Andes-Amazon Conservancy works with Indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon to heal the vital ecological function of unfettered wildlife migration that fuels the extraordinary biodiversity of the region. Without open migration bio-corridors between the Amazon and the Andes mountains, the largest wave of extinction in modern history will continue.
Why is migration so essential to thriving biodiversity?
The Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest together comprise one giant ecosystem. Responding to long cycles of cooling and warming, a vast flow of wildlife migration between the mountains and the Amazon basin generates the astonishing biodiversity found in the rainforest. During warmer periods (like now), entire forest communities move up into the cooler Andes foothills and find refuge in the micro-climates found in the folds of the mountains. In cooler eras, they migrate back down into the warmer lowlands of the Amazon basin. This had been true for millions of years.
But in the last 60 years, population and development pressure between the Andes and the Amazon has created a 2,000 mile long “development wall” along the base of the Andes. Roads, cities and clear-cut agriculture have severed essential migration pathways.
An epic, world-wide wave of extinction is already underway, as pollution, habitat loss, overharvesting and climate change make survival difficult or impossible for thousands of species. In the increasingly hot Amazon, the natural impulse of wildlife is to seek the cooler foothills of the Andes, which due to development, are accessible through very few and very narrow channels.
The Andes-Amazon Conservancy has a unique and highly effective strategy for responding to this crisis. We are so successful because we work from the ground up, in close collaboration with individual villages and communities that live along the wildlife migration bio-corridors. Across 4 Indigenous Nations and 65 individual communities, we have over 2 million acres of virgin rainforest in indigenous led conservation land use planning. Once complete, this collaboration will maintain wildlife migration connectivity of over 8 million acres, Ecuador’s last large roadless area.
For 4 years we have traveled our project area, by tiny plane, by canoe and by foot, building relationships, building trust, one village community at a time. Sitting and listening, drinking chicha for hours, and sharing our land-use planning model for conservation. When they hear the story of the collaboration we are offering, again and again, the people of these communities say yes.
This project is implemented by Indigenous people, one village at a time.
Each participating community chooses a small team of people to work with us, and is offered training in land use planning and the technology needed to geolocate and map their territories. Each village then chooses which zones of their territories are to be devoted to village needs and which to conservation and these areas are identified on their territory maps.
The conservation zones then weave together as a whole, allowing for unfettered migration between the Amazon and the Andes. In addition, 4 Indigenous Nations find themselves working in unity and have a rare opportunity for meaningful collaboration as their shared vision is expressed.
Indigenous Communities that live along the development wall need additional strategic support. Here, damage has already been done, both to land and to culture. But one small opening in the development wall allows passage for wildlife migration. This is the most critical target for conservation in the western Amazon. Currently we are piloting reforestation programs with fruit and nut tree plantings for edible forests in key areas which support migration. This provides food sources for migrating wildlife, as well as food and much needed economic development for human communities.
Although they comprise less than 6% of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity. This is no accident, as Indigenous cultures are interrelated with the land and its cycles. They have deep wisdom practices of reciprocity that nourish and support, rather than simply extract from the ecosystems in which they live. Only they can protect the remaining biodiversity.
This is literally Ecuador’s last chance to save her legendary biodiversity. If wildlife migration connectivity is blocked, the species loss will be unrecoverable. In our age of collapsing ecosystems and melting glaciers, it is vital to save the Amazon from further damage. The entire Earth depends on it.