Although I eventually did work in
these ecosystems, my first assignment totally did away with
all my pre-conceived notions. Instead of remote, untouched forests,
I was sent to a small, remnant patch of dry tropical forest
in coastal Ecuador. I refer to the Bosque
Protector Cerro Blanco (Cerro Blanco Protected Forest),
a 2000 hectare (at the time) government declared protected forest
on the outskirts of the city Guayaquil.
After researching and writing an interim management plan for
Cerro Blanco, I was given the opportunity to return in 1993
to work as the Director of the newly created "Fundacion Pro-Bosque"
(Pro-Forest Foundation) which administers Cerro Blanco and given
the task of implementing the recommendations I had made two
ABOUT CERRO BLANCO
Cerro Blanco consists of a series of Ecuadorian Dry Forest cloaked
hills between 50 and 500 meters above sea level, interspersed
by a series of ravines with permanent springs of water that serve
as a magnet for wildlife during the dry season from June-July
to December - January. Cerro Blanco forms part of the Cordillera
Chongon-Colonche, which extends from the protected forest on the
outskirts of Guayaquil, to Machalilla National Park, to the north.
Although the Cordillera Chongon-Colonche was identified by
Alan Putney an internationally known park planner in a 1976
report on creating a national protected area system (outside
of Galapagos) as a potential National Ecological Reserve, no
action was taken and today, the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest
protects a small but important part the Tropical Andes Biodiversity
Hotspot, identified by Conservation International as the number
one area on the planet in terms of overall number of plant and
The dry forests of Cerro Blanco are dominated by the ceibo
and pigio trees, members of the bombacaceae family which when
I first saw them, reminded me in form of the baobab trees of
Africa, with the difference being that the ceibo or kapok trees
have bright green, smooth trunks. This is in fact an adaptation
to the dry conditions that prevail in the area. The trees drops
leaves during the 5 to 6 months dry season, but continue to
carry out photosynthesis through chlorophyll in the bark.
Besides the ceibo, Cerro Blanco supports more than 500 vascular
plant species and according to a internationally known botanist
Dr. David Neil is one of the last strongholds in Ecuador for
close to 100 endemic plant species.
Incredibly, so close to Guayaquil Ecuador's largest city with
close to 2 million inhabitants, Cerro Blanco, according to the
Rapid Areas Assessment Program of Conservation International,
supports healthy populations of jaguar, ocelot, mantled howler
monkey, kinkajou, agouti, collared peccary and crab-eating raccoon,
among other species.
Of its 211 registered bird species, Cerro Blanco protects
nine globally threatened species, one of only four Ecuadorian
protected areas with seven or more threatened bird species.
A special focus has been placed on the unique guayaquilensis
subspecies of the great green macaw known locally as the "Papagayo
de Guayaquil" one of the largest and lesser known macaw species,
listed as critically endangered in Ecuador. Cerro Blanco harbors
a growing population of 12 birds and the macaw has been used
very successfully by the Pro-Forest Foundation as a conservation
symbol. Besides the great green macaw, Cerro Blanco protects
22 endemic bird species and 30 restricted range species and
was declared Ecuador's second Important Bird Area in 1998 by
Birdlife International (Mindo is the first).
To protect the rich biodiversity of a protected area which lies
so close to a rapidly expanding city, Cerro Blanco's administration
with the support of La Cemento Nacional, an Ecuadorian cement
company which owns more than half the reserve (3.000 ha), has
created an integrated park management program that includes close
collaboration with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment's "guardia
forestal", periodic patrols with national police and military
to thwart would-be animal poachers. There exists a high demand
for deer, peccary and agouti meat, sold in local markets as well
as the capture of macaw and parrot chicks for the pet trade. Tree
cutting (especially valuable hardwoods), forest fires and land
invasions the later, a socio-political phenomena actively promoted
by a mafia of land traffickers and politicians especially during
elections, to win votes among poor people looking for cheap housing,
also pose major threats. As the protected forest is a mosaic of
vegetation from abandoned pastures to near-primary forest, The
Pro-Forest Foundation has worked for close to ten years in an
ambitious dry forest restoration project in Cerro Blanco, utilizing
the resources of its native tree nursery to plant and maintain
over 100.000 trees of close to 40 native species, with an overall
69% survival rate.
Other programs include investigations, with both Ecuadorian
and international students carrying out valuable research on
the great green macaws, bat species' inventories among others.
The Foundation also works in community development, focusing
on the nearby community of Puerto Hondo, where local youth with
the guidance and training of Pro-Forest Foundation staff, lead
tourists on guided canoe trips through a rich mangrove estuary.
Through these programs and the establishment of a community
park warden program, the Pro-Forest Foundation staff is converting
local people into allies after at times strained relations.
HOW TO VISIT, WHAT TO DO
Cerro Blanco-Puerto Hondo are probably the most accessible protected
areas in Ecuador (the mangroves adjacent to Puerto Hondo have
also been declared a Protected Forest) Both sites are located
directly off the coastal highway from Guayaquil to Salinas, at
kilometer 16 and 17 respectively. The entrance to Cerro Blanco
is well signed and the access to the mangroves is via Puerto Hondo,
a small community less than a kilometer further down the highway
from Cerro Blanco (look for food kiosks in the entrance):
Cerro Blanco and Puerto Hondo offer guided tours with bi-lingual
birding or general guides and visitors wishing to visit or use
the guide service should contact us. Cerro Blanco has an extensive
eco-tourist infraestructure which includes two self-guided nature
trails, three guided trail walks, a camping and picnic area
with running water, flush toilets, picnic table, tent pads and
cooking grills, as well as wildlife rescue center and educational
exhibit hall on the dry tropical forest ecosystem, the later
located in our native tree nursery.
With the support of two Canadian universities and Rotary Clubs,
we will be inaugurating and opening to the public the following
new attractions in 2002 - 2003.
- Hummingbird/butterfly garden
- Tourist cabins
- Great Green Macaw Aviary and Conservation Center