Project Description

One of AFI’s major projects in Ecuador has been partnering in the purchase of a strategic inholding in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The 137-acre (55-hectare) acquisition, which includes the Pañacocha Lodge, is located within the Pañacocha Bosque Protector, a 140,000-acre (56,000-hectare) primary forest/blackwater lagoon system including flooded and terra firma forest. (In Ecuador, Bosque Protector status — a little looser than the U.S. National Forest designation — does not stop colonization or resource exploitation.)

The 56,000-hectare Bosque Protector Pañacocha is a pristine igapo (blackwater lagoon and riverine) system located in the narrow gap between Ecuador's two largest protected areas in the Amazon: the 982,000-hectare Yasuni National Park and the 600,000-hectare Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. The Bosque Protector was established in 1995 by grassroots efforts to protect the area's important values as a Biological Corridor, a seasonally flooded forest, and oxbow lake ecosystem in far western Amazonia.

AFI’s role in the Pañacocha Project has been to fund the creation of the Management Plan for the 56,000-hectare Reserve and to help gain recognition for the conservation of Yasuni-Pañacocha-Cuyabeno biological corridor in the Ecuadorian Oriente. This coordinated management unit also fits inside a program to unify a 3-million-hectare transboundary protected area (Yasuni-Pañacocha-Cuyabeno-Güeppí-Paya). Developing a strategy to co-manage the contiguous Zona Reservada de Güeppí in Peru and the Parque National Paya in Colombia greatly expands the scope of the conservation effort in the area and is critically needed in this time of exponential oil development in the region.

Long-standing institutional work of global financing, academic, and conservation institutions such as the IUCN, UNESCO, IDB, USAID, and many others continue to lay the groundwork for the proposed integration of a 3-million-hectare reserve in northwestern Amazonia. Decades of international conservation investment have been committed to the recognition and protection of biodiversity values in this region of northwestern Amazonia through the declaration of substantial reserves in the political “corner” where Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia meet. The protected areas are:

  • Reserva de Producion Faunistica Cuyabeno - 587,475 ha
  • UNESCO WBR Parque National Yasuní - 1,008,856 ha
  • Bosque Protector Pañacocha - 56,000 ha
  • Zona Reservada de Güeppí, Peru 625,971 ha
  • Parque National Paya, Colombia 422,000 ha
  • Total (approx) 3,000,000 ha

 

The Lodge

In 1999 AFI, Earthways Foundation, Rainforest Concern, and the Rainforest Information Centre purchased the centrally located 55-hectare Cabañas Pañacocha to secure an environmental commitment to the area, to monitor wildlife and human activities, and to illustrate a conservation model to both the surrounding communities and visitors.

Pañacocha is more remote than the popular Sacha and La Selva Lodges, being several hours farther down the Rio Napo. As a result, wildlife habitat and populations are proportionally more intact. Yet hunting pressures are real. We have begun much of the preliminary work from the lodge to develop species lists. We also are serving as a conduit for enforcement to halt illegal colonist invasions, while studying the needs of the nearby legal communities in order to commence educational permaculture programs to decrease the demand for wild sources of protein such as monkeys. To facilitate community outreach and turn the focus of the lodge away from profit, we have formed an Ecuadorian non-governmental organization, Fundación Pañacocha, to own the lodge and implement such programs. The existing ecotourism operation at the lodge, staffed by Ecuadorian tour guides, provides some revenue to the community in the form of an entrance fee and salaries. Potential financial arrangements with an exclusive tour operator may result in a significant new revenue stream for project sustainability and for community programs.

Should the community be invested in a successful tourism operation in the upper watershed, there is less incentive for them to want to, when the occasion arises, sign a contract with the company that would allow for oil drilling in the watershed. Between the Fundación and INEFAN (the managing public wildlife agency), the entire reserve and specifically the community's parcel will be zoned to not allow oil drilling in the sensitive regions, one of which is the blackwater river of the Pananyacu. With the community invested in their own operation, it strengthens the position of making the blackwater areas off-limits to drilling. Secondly, in many ways ecotourism can functionally transform values regarding uses of the wildlife population that the community stewards. Should the community be invested in the wildlife as a unique resource for tourism, there is greater incentive to self-regulate hunting of mammalian and bird species.

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