Thursday, December 11

The Cerro Blanco Protected Forest 25 Years Young

The Pro-Forest Foundation which administrates the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest celebrated its 25th birthday with the participation of 985 visitors on Sunday, December 7th. The celebration revolved around the event ¨Festival of Nature and Culture¨ which included an eco fair with 25 stands promoting ecological projects and products with the participation of the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Unit of the Ecuadorian National Police, sister ecological groups such as Cerros Vivos and Amigos del Estero as well as vegetarian food and workshops on meditation among others.

During the day, a series of activities were carried out including a special event to commemorate Cerro Blanco´s anniversary led by Eric Horstman, Pro-Forest Foundation Executive Director as well as Camila Morales delegate of the Municipality of Guayaquil´s Tourism Department and Mr. Andres Aspiazu representing the family of one of Cerro Blanco´s founders Eduardo Aspiazu X, former President of the Guayaquil chapter of Fundacion Natura, which along with La Cemento Nacional (now Holcim Ecuador) worked to create the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest. Andres Aspiazu led the participants in a toast to Cerro Blanco and happy birthday sung with birthday cake distributed to the participants.

Workshops on different themes such as recycling and composting were carried out as well as special activities for children including games and art about the conservation of birds and bats among other topics. Guest speakers gave presentations on the dry tropical forests and the birds of the Tumbesian Bioregion. Cerro Blanco´s dedicated group of guides led visitors on walks in the forest throughout the day.

Artistic presentations including a puppet show and music were very well received by visitors as well as yoga and Indian traditional dancing. 

The event also marks the official inauguration of Cerro Blanco´s new installations including camping and picnic area, trails and interpretative signboards.

Wednesday, December 10

Monitoring nest boxes at Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco during the bird breeding season 2014 for management of the avian parasite Philornis downsi

The main objective of this study was to find out if the parasitic fly Philornis downsi, which is an invasive species accidentally introduced into the Galápagos Islands, occurs naturally on mainland Ecuador. In order to do this, we needed to observe bird nests after the birds finished rearing chicks and abandoned it. An easy, well-established method to follow bird reproductive behavior consists of installing wooden nest boxes with a side door that can be opened and the inside nest (and bird activities) easily monitored. The Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco is the perfect place for this study given its high bird diversity.

Nest box set in the trunk of a tree in Cerro Blanco with a Streak-headed Woodcreeper standing on it.

On November 2013, a team of biologists from the University of Minnesota (USA), Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Argentina) and Universidad de Guayaquil (Ecuador) installed a total of 158 nest boxes inside the perimeter of the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco.

Between January and June 2014, the nest boxes were monitored weekly in search of any sign of bird activity (nest construction, incubation, tending to the chicks, etc.). Many of the boxes were not occupied, as is normal during the first year in most studies. It takes time for the birds to get used to the presence of the nest boxes and actually use them. In some cases, nests were constructed inside the boxes but they were abandoned. In only four nest boxes, birds laid eggs and fledged chicks.

 Nest constructed inside a nest box.

On March 1st 2014, we found five House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)’s eggs in a nest box. Five nestlings hatched but only three nestlings remained on March 22nd, they fledged on March 29th. We found 8 Philornis pupae in the nesting material. After examination under the microscope in the laboratory, we confirmed the presence of Philornis downsi in mainland Ecuador.

House Wren nestlings in the nest. On the bottom right there is a 
Philornis downsi puparium.

Our study recorded two new host species for the genus Philornis: the Fasciated Wren (Campylorhynchus fasciatus), a common species restricted to western Ecuador and northwest Peru where it principally inhabits arid and semi-arid habitats; and the Streak-headed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetii), a furnariid found in Central and Northern South America. Our data indicate that Philornis downsi occurs naturally on mainland Ecuador and is relatively abundant in the vicinity of Guayaquil. Cerro Blanco is located approximately 15 km from the Guayaquil airport and 20 km from the Guayaquil harbor. These data support the hypothesis that P. downsi could have been introduced to the Galápagos from mainland Ecuador.

Wednesday, August 6

Two forests walled in by the growth of Guayaquil

Sunday, July 27, 2014

One coexists together with the other in between roads, parks, housing developments, wharfs and even mining exploitation.  On one side, one grows fragmented in wasteland or in the high parts of the hills.  The other side, the canopy of its trees rise up along the borders of the branches of the estero Salado (saltwater estuary) as a dense mass of vegetation.

Both are the home of birds such as the Red lored Amazon that in the morning flies in flocks in search of food in the higher parts of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and in the evening come down to sleep in the foliage at the foot of the brackish waters of the estuary in Puerto Hondo.  They are the dry forest and mangroves, two ecosystems that in the past dominated the geography of what is today the urban zone of Guayaquil and that coexist divided by the via a la costa, the new axis of growth.

Of the two ecosystems that characterize the natural zones of this city, the dry forest is more fragile because its species of flora grow slower, is easily accessible and is being strangled or fragmented by urban expansion.

A report as part of a consultancy prepared by Eric Horstman, administrator of Cerro Blanco and presented in December 2012 to the Ministry of the Environment, established that the areas that have some type of protection in Guayaquil face threats such as hunting, tree cutting to make furniture or charcoal, the burning of forests to later plant crops and invasions (squatter settlements).

The report identifies the possible impacts such as the construction of new roads that isolate more areas like Cerro Blanco, threatened also by mining due to its proximity to ¨the mine quarries with blasting and the production of dust that affects the flora and fauna¨, according to the report.

Horstman asserts that there lacks awareness in the citizenry about the value of dry forest.  ¨There is the idea that a park should always be green and the types of plants that are used require constant irrigated water, without taking advantage of the surrounding conditions¨, he said.

The dry forest contains species that could be used with tourism value if they are integrated in the green spaces of the city, which would give a distinct character to the metropolis, with the presence of trees such as guayacanes or the pigios, according to Horstman.

He mentions an example of this in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), the city that shelters the Tijuca National Park, and a forest where the Christ Redeemer monument was constructed.

In Guayaquil there are 1,892 hectares of green spaces including traffic dividers, parks, plazas, playing fields, riversides, gardens and cemeteries, according to the municipality.

Another problem is that the ecological functions of both ecosystems have not been made used of for development.  The native trees of the dry forest for example have leaves that end in points so that rainwater drips off gradually, avoiding erosion, says Nancy Hilgert, environmental consultant.  Here what has remained in a natural state I believe has been more of an accident than as an objective, sustains Horstman.

The mangroves on the other hand have the function to act as natural barriers against flooding, affirms Mireya Pozo, a specialist on this ecosystem.

The processes of filling (in the mangrove) to urbanize zones such as el suburbia, isla Trinitaria and Las Malvinas in the south of the city and Urdesa, Mapasingue and La Prosperina in the north, exterminated the largest part of the mangrove forest that 50 years ago had an extension of 655 hectares according to investigations carried out by students of Public Communication of Science and Technology (Department) of the ESPOL (Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral).  Pozo says that at least 40% of the city sits on what was formerly mangrove forest, in a scenario decades ago when there was less consciousness of the value of this ecosystem.

Mauricio Velasquez, ex Director of the Environment Department of the Municipality of Guayaquil is concerned about the carrying out of extractive activities near protected areas such as Cerro Colorado, from which gravel, rock and clay are extracted for fill.  They destroy hills leaving 90-degree slopes to take out material to fill the banks; ¨ says Velasquez, referring to rivers such as the Daule, which extends to another of the almost disappearing ecosystems, flooded plains.

The installation of housing developments and wharfs or parks along the riverbanks are carried out without taking advantage of the function of mangroves to control flooding.  This is evidenced in sectors such as Las Malvinas in the south of the city, where the Government constructed a wharf on the edge of the estuary and planted trees from another ecosystem for ornamental purposes.

Discharges to the estuary

In addition, another threat remains to be resolved, the discharge of domestic and industrial residual water to the estuary that affects the mangrove ecosystem.  There are complaints that the treatment plants for sewage in the housing developments in the via a la costa do not function in an adequate manner, ¨ says Velasquez.

The felling of trees and fill affects the flow of water that these trees need.  This stress makes the mangroves susceptible to pests¨, he added.

The falling down of mangrove trees in distinctive points of the city is evidence that they are sick although there are a lack of studies to verify the causes of this phenomena, concur Hilgert and Horstman.

Perfecto Yagual, head of the park guards of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest, one of the last remnants of the dry ecosystem that skirts the western part of the city has observed how the natural areas have been transformed.  He arrived in the zone of the via a la costa in 1958 coming from Libertador Bolivar, in Santa Elena.  He says that at that time, the dry forest began to compete with pastures in the farms that were foreign owned, such as the Hacienda Palobamba.  Despite the pastures, peccaries, birds and deer where seen along the borders of the highway.  Now one has to go into the higher areas to see them¨, says Yagual, who remembers when it was common to see in the streets of Guayaquil the sale of fruits such as caimito, which was extracted from the forest.

Friday, August 1

Green proposals in favor of Guayaquil

Sunday, July 27, 2014 

While walking through patches of dry forest in Guayaquil in the high and deep part of the Cordillera Chongon-Colonche and let a canoe lead you on the calm current of one of the estuaries of the estero Salado that coexist with mangrove forest, Nancy Hilgert and Eric Horstman not only remember how these ecosystems were when they arrived in the city 38 and 24 years ago respectively, they also expound measures that they consider if applied could save these areas.

They are familiar with the howl of monkeys that from a distance announce that the dry forest is their home, with the crackling of the large maroon colored leaves that every six months the trees of this ecosystem drop to survive the dry season, as well as the smells, somewhat rotting of the saltwater estuary.

Although they weren´t born in Guayaquil – Eric is American and Nancy was born in Peru but became a naturalized Ecuadorian, have dedicated themselves to the conservation of these natural areas, Horstman the dry forest through the Pro-Forest Foundation that administers Cerro Blanco and Hilgert both dry forest and mangroves from a professorship, diverse NGO´s and public appointments.

This newspaper invited them to traverse these natural areas in order to evaluate them.  In the visits proposals came out to restore the areas, which according to Hilgert   ¨is a necessity to improve the quality of life of Ecuadorians¨.  This was said while the canoe advanced through the estuary bordered by mangroves where cormorants, mangrove warblers and herons are seen.

Both propose connecting the protected forests that have become isolated in the middle of the city and to do that they propose options including canopy bridges (connecting portions of the forest through the tree canopy), subterranean tunnels so that terrestrial fauna can move through and regenerate zones that make up ecological corridors.

One is connecting the Cerro Blanco, Papagayo de Guayaquil, La Prosperina and Cerro Paraiso Protected Forests with the Cordillera Chongon-Colonche.
Another possible connection they say is to integrate what remains of Cerro Colorado where the botanical garden functions with Los Samanes National Recreation Area.  This could be achieved through reforesting a parcel that borders the Los Geranios housing development.

An action that could be applied for the conservation of both ecosystems is reforestation or ¨restoration¨, as Horstman prefers to call it.

This forester says that in the case of dry forest, reforestation could be done with introduced species such as eucalyptus and teak, but restoration requires instead, endemic species such as pigio, ceibo, Amarillo and cocobolo.  With this, what is returned to the city is what was formerly found there, which was cut down to drive urban development.

As for the conservation of the mangrove forest, Hilgert sustains that the current environmental legislation must be reformed to establish permissible limits to the discharges of residual waters (sewage) to bodies of water, which currently does not establish quantities (volume of discharges).

On this point, both agree that closing ¨the faucets of contamination¨ the estero Salado receives, the mangrove forests can be saved.

According to Horstman, restoration can also be done on adjacent lands to the mangroves to extend them and on the higher land plant dry forest to re establish the connectivity that once existed between the two areas.

In Puerto Hondo, he says trees such as pechiche have been seen to extend down to the waters edge, which means that dry forest once was found down to the edge of the mangroves. 


Thursday, July 31

Macaw, symbolic bird of Guayaquil with an uncertain future

El Universo, Sunday, July 20, 2014

With a ´national conservation strategy´ and having been declared by a municipal ordinance the natural symbol of the city has not permitted maintaining or improving the population in its natural state of the Guayaquil Macaw (Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis), in critical danger of extinction and that tomorrow, July 21st is commemorated as the Day of the Guayaquil Macaw.

This subspecies of the great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) is distinguished by its brilliant green plumage and in its wings light up with turquoise blue that at the tail mixes with orange.   Before the beak begins to curve, a red crest projects out.

In 2005, the year that the  ´in situ (in its natural habitat) Guayaquil Macaw´ National Conservation Strategy  was released and updated and changed to ´Great Green Macaw National Conservation Strategy´ in 2009 as well as municipal council ordinance were expedited as protection measures, the Ecuadorian population of this rare bird was estimated at between 60 and 90 individuals or 20 to 30 pairs in the natural state.

Eric Horstman, executive director of the Pro-Forest Foundation, institution situated in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and has diverse programs and actions to guarantee the future of the bird, estimates that now there are between 40 and 50 individuals remaining in the wild.

The dry forest of the Cordillera Chongon Colonche and the humid forest of Esmeraldas Province are the two principal habitats of this species, but they are in danger because of deforestation and hunting.

In captivity survive 53 individuals, the product of confiscations, and voluntarily handing over macaws to wildlife rescue centers and zoos in the country.  They are distributed in ample cages in Cerro Blanco, the Guayaquil Historic Park and the Jambeli Rescue Foundation Center, that has worked since 1996 in the ex situ (outside of its habitat) conservation and captive reproduction of the bird.

This measure according to Joaquin Orrantia Vernaza, Director of Jambeli Rescue is a viable alternative for the recuperation of endangered species such as the Guayaquil Macaw. Captive reproduction also permits the eventual reintroduction of the species in its natural habitat, which according to Horstman, will help in increasing the population of Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis.

The biologist Mauricio Velasquez, who was the impetus behind the declaration of the bird as the symbol of the city during his time in the municipal environmental direction coincides in that macaws should be reintroduced in some patches of vegetation with adequate protection and follow them with radio telemetry (technique for measuring distances with radio transmitters and receivers) which is done with condors in the Andes region.

However, Horstman says that there is still much work to be done to ¨prepare the playing field¨ so that when macaws are liberated, conditions are apt and they will survive.  Without these guarantees, the six birds that would be reinserted in Cerro Blanco are waiting to someday fly free.

The principal limiting factor for any initiative of this kind according to the sources that were consulted is the lack of a budget.

Without funds, says Horstman a more extensive monitoring of the species cannot be carried out, a key point of the ´national conservation strategy´ which  ¨is somewhat moribund¨.

Orrantia believes that in order to set out a successful path towards the survival of the species, there needs to be a sufficient reduction or total elimination of the threats the species faces.  This can be achieved with integrated strategies and acting in a coordinated manner towards the same objectives, including the general public in the process so that they will be concerned about their local environment and not buy these birds that according to Velasquez can cost up to depending on the country between $2,000 and $3,500 dollars each.

In previous rainy seasons deep in the forest a lone flock of up to 11 macaws could be seen, but in the last three or four years this has not been possible.

The 6,078 hectares (of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest) are not sufficient to guarantee the survival of the species.  ¨Cerro Blanco is becoming an island.  Its not that you leave the protected forest boundaries and find other forest remnants but instead you find housing developments and quarries that often do not permit the species to leave or if they do, they die.  Where we still have connectivity is in the eastern part towards the via a la Costa, we are working to implement a biological corridor to connect the patches of forest¨, indicated Horstman, who began to work in the area 24 years ago when the last housing development was Puerto Azul and where it was normal to still see the cities´ symbol flying free.

That the area be recognized as a biological corridor might not occur if the construction of alternate highway to the via a la Costa, because it would go through the Cordillera Chongon Colonche.

Another problem is that some of the owners of the nearby plantations see the Guayaquil Macaws as a plague that eats their crops.  In addition to eating the seeds of the cocobolo tree, the bird eats corn on the cob when it is still green.  The agriculturalists shoot the macaws to avoid losing their cornfields, refers Horstman.  Others cut down the pigio, the preferred tree in Cerro Blanco for the bird to nest in.

They see the tree as a threat to their lands, because within the trunk of the tree, the wood is similar to balsa, soft and spongy, a characteristic that the agriculturalist translates into the cause of droughts, when in fact it is only a strategy to store water reserves during winter rains and to be able to maintain the tree alive during the dry season.

Wednesday, July 9

The Natural Symbol of Guayaquil Is Going Extinct

By Mauricio Velasquez   

For those that don´t know, the city of Guayaquil has a symbolic bird, its most distinguished brand, the Guayaquil Macaw.  It is a sub species of the Great Green Macaw that is endemic to the coast of Ecuador.  The distribution range of the population is very reduced and it is in danger of going extinct.  This grave state is caused by the high deforestation rate of dry tropical forest and its continued burning to ¨clear the land¨ to carry out unsustainable agricultural practices.  The macaws are captured for their illegal commercialization and they are often sold in both local and international markets.  All of these factors have the bird symbol of Guayaquil against the ropes as we say in boxing terms and at the point of a fatal end.  It is estimated that only 30 to 40 individuals currently remain in their natural state.

The progress of Guayaquil destines them to die.  Nobody is unaware of the urban growth in the coastal highway, where besides the housing developments that surround the Chongon Cordillera, are also found countless mine quarries that diminish the area of the forest in its hills.  Sites where our symbolic bird lives.  If it wasn´t enough, the connectivity of the macaw´s habitat will be also lost for a project that is working silently and plans to construct a new periphery highway in Guayaquil through the western boundary of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and cut the biological corridor linking Cerro Blanco with the Chongon and Colonche Protected Forest.

In 2005, the National Conservation Strategy in situ for the Guayaquil Macaw¨ was promulgated.  In the same year, the Municipality of Guayaquil issued an ordinance that declared this animal  ¨the natural bird symbol of the canton¨ in addition to being the flagship species for dry tropical forest conservation programs within the boundaries of the canton.  Later, a inter institutional work group was formed (where, although it sounds strange now, the Ministry of the Environment and the Municipality worked together) to initiate conservation actions, among them, the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Municipality of Guayaquil and the Pro-Forest Foundation to:
  • Consolidate the Declaratory of the Protection of the Guayaquil Macaw (Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis) through the monitoring of the state of the populations.
  • Elaborate a Forest Fire Prevention Plan.
  • Reintroduce and monitor individuals of the Guayaquil Macaw (Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis) born in captivity in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest.
  • Train professionals in the management of natural protected areas.
  • Implement conservation activities for wildlife through the strengthening of wildlife rescue centers.

However, the year after the signing of the agreement (2009) the head of Environmental Planning in the Municipality of Guayaquil and its Environment Director, changed their priorities for action and let this important conservation initiative wilt, sentencing in this way, the destiny of the species.

Despite this, the Pro-Forest Foundation, one of the last Mohicans of conservation in Guayaquil continues practically alone in its efforts to prevent the extinction of the Macaw and has carried out reforestation efforts in more than 250 hectares in Cerro Blanco with 35 native tree species, many of these plants have fruits that constitute the food base of  the symbol of Guayaquil in its natural habitat.  Although this work is important, it does not guarantee that the macaw won´t go extinct.

As a Guayaquileño, I´d like a consultation to be made to the citizens of Guayaquil in which they are asked if they are in agreement that the extinction of the Guayaquil Macaw is carried out.  And at the same time, this consultation also is made with the principal national, provincial and local environmental authorities.

The first step in order to act is recognizing the problem and really we are not doing anything to prevent Guayaquil from losing its natural symbol.  

Friday, May 30

Hummingbird behavior and evolution (Amazilia amazilia)

By: Sarah A. Cowles
Ph.D. Student, Uy lab
Department of Biology
University of Miami

Hello! My name is Sarah—I’m a biology grad student from the University of Miami, and I’m studying hummingbird evolution and behavior. My research focuses specifically on Amazilia hummingbirds (the scientific name is Amazilia amazilia; el nombre en español es Amazilia ventrirrufa). I am examining differences in plumage color across multiple populations of Amazilia hummingbirds throughout the South Coast and Southern Highlands of Ecuador. In addition, I’m planning to reconstruct the evolutionary history of this species. 

I’ve spent two weeks at Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco with my awesome field assistants David and Javier. We’ve been capturing hummingbirds around the reserve using mist-nets, and taking morphological measurements, a few feathers (for later color measurements), and a few drops of blood (to extract DNA for phylogenetic analyses) from each bird before giving it some sugar water and letting it fly away. Here at BPCB, the birds are an emerald green color with blue-green gorgets and a rufous belly. We have been finding them around patches of purple morning-glory flowers in the reserve.

The reserve is absolutely beautiful —a peaceful and quiet forest just outside of busy Guayaquil. We’ve seen tons of lizards, insects, spiders, snakes (including a viper!), some small mammals, deer, and plenty of birds of course—from several big hawks to tiny hummingbirds, and everything in between. It’s transitioning from the wet season to the dry season right now, so there are a lot of falling leaves and soon to be flowers here. BPCB has absolutely been a wonderful place to do fieldwork in Ecuador! 

Wednesday, May 28

Volunteers drawn beauties Cerro Blanco Forest

During the months of April and May 20 a call for volunteers was performed with for artistic drawing skills, so that we have the participation of Mr. Hugo Mite and Mr. Raúl Galdea who made beautiful drawings of the biodiversity of dry forest tropical which are being used in the design of environmental education material for the Pro-Forest Foundation.

The Weekly Live Guayaquil newspaper El Universo made ​​them a story for his selfless to participate with their talent for a good cause work.

Adaptation and release of Six Great Green Macaws In The Cerro Blanco Protected Forest

The Jambeli Rescue Foundation has developed a successful captive breeding program for the Great Green Macaw over a 10 year period.  One of the principal objectives of this program is the release of adult GGM´s in its dry tropical forest habitat and contribute to the conservation program for the species in its natural state.

The Pro-Forest Foundation has more than twenty years experience in the development of programs and projects benefitting the conservation of the dry tropical forest ecosystem, especially the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest, which has been used by Great Green Macaws as nesting, roosting and feeding sites.

The Pro-Forest Foundation has carried out several programs and projects that benefit directly the Great Green Macaw in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and adjacent areas including protection of nest sites and habitat through park ranger patrols and law enforcement, habitat restoration and enhancement through the construction and placement of artificial nest boxes as well as environmental education and awareness building in local communities both for adults through an honorary park warden project as well as primary and secondary school programs.

The Jambeli Rescue Foundation and Pro-Forest Foundation have joined with other organizations in Ecuador to prepare and implement a Great Green Macaw National Conservation Strategy beginning in 2003 to the present.  The strategy includes a ex-situ component which includes the reproduction and eventual release of Great Green Macaws to help bolster the wild population in Ecuador, which is critically endangered.

In March we had to Will and Sophy as volunteers in Cerro Blanco, they from England. Them project was to record photos and videos about adaptation's project. The photos and video presented here are the result of his outstanding work.

Expedition Chester Zoo in the Cerro Blanco Forest to find the Red-lored Amazon

Last January we had the pleasant visit of a technical team from Chester Zoo from England, whose visit was to study the Red-lored Amazon (Amazona lilacina) to determine their habitat, behavior, diet, reproduction, etc.. The study was conducted for 10 days in two areas specifically Cerro Blanco Forest and Mangroves of Puerto Hondo.

Tuesday, May 27

Vacation Camp 2014 on Cerro Blanco Forest.

During the months of March and April 2014 Tania and Jaime Echeverria of Papooms conducted the Vacation Camp 2014 on Cerro Blanco Forest. A great opportunity where the little kids learned about the tropical dry forest and the importance of conservation. Painted, played, sang, made ​​crafts and above were connected with nature and learned to appreciate it and love it.