An Ecuadorian foundation that specialises in acquiring and protecting unique habitats for some of the country’s threatened bird species, has just celebrated its latest big success with the opening of its newest reserve, Antisanilla.
The Jocotoco Foundation, which was established in 1998, operates eight other reserves around Ecuador, but the Antisanilla project is perhaps one of its most ambitious.
Situated on the western edge of the national reserve of Greater Antisana, Jocotoco’s acquisition of what was once private agricultural land unites 2,500 hectares (6,170 acres) with a previous purchase to form a total area of 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres). This acts as a buffer zone to the 120,000 hectares (close to 300,000 acres) of the national reserve to create a unique and protected corridor for the endangered Andean condor.
The symbol of Ecuador (and other Andean nations), the majestic Andean condor has long played an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions. It is associated with the sun deity, considered to be a symbol of health and power as well as being believed to be the ruler of the upper world. Despite this, the Andean condor is considered near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
One of the largest and heaviest flying birds in the world with a wingspan of around 3 metres (10 feet), the Andean condor is distinctive in flight: soaring on thermals with its primary feathers bent upward at the tips and rarely flapping its wings. Its range once stretched the entire distance of the Andes, from Colombia to the tip of Chile. That range has been much reduced and this loss of habitat, combined with other problems that the bird faces such as feeding on poisoned animal carcases, collision with power lines and hunting by communities who believe that the birds attack livestock, means that sightings are now far less common.
The rugged complex of canyons, cliffs and grassy uplands that form the landscape of the Antisanilla reserve are perfect for the condors, which nest at elevations of up to 5,000 metres (16,000 feet) usually on inaccessible rock ledges. Their habitat is open grassland and they need large territories as they can cover more than 200 km (120 miles) a day in search of food. Antisanilla provides refuge for up to 30 condors—around half of Ecuador’s Andean condor population—and is off-limits to unsustainable cattle ranching, hunting and intense agriculture that all jeopardise the birds’ long-term future. The area is a highly important sanctuary for this fragile population.
The Antisana Ecological Reserve, which includes the iconic 5,704 metre (18,714 feet) snow-capped Volcan Antisana, is one of the largest wilderness areas in Ecuador. What makes this enormous area even more extraordinary is that it is only 30 miles southeast of Ecuador’s capital, Quito and so both Antisanilla and the Antisana Ecological Reserve can be visited with relative ease. The Jocotoco Foundation’s aim is to develop their Antisanilla reserve as a popular sustainable ecotourism destination, allowing visitors to experience the stark beauty of this exceptional refuge and to witness the inspiring sight of the flight of the condor. The funds generated by visitors will mean a sustainable income for local people, giving rise to strong incentives to maintain the landscape in its natural state.
How to Get There
Ishpingo Tours works closely with the Jocotoco Foundation and we will be delighted to arrange a day tour for you in this very special landscape.