Ecuador is a land of splendid, varied ecosystems.

Yet 96% of western Ecuador's forests are gone. Population pressures and development policies have led to exponential destruction of intact habitats. The lowland Ecuadorian Amazon is now one of the most rapidly developing areas in South America.

Through several innovative ancient forest protection projects, AFI is working to retain the critically important primary forests that remain.

Ecuador has four regions: the western coastal lowlands, the central Andean highlands, the eastern jungles of the Amazon Basin, and—620 miles west of the mainland—the Galápagos Islands. The Amazon Basin holds the largest and most diverse block of tropical rainforest in the world, while the Andes mountain range features everything from cloud forest to arid rain-shadow valleys. This diversity includes approximately 1,600 bird species, 280 mammal species, and 25,000 species of plants (20% of which are found nowhere else on the planet).

Occiental - The West

Los Cedros Cloud Forest Reserve
For nearly a decade, AFI has contributed to the evolution of Ecuador's largest private protected holding, the 17,000-acre Los Cedros Biological Reserve in northwestern Ecuador (just 30 miles north of the equator). AFI coordinated the purchase of Los Cedros and is involved in its management with the Ecuadorian nonprofit Centro de Investigación de los Bosques Tropicales (Center for the Investigation of Tropical Forests) and the Rainforest Information Centre.

The flora and fauna of the Central American, Amazonian, and Andean regions overlap here. Los Cedros is a virgin premontane wet tropical forest and cloud forest; it provides a critical buffer for the southwest frontier of the 450,000-acre Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

The Los Cedros reserve has a ranger program, facilities for hosting twenty visitors, sustainable agriculture models, and a Health and Environmental Education program (in development) in local communities. Los Cedros is becoming a self-sustaining project through ecotourism and international scientific research programs. Yet further acquisitions are still needed to protect the buffer areas between the Los Cedros and Cotocachi-Cayapas reserves. Funding is also needed to strengthen the infrastructure of Los Cedros.

AFI is working to set up community-based, economically viable conservation projects in Pacific Rim mangrove forests—starting in Ecuador. We are working with other conservation organizations, including the U.S.-based Mangrove Action Project and Japan's ACTMANG. Mangrove forests thrive in Ecuador when not subjected to destructive industry.

Although it is illegal to destroy mangroves in Ecuador, primary mangrove forests are being exploited indiscriminately by the commercial shrimp farming industry. Cutting for charcoal production and building materials is another key threat. Estimates of loss range from 20% to nearly one-half of Ecuador's once 900,000 acres of mangrove-forested coastline—including nearly 90% from the Muisne region.

Many nonprofits are working on monitoring and education programs to prevent such destruction; AFI is helping to support nascent community programs by developing revenue sources through ecotourism.

Amazon - The East

One-fifth of all the birds and plants on Earth evolved in the Amazon Basin. The tropics are the Earth's richest natural reserves.

A major AFI accomplishment in 1999 was partnering in the purchase of a strategic in-holding in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The 137-acre acquisition includes the Pañacocha Lodge and is located within the Pañacocha Bosque Protector, a 140,000-acre primary forest blackwater lagoon. (In Ecuador, Bosque Protector status—a little looser than the U.S. National Forest designation—does not stop colonization or resource exploitation.) Our Ecuadorian partner CIBT is responsible for preparing the long-term land-use management plan for the entire Bosque Protector.

This rare ecosystem is an important breeding ground for the endangered pink river dolphin and is home to the jaguar, nine species of monkey, approximately 500 species of birds, the ocelot, and many more. Pañacocha (“Piranha Lake” in Quechua), and even more precisely Pañayacu (“Piranha River”), constitutes the majority of a wildway at the base of the Andes. It links the largest national park in Ecuador (the 2.5-million-acre Yasuni National Park, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve) to the second-largest reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon (the 1.5-million-acre Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve).

At the Pañacocha lodge, AFI and its partners plan to develop an environmentally proactive ecotourism center that involves the local and international conservation community to the fullest extent possible. The purchase will serve as a base for educational programs and for management of the larger reserve and as a facility to monitor and discourage poaching of the area's rare flora and fauna. A short-term goal is to dedicate 25% of all profit generated through ecotourism to environmental education and community health and nutritional programs.