Approaches to Conservation
There are two approaches to environmental protection: ex-situ and in-situ. When working in ex-situ conservation, the goal is to protect flora and/or fauna outside of its natural habitat. Typical ex-situ practices include raising animals in captivity or growing plants in botanical gardens. Depending on the desired outcome, the animals or plants may then be reintroduced to their natural habitats.
In-situ conservation is a more holistic approach to conservation. In-situ practitioners strive to preserve and promote the growth of wildlife within its natural environment while maintaining the normal ecological processes of the area. Under the umbrella of in-situ conservation, two systems of preservation have emerged: nationally protected areas and private reserves.
Nationally Protected Areas vs. Private Reserves
Creating nationally protected areas calls for a governmental body to identify important ecosystems in need of preservation. The government then manages the protected areas through national park systems and reserves. However, though developing countries tend to have the most ecologically significant regions (most hotspots are within their borders), their governments often lack the resources to support programmes within the park/reserve system. Therefore, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) tend to focus on and provide funding for special projects within national park/reserve systems and their buffer zones.
Nevertheless, in 1995 Jeff Langholz published a study titled “Economics, Objectives, and Success of Private Nature Reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America” in which he recognized the need to expand conservation efforts beyond national parks/reserves. He observed that most initiatives to protect important habitats concentrate on encouraging governments to establish protected areas.
However, since governments do not act quickly enough, biologically diverse areas continue to disappear before necessary action is taken. Langholz asserted that we cannot rely solely on government entities and must explore new options for conservation. One underutilized resource is privately owned nature reserves like La Hesperia.
The Value of Private Reserves
Private reserves consist of areas larger than five hectares owned by individuals, NGOs, or communities; these individuals or groups establish the reserve to protect the natural environment. Owners who are willing to forgo developing their land in favour of preserving it tend to be more motivated by conservation objectives than personal or economic goals. Therefore, though private reserves generate revenue through eco-tourism, grants, research, and agriculture, financial success depends on promoting conservation. In fact, in order to maintain the land and its programmes, Langholz found that owners reinvest profits in the reserve and other community projects.
Though much of Ecuador’s forests are in need of preservation, 22 percent of the national territory is under governmental protection through the national park/reserve system. Fortunately, there is more protected land outside of the national system because private groups have established reserves through the National Corporation of Private Forests. Through this corporation, there are approximately 65 private reserves that cover 77,000 hectares, but there is more land in private hands in need of protection. In order to advance conservation efforts it will be important to diversify endeavours and incorporate both the public and private sector, perhaps emphasizing the private sector more now than it has been in the past.
Governments will not be able to protect the forests alone. All of humanity benefits from healthy forests; therefore, its conservation is a shared responsibility.
Biodiversity and Wildlife
Areas classified as biodiverse are the best places to observe a variety of wildlife. Biodiversity is determined by the number of species in a given area and is affected by latitude and altitude. Regions closest to the equator and at low altitudes have the greatest biodiversity in the world. La Hesperia, located at latitude of 0º 20´ 38” to 0º 23´ 06” and an altitude between 1100 meters to 2040 meters, is part of two hotspots, which means it has high levels of biodiversity and endemism.
Birds at La Hesperia
As part of the Tropical Andes and Chocó-Darién-Western Ecuador bioregions, La Hesperia is inside the Río Toachi-Chiriboga Important Birds Area (IBA) designated by Bird Life International and Conservation International. It is an ideal place to observe birds because of its geography, ecology, land use, and its range in altitude. Researchers, staff, and volunteers have identified 292 bird species, of which ten are endemic to the region and seven are vulnerable or in danger of extinction. The bird list is not yet complete, but it is believed that there are approximately 320 species. Download the list.
Butterflies at La Hesperia
Along with its varied bird population, La Hesperia has considerable invertebrate diversity, which is an indicator of the quality of the forest. In 1985, Dr. Xavier Silva conducted research at the station and found 63 genera of butterflies. He attributed the diversity to the reserve’s range in altitude. Download the list.
Mammals at La Hesperia
Research efforts at the station have also uncovered rare, endangered and/or endemic species, including the Andean bear, white-fronted capuchin monkey, puma, ocelot, tayra, jaguarondi, red brocket deer, and collared peccary. There are still more populations of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians within the reserve that have not been cataloged yet. Download the list.
Vegetation at La Hesperia
In addition to its animals, La Hesperia’s flora varies widely. Because the reserve is part of a cloud forest, a variety of epiphytes grow readily. These epiphytes include orchids, bromelias, mosses, and ferns. There are also species of endangered hardwood trees that we raise in the nursery and transplant in reforestation zones. Download the list.
In the future we plan to continue to host researchers who will study the flora and fauna within the boundaries of the station. We request that anyone interested in conducting research contact us with a formal proposal.