Since 2016, WWF-Ecuador, in a joint project with WWF-Germany and WWF-Belgium, and with the support of the Ministry of the Environment of Ecuador (MAE), began a process with the community of Zancudo Cocha in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to train them in biological monitoring with camera traps. On the one hand, the purpose of the undertaking is to monitor their territory and protect it from loggers and poachers. But, above all, this process aims to reconnect the community with its territory and generate learning processes about the forest, the species that live there and their importance to the ecosystem.
Where were these images taken?
The community of Zancudo Cocha, located in the Northern Amazon of Ecuador, has a territory of 172,000 hectares, of which 79% is primary forest. This community is located within the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, making it a protected area with a sustainable resource management category.
This community, like many in the Amazon, is based on a subsistence economy, that is to say, they live from what they hunt, fish and sow in their territory. However, the growing need for economic income has led this and other communities to engage in unsustainable activities, such as bushmeat trading. Nevertheless, the problem is not only internal, as there are many external threats, such as illegal timber trafficking.
These threats, although affecting all forest species, have a greater impact on an emblematic one: the jaguar. As a top predator, jaguars are considered an “umbrella species.” This means that jaguar populations are an indicator of an ecosystem status. In other words, if jaguars are in good condition, it means that they have enough prey to feed on, which indicates that populations of all the other species in the chain are healthy as well. Therefore, reflecting the state of the forest as a whole.
Who took these photos and videos?
The group of men and women from the community who have been part of this process, have received the equipment and training to install, maintain, and collect information from the cameras in the field, as well as to interpret data. Step by step, they have been learning, through trial and error, motivated by the images they collect and everything they discover about their own territory in the process; from marking points on a GPS to preparing the ground to mount a camera, to creating a study area, to maintaining equipment.
This year-long learning process reached its peak in December 2017, when all the experience and knowledge gained by this group of monitors was put to the test in a great challenge: a large-scale jaguar monitoring process, supported by WWF offices in three countries, with camera installations in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. The Zancudo Cocha monitors are in charge of collecting the data from Ecuador. The first 60 cameras were installed in Ecuadorian territory. For 4 days, the monitors walked an average of 12km daily through the forest to cover the territory necessary to get a broad sample.
What are these images for?
These images are the result of the first stage of the tri-national jaguar monitoring program and have definitely exceeded expectations. Hundreds of pictures and videos of more than 20 different species of fauna: felines, reptiles, rodents, birds, primates, many of these endangered species, or even so unknown and strange that they still do not have an official conservation status. The variety of fauna captured in the sample is huge, proving once again that the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve has impressive biodiversity.
The information collected will provide up-to-date information on the fauna resources in the community’s territory, in order to define the use zones and update the community’s management plan. Through an information processing protocol, the collected data can be interpreted in order to translate this into useful information for decision making.
In addition, WWF is promoting an education program in the local shools that seeks to connect learning processes with the local context and environment in order impact biodiversity conservation objectives. The pictures that the monitors themselves are capturing in their community are being used for the development of the materials and activities for this program.
This important experience of wildlife monitoring involvement with the Kichwa community of Zancudo Cocha has motivated other communities in the Cuyabeno Reserve to become involved in this activity. WWF will be working with them and the MAE to expand local monitoring to other community territories.
Sustainably managing resources within a territory promotes the well-being of the forest and its species, thus maintaining healthy jaguar populations. Replicating this process in three neighboring countries, as WWF is currently doing, allows a deeper understanding of the habits of this species, in order to have clear criteria to expand conservation areas for this endangered feline.
What are the most interesting species that appear in these images?
Jaguar (Panthera onca): It is the largest feline in America. It is an excellent predator, which places it at the top of the food chain. It is nocturnal and lonely. A single individual needs an area of at least 25 square kilometers to survive, but this data varies depending on the region, the time of year and between males and females. It is one of the most charismatic and beautiful species. However, their populations face various threats from habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, in addition to hunting. It is now categorized as near-threatened according to IUCN and is threatened with extinction in Ecuador, largely due to poaching.
Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla): A mammal that bases its diet strictly on the consumption of termites and ants, since it has two implements: its claws, which it uses to break termite mounds, and its tongue that is long and sticky to catch termites. With these tools it can feed from several colonies during the day. This species is classified as vulnerable according to IUCN information. On the other hand, in Ecuador, it is reported to be in danger due to the hunting for the trade of its claws.
Danta or Tapir (Tapirus terrestris): Known as one of the largest and strongest mammals of South America, it has a strictly herbivorous diet. They are very elusive and curious to smells due to their olfactory sensitivity. He is a good seed disperser. According to the IUCN report, it is categorized as a vulnerable species and is endangered in Ecuador by the trafficking of its meat for human consumption.
Cougar (Puma concolor): A big feline. It can be found in the Ecuadorian territory from 0 to 4500 meters above sea level. It is carnivorous and an excellent hunter, besides being a very good climber. Due to its wide range of distribution, it is classified as a vulnerable species, both by IUCN globally and in Ecuador. This is attributed to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of their multiple habitats, in addition to hunting.
Short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis): It is a canine with day and twilight habits. They are mostly carnivores, but sometimes consume plant material. IUCN’s red list classifies it as almost threatened, although its conservation status is unknown in Ecuador, as it is an extremely rare species. There is very little information about this species, and its sightings have been really scarce.
Yaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi): It is a medium sized feline that is located in both foothills of the Andes. They carry out daytime and nighttime activities. It is a terrestrial animal, but an excellent climber, and clearly carnivorous. There is a lot of evidence that it usually attacks cattle, which generates conflicts with the villagers. At present, IUCN classifies this feline as of minor concern, however, in the case of Ecuador, its actual conservation status is unknown.
White Falcon (Leucopternis albicollis): It is a bird of prey with an extremely wide distribution range. It can be found from Mexico to Brazil. It is an excellent predator; eats snakes, but also devours small mammals, birds and large insects. This species is classified as least concerned by IUCN, as well as in Ecuador, but it is estimated that its population has been dropping in recent years due to urban expansion.