Dec 5

A vast new reserve has been established around the Antisana Volcano in Ecuador, providing protection for 264,382 acres of land. The land around Antisana includes one of the few remaining true mountain wilderness areas in the tropical Andes, where unique, high-altitude páramo grasslands give way to tropical forests on mountain slopes.  

Photo of black-faced ibis resting on a rock

Antisana reserve houses one of the largest populations of the black-faced ibis in Ecuador

Amazing biodiversity

Antisana’s ecosystems are significantly degraded due to a long history of intensive cattle grazing. However, the area still harbours an outstanding level of biodiversity and is home to many rare and endangered species. Tropical Andean cloud forests, such as those found at Antisana, are considered to be of urgent conservation priority due to their species richness, the number of endemic species found there and their vulnerability.

Similarly, the páramo grassland ecosystem at Antisana is home to many rare and endemic species of fauna and flora which are threatened by grazing and fires, including the main populations of the Andean condor, silvery grebe, and black-faced ibis in Ecuador. The lakes, marshes, and bogs of these grasslands provide vital habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, as well as populations of large mammals such as the spectacled bear and the puma.

Antisana is also one of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites of Ecuador, safeguarding the future of three species of threatened frog of the genus Pristimantis.

Photo of Pristimantis lividus

Pristimantis lividus is one of three threatened frogs occuring at Antisana

Management conflicts prevent adequate conservation

The area around Antisana has been declared an ecological reserve by the Ecuadorian government since 1993. However, although the area was declared as a reserve on paper, over 80% of the 296,520 acre Antisana Ecological Reserve was still privately owned and managed for cattle.

This led to conflict over management and conservation, and thus a desperate lack of protection for the area’s threatened biodiversity, including the Andean Condor, the national bird of Ecuador. Illegal hunting of pumas, wolves, condors, and ibis also continued throughout the region.

Photo of adult female Andean condor in flight

The Andean condor is the national bird of Ecuador

‘One of the greatest conservation successes ever in the Andes’

Through the ongoing work of the World Land Trust-US and Fundación Jocotoco, the area surrounding the Antisana Volcano has been purchased from private landowners and can now be given full protection.

Their goal is to work in collaboration with the government and other organisations to begin reversing the damage to the natural ecosystems of Antisana.

The contiguous 264,382 acre land purchase around Volcan Antisana represents one of the greatest conservation successes ever in the Andes,” says Dr Robert Ridgely, Executive Director of WLT-US and a primary driving force behind the project to protect the region.

Photo of spectacled bear

The spectacled bear is one of several large mammals to occur at Antisana

Integrated conservation area

The initiative to purchase land and protect the reserve at Antisana has also gathered the support of the Ecuadorian government and the municipal government of the nearby City of Quito.

Dr Ridgely comments that, “For Ecuador these two purchases are a very big deal: never before had an Ecuadorian government entity made such a large purchase for conservation purposes. Indeed few such large purchases for conservation have been made by a Latin American government anywhere.”

The reserve at Antisana stretches from elevations of 3,900 to 18,875 feet (around 1,188 to 5,753 metres) above sea level, making it one of the largest protected gradients in the world.

Antisana is also connected to two other protected areas, the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve to the north and ­­­the Gran Sumaco National Park to the east. Together, these reserves provide a mosaic of protected areas which are helping to conserve and safeguard over 1.8 million acres of some of South America’s most remarkable and biologically diverse ecosystems.

Find out more about the World Land Trust-US and Antisana Ecological Reserve.

Find out more about the Fundación de Conservacion Jocotoco.

Find out more about the Alliance for Zero Extinction.

Explore the species of Ecuador on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author