Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Ecuador 03

Ecuador: Serranías Cofán-Bermejo, Sinangoe

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
24 July–16 August 2001

Region surveyed
Three areas in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes, between 450 and 2,341 m elevation: the headwaters of the Bermejo and Chandia Na’e Rivers, including the Sur Pax ridge complex; Cerro Shishicho and the forests at its base, near the Cofán community of Sinangoe; and the Ccuccono River basin (Figure 2).

Organisms surveyed
Vascular plants, reptiles and amphibians, birds, and large mammals.

Highlight of results
The rapid biological inventory team identified significant opportunities for conservation in the Bermejo and Sinangoe region: large expanses of endangered foothill forests that stretch unbroken from the Amazonian lowlands to above 2,300 m in the Andes. The forests we inventoried contained a spectacularly diverse mix of lowland and montane biota, including a large number of undescribed and endemic species protected nowhere else. Historically under the de facto management and protection of small Cofán communities who have inhabited the region for centuries, these forests now face fragmentation and clearing as streams of colonists spread out from the new Interoceanic Highway. During our three weeks in the field, the inventory team registered many rare or geographically restricted species in the four groups of organisms sampled.Several of the species are new to science, others are new for Ecuador, and many are apparently endemic to the area. A brief summary of results follows.

Vegetation and flora: Extremely wet, diverse forests on clay soils ascend from 400 to more than 2,300 m in elevation. The region is a crossroads for the lowland Amazonian and montane Andean floras, with a conspicuous shift between the two at 1,500 m. A distinct, slightly stunted vegetation grows on scattered outcrops of acidic rock throughout the region. Regenerating forest of varying ages covers large areas subject to repeated landslides, especially along the Bermejo River and in the eastern half of the Sinangoe area.

The team identified 800 species of plants, collected 1,000 herbarium specimens, photographed 600 species, and sampled nearly 1,000 trees and shrubs in transects. We estimate the region’s flora to contain 2,000 to 3,000 species. Ten new plant species already have been confirmed; we expect at least ten others. One new bromeliad species, apparently a favorite food plant of spectacled bears, carpeted whole sections of the higher ridges of Cerro Sur Pax (Figure 4B). The region appears to be the world center of diversity for the coffee family, Rubiaceae, with more than 39 genera and 129 species present. It is also exceptionally rich in Orchidaceae, Gesneriaceae, Sapotaceae, and pteridophytes (ferns and their relatives). Many of these species are narrowly endemic to this section of the Andes. Half of all the palm species known from eastern Ecuador were recorded in the area.

Large mammals: The team registered 42 species of large mammals during the inventory, eight of which are listed in CITES Appendix I (globally threatened species); 17 others are listed in Appendix II (potentially threatened). At least 12 primate species inhabit these forests, as do large populations of spectacled bear and lowland tapir. We observed what may be a new species of squirrel, and local reports suggest that other undescribed mammal species—including an opossum and a miniature woolly monkey—might occur in the area.

Birds: We found a surprisingly rich bird community in the upper hill forests of the region, including large populations of many species that are rare or threatened elsewhere in the Andes. The team recorded 399 bird species out of an estimated regional total of 700 and registered several significant range extensions. One species on the list is new for Ecuador (Tinamus osgoodi, the Black Tinamou), and another was known previously from only three sites (Myiopagis olallai, the Foothill Elaenia).

Amphibians and reptiles: Our herpetological survey was confined to the Sinangoe area, where we documented 31 species. The list includes 17 frogs and toads, six snakes, five lizards (including what is likely a new species in the genus Dactyloa, Figure 5E), a caecilian, and a salamander. We expect that several additional new species await discovery in the higher-elevation forests of the region.

Main threats
The new Interoceanic Highway, connecting Tulcán with Lago Agrio (Figure 2A), has bisected this once continuous stretch of foothill forests, and waves of invading colonists are rapidly clearing and fragmenting the area. Commercial logging interests have begun to cut hardwoods along the road, and incursions into the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve for illegal hunting and fishing are intensifying. The most immediate threat is that spreading, disorganized development will reach the intact forests to the east and south of the road.

Current status
The Bermejo area has minimal legal protection, mostly under Patrimonio Forestal status, but that designation is too weak to provide an effective defense against the spreading colonization. As this report was being written, Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment expressed their intent to establish a new, 50,000 ha ecological reserve in the Bermejo area (Reserva Ecológica Cofán de Bermejo) to be declared officially in January 2002. Cerro Shishicho and the Ccuccono River are currently within the boundaries of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve (Figure 2), and are managed in part by the Sinangoe Cofán community under a convenio with the Ministry of the Environment.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

In the Bermejo area, designate formal conservation status for the intact forests in the headwaters of the Bermejo, Chandia Na’e, and San Miguel Rivers and throughout the Sur Pax ridge complex. Modify the current borders of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve to include a new 50,000-ha annex in the Bermejo area as a Cofán-administered "community reserve" (Reserva Comunitaria Cofán), managed in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment (Figure 2; see also Current Status).


Establish a high-profile, effective conservation presence in the Bermejo region, with clear delimitation and posting of the new reserve. Train a small team of Cofán guards to patrol the area, especially along the proposed western border, closest to new settlements along the Interoceanic Highway.


In the Sinangoe region, strengthen the existing collaboration between the Ministry of the Environment and the Cofán community. Expand the management authority of Cofán park guards to prevent incursions into the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve along the Aguarico, Cofanes, and Due Rivers. Increase patrolling of the area and construct new, strategically placed trails and guard stations. Post prominent signs at access trails along the borders of the reserve, with clear reminders of the area’s conservation status and regulations.


Establish a biological corridor to connect the proposed Bermejo annex with the rest of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve. Extend the current northern border of the park to the vicinity of La Sofía and La Bonita, in cooperation with the local communities and the authorities of Sucumbíos Canton (Figure 2).

Long-term conservation benefits

A globally important new conservation area linking protected montane forests from Colombia to central Perú.


A model of successful, science-based conservation stewardship of ancestral lands by an indigenous community.


Effective protection of a newly vulnerable sector of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, one of the largest conservation areas in Ecuador.


Preservation of the major watersheds in the Sucumbíos region.

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