting and habitat loss: the southern pudu (Pudu puda, pictured) and the northern pudu (Pudu mephistophiles), which the new reserve aims to help protect. Photo by Jonsson via Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0).

“An interesting side note is that we had both camera trap pictures and a few actual encounters with the pumas in the region—huge, obviously adapted to going after large mammals—some of the biggest recorded in Ecuador,” he said.

Despite the difficulties these types of projects usually face elsewhere in the country, Borman told Mongabay that the process in Carchi was made much easier with the provincial government’s help. While there were postponements and headaches along the way — one politician debated the use of the word “environment” in the proposal was not suitable — ultimately the reserve was approved.

Borman noted, however, that even though the papers are signed, sealed and delivered, there is still work to be done; in addition to remaining approvals by the central government, FSC needs to complete some administrative duties, including the creation of an administrative body and guard training.

“Realistically, we are looking at at least a year before we have park guards in the field under a sustainable system,” he said. “But things are moving smoothly and rapidly by government standards, and we continue to enjoy solid support from the provincial government.”

As far as the reserve’s less-than-catchy moniker, Borman said unfortunately that FSC has “no good rename yet,” though some alternatives have been put on the table.

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