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The World Land Trust on its purchase of key Ecuadoran rainforest

Christina Ballinger from the World Land Trust tells us why the charity has recently been helping to purchase some key areas of rainforest land in Ecuador.

For more than 25 years the World Land Trust has been raising funds to protect threatened ecosystems in many different parts of the world permanently. While other environmental charities devote effort to saving a particular species, WLT focuses its energy on the whole web of life that depends on an ecosystem.

So far the World Land Trust has funded the purchase and protection of more than half a million acres of tropical forest and other biodiverse habitats, and the wealth of wildlife they shelter. A recent example is the extension to Río Canandé Reserve safeguarding Chocó rainforest of north west Ecuador.

The Trust co-funded the purchase of six properties to extend the Reserve by 1,187 acres (480 hectares). Río Canandé is the most northerly of Jocotoco’s reserves and now covers over 6,100 acres (15,000 hectares) of protected forest in the Chocó region.

The coastal tropical rainforest of the Chocó extends from southern Colombia to northern Ecuador. It ranks as the fourth hotspot for biodiversity in the world and holds innumerable species of plants and animals of which a high percentage is endemic, while many others remain undiscovered. The bad news is that, despite its biological importance, the Chocó has been dramatically reduced – first to logging by the settlers and timber companies, and more recently by a boom in the cultivation of oil palm and biofuel crops, agriculture and livestock production.

A focus of the World Land Trust has been to link up the remaining fragments of Chocó forest in Ecuador and Colombia, so this purchase is an important milestone in a long term strategy to work in partnership with Colombian and Ecuadorian conservation organisations to save what remains of the Chocó.

The Trust always works through local conservation partners, who negotiate the land purchase and in whom the land ownership is ultimately vested. In Ecuador, the World Land Trust has four conservation partners and has been working with Fundación Jocotoco (FJ) for about 15 years. Jocotoco now owns and protects nine reserves, created to safeguard habitats at different altitudes.

 But once a property is purchased and a reserve created, how can the Trust be sure that it will be safe? Recognising that the security of a reserve rests with the local people, on the ground it is the wildlife rangers who keep up the presence on the reserves.  For this reason, WLT has a fund specifically designed to support the employment of rangers called Keepers of the Wild, and since its launch in 2011 it has supported more than 30 rangers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Not only do rangers deter poachers and traffickers, but they also carry out important monitoring work, recording species and assisting scientific expeditions.

In the case of Río Canandé, unchecked wildlife trafficking and hunting threaten populations of several of the large bird species, such as the endangered Great Green Macaw and the Great Curassow. Fortunately, thanks to the support of the World Land Trust, Fundación Jocotoco will be able to recruit a new wildlife ranger, whose presence will help to deter these illegal activities.