Happily the Rainforest Trust has again recognized the value of EcoMinga’s Dracula Reserve in northern Ecuador. They have offered to help raise $502,590 to purchase 633 acres for the reserve. Their help is in the form of a one-for-one match; for every dollar donated, they will add another dollar. Thus for every $398 we can provide, EcoMinga can buy an acre of land for the reserve.
Why should we do this? A few months ago Gary Meyer, President of the Pleurothallid Alliance, wrote:
“This area is special for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is the region with the highest Dracula diversity that we know of – anywhere.
At least 19 species have been found here; most of them were originally discovered in this area. Two are natural hybrids that keep recurring, and one very rare species that lives here is not in cultivation at all. There are things that get reported from the area occasionally that have not been identified yet; likely, species are waiting to be described. In fact, I and my Ecuadorian friend Luis Baquero described Dracula trigonopetala just a few years ago after it was found here. In all my travels to study Draculas in situ I have never seen an area with this density of Dracula diversity.
There is a historical significance to this area too. Over the decades, many members of the SFOS, as well as pleurothallid growers and scientists the world over, have visited this region and discovered new species here. Ron Hawley and Robert Levi, SFOS [San Francisco Orchid Society] members in the 70s/80s, both have species named for them that they discovered here. Many of the clones of gigas and polyphemos that we have in our greenhouses originated from plants that J & L Orchids collected here in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, even though this area is essentially the epicenter of Dracula diversity, it was also completely unprotected until a coalition of conservation groups, including the OCA and EcoMinga, bought the first property to be part of this Dracula reserve. It is not a coincidence that in my travels I find the best and most stable populations of Draculas inside protected lands. I do find them on unprotected lands, but I cannot tell you how often I and other pleurothallid hunters have returned to unprotected sites to find the plants poached or the forests obliterated.
This unique region is under threat from a variety of human activities that are hard to stop without formal protection of the land. We are aware that agriculture is a common cause of deforestation, and every time I visit this area more forest is gone for both crop and animal production. But there are other big threats: The forests are used for lumber. Last time I was there I found the largest wild plant of Dracula andreettae I had ever seen, hanging under a trunk that was about to get sliced into planks. That’s not even where it ends – mountain forests like this are at high risk for illegal mining exploration. The best defense against this is to have the borders of the reserve under regular surveillance, which has been arranged for by the coalition building the Dracula reserve. Since I started visiting this area in 2005, there have been new roads built to make it faster and easier to connect Maldonado to the economic central corridor of Ecuador, and there are also efforts to increase road access from Maldonado to the Pacific coast. This construction is occurring solely to give greater human access to the area – and its resources. The pressures on biodiversity will only intensify as access improves.
The coalition building the Dracula reserve at Maldonado has succeeded in acquiring the first property, but more land needs to be purchased. The reserve has been started, but is not complete, and more funds and effort are needed to achieve the goal of protecting a full representation of the diversity in this habitat.
If you have stuck with me this far, thank you, and I hope you take away from my message that I feel this area is most deserving of attention from pleurothallid growers. I cannot think of any area I have visited in my 10+ years of traveling through Ecuador and Colombia that has this much unprotected pleurothallid diversity in one location, where it is also still within the realm of possibility for us to do something now to protect it. I can pinpoint microforests where rare individual species are clinging to existence, but the severity of the fragmentation at these sites may mean it is too late. It is not too late for Maldonado. -Gary Meyer
What you can do: Please send every penny you can spare to the OCA to expand the Dracula Reserve. Our goal is to reach $110,000 in donations by the end of the year. When that is doubled by the RainForest Trust EcoMinga will be able to purchase 275 acres to be preserved in perpetuity. If you have already donated this year, please consider repeating that donation. If you have not yet donated, please put it on your calendar to donate at least twice before the end of the year. Donations can be made through our web site or by sending a check made out to the OCA to the address below.
Margaret Mead said “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”