Helene Mbaididje : Forest Conservation Intern
Two weeks ago, with my fellow intern Zach, I had the opportunity to take part in one of the most arduous trek I’ve ever made…but it was so worth it! The hike origin point was in Santa Rita, a Kichwa community about 6km from Archidona, where Fundación Runa works. Ian, our regional and landscape program director, has been leading the charge in a wildlife monitoring project inside the communal forest (socio-bosque). The goal of this 2-day expedition was to collect data from previously placed cameras, as well as to move them to new vantage points so as to have the greatest coverage possible for wildlife monitoring.
The day started by meeting our fellow guides: Ephraim, Bolivar and Xavier, three community members of Santa Rita who accompanied us to the depths of Santa Rita’s land. Let’s talk about this little walk. Our experience certainly digressed from our expectation! We hiked four hours up and one hour down to get the first six cameras. We were grateful to have our guides to show us the way and help us find the cameras. After those five hours we arrived at our night camp: a small wooden shed where we had a well-deserved rest. We also took the time to have a swim (and bath) in a beautiful river a few meters away from the camp. After a strange yet comforting meal of tuna, pasta, and rice, with a sweet beverage they called coffee, a restful night was welcomed.
The next morning, after breaking down the campsite and collecting our gear, the real work began…and didn’t stop until 8 pm that night! Eleven hours deep in the jungle to install eight cameras traps! The objective of the day was to cross the Rio Calme (Calmitoyaku in Kichwa) to go through Kawan, a deeper area inside Santa Rita’s socio bosque, where wildlife is known to be more prominent than on the edges of Santa Rita’s community. Just to give a little context, the socio bosque is a communal forest that is restricted from hunting, cultivation or logging, and where conservation and reforestation are prioritized. Thus we hoped to be able to capture a good diversity of animals and, if possible, a puma. This was a hell of a day! It was definitely intense, starting our day under the rain going uphill, downhill, through the mud and rocks, but absolutely worth it! We placed our first camera, after nearly three hours of walking, on a narrow hill, then placed the following cameras at every 30 to 45 minute interval. Bolivar and Ephraim stayed in front, guiding us always deeper into the jungle with their incredible sense of direction and, of course, the help of their machetes! We returned to Santa Rita in the dark and were rewarded by a traditional chicha (fermented yucca beverage) back at Xavier’s house! On the next day, a great surprise awaited us while going through over 800 photos that were collected through the five camera traps placed back in October: pumas, ocelots, and the highlight of all our discoveries: a melanistic black jaguar!
Melanistic black jaguars have also been photographed in Llanganates National Park (NP). It is believed that they are found in the network of protected areas of the Cordillera Oriental (Andes) : this including Sangay, Llanganates, Colonso, Antisana, Cayambe-Coca and Sumaco NP.
We are now on the third set of cameras, and hopefully other interesting pictures and discoveries will be found on our next trip to Kawan!