World Environment Day 2016: Go Wild For Life

Ongoing Wildlife Conservation Efforts At Mashpi Lodge

Ocelot - Mashpi

Mashpi Lodge, located in Quito’s undiscovered natural side and surprisingly accessible from the city proper, remained a secret for years to the tourism industry, but not to locals nor to logging companies, who saw the possibility of profits from extractive activities such as harvesting trees and illegal wildlife trade rather than focusing on sustainable tourism. Some articles claim that 95% of the Ecuadorian Chocó had already been destroyed when Roque Sevilla and some friends stepped in to purchase 1,200 hectares of primary rainforest and then turned this biodiversity hotspot into a reserve with an incredible, modern, sustainably-managed lodge – installed right on the site of the former saw mill – that has become the center of our efforts to preserve this remarkable area.

When the project started, there was no doubt that the owners’ focus was to find an economically viable way to save a rainforest and all the creatures that live in it. But this is not a simple challenge. How could we convince local inhabitants, many of whom face economic hardship, that they should protect their environment rather than destroying it by selling its resources outside?

In honor of World Environment Day 2016, we would like to share with you Metropolitan Touring’s solution to these difficult questions. And they all work on one basic tenet: the community needs to benefit from any solution proposed. In the case of Mashpi, this meant providing work: 80% of the operation’s employees are from the area. Their work at the lodge serves as an incredible training program which, over time, will allow the employees to start professional, sustainable and profitable businesses in their own communities. For example, the lodge makes every effort to purchase most of the ingredients for the kitchens from local growers with organic, sustainable farming techniques. As employees learn to understand and respect the quality requirements, they will be better able to replicate supply functions with their own entrepreneurial ventures. And the intention, as the lodge gets more established, is to sell 15% of the operation’s shares, at face value, to the local community in order to establish a steady income stream and ensure that they have a real economic incentive to save the forest and all of the wild creatures that inhabit it.

But work and income are not the only value to a tourism project of this scope. It is key to develop and transfer knowledge about the area’s wonders in order to achieve buy-in from the local community. Mashpi Reserve offers an incredible opportunity for numerous actors in the environmental area to discover new species and understand their behaviour, as well as to study the Mashpi Basin and Watershed ecology. Various research programs have been established with numerous local and international universities to study the area’s biodiversity and ecology.

The area is a true biodiversity hotspot. To date, Mashpi Lodge’s resident biologist has identified 400 bird species and established a butterfly breeding center for around 40 species of endemic butterflies of the approximately 300 species estimated to exist in the reserve. Another project run by Sussex University to study bees and wasps have identified more than 20-30 types of bees found in the reserve and all of them are iridescent. Our innovative camera trap project uses state-of-the-art technology to capture candid photographs of the wildlife that can be difficult to see as nature has seen fit to provide it with the best possible camouflage for its native environment. The cameras have managed to collect images of flightless birds, top predators – pumas, ocelots, margays – and small mammals such as armadillos, pacas, agoutis, coatis, anteaters and others. And a collaboration with Ecuador’s Indoamerica University has led to incredible findings such as numerous groups of rain, glass and tree frogs, some of which are new to science, like our Mashpi torrenteer frog.

This incredible diversity would certainly have been lost had the area not been declared a protected reserve. Prior to this, there were few laws in Ecuador that protected wild animal species and enforcement was weak. Numerous birds (parrots, tanagers, motmots and others with colorful plumage) and small mammals (armadillos, coatis, and tayras) were often extracted for sale to collectors and pet stores. In addition, the continued destruction of wild habitat would have altered the ecosystem to a point where it could not sustain life. In addition, we take pride in knowing that by discovering and transferring knowledge about this amazing place, we are awakening in both local citizens and international visitors a desire to work together to protect one of the last remaining areas of the Choco rainforest in Ecuador.

It is our great pride to celebrate World Environmental Day with a story of success in ecosystem and wildlife conservation at Mashpi Lodge.


INFORMATION ON WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

A PLATFORM FOR ACTION
World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.

THE PEOPLE’S DAY
Above all, WED serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something to take care of the Earth or become an agent of change. That ‘something’ can be focused locally, nationally or globally; it can be a solo action or involve a crowd – everyone is free to choose.

THE THEME

Each WED is organized around a theme that focuses attention on a particularly pressing environmental concern. WED 2016 is themed on the illegal trade in wildlife under the slogan ‘Go Wild for Life’.

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