Ecuadorian Reserve Expanded to Protect Last Population of Bird Species

(Washington, D.C., February 11, 2015) Fundación Jocotoco, an Ecuadorian conservation organization, has collaborated with American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Rainforest Trust to purchase 104 acres of land that, although representing a small area, will help ensure a future for one of the world's most endangered bird species.

The purchase will expand Jocotoco's Yunguilla Reserve in southern Ecuador's Azuay Province, which was established in 1998 to protect critical habitat for the endangered Pale-headed Brush-finch. This bird numbers between 200 and 250 individuals and is found only in south-central Ecuador in arid areas between 5,250 and 6,890 feet in altitude.

After a 30-year disappearance, the species was rediscovered in 1998 in Ecuador's Yunguilla Valley. At that time, the brush-finch's total population was estimated at 30 individuals. To prevent its extinction, Jocotoco and ABC took immediate action to create the Yunguilla Reserve.

The Yunguilla Valley is intensely cultivated wherever water is available, and much of the existing vegetation has been removed by grazing animals. Most of the brush-finch's remaining habitat, which is approximately half a square mile in size, is protected within the reserve.

“We are humbled by the tremendous opportunity to protect the only known site in the country, and in fact, the globe, for this rare species. We are proud of our success to date and will maintain our vigilance to safeguard this species' future in Ecuador,” said Rocio Merino, Executive Director of Fundación Jocotoco.

Because of intense conservation and management efforts, the reserve has successfully helped the Pale-headed Brush-finch rebound. Its population has increased significantly, and it is one of the few species in the world that has recovered from being critically endangered.

Although the Yunguilla Reserve has been expanded several times since its creation, its size—380 acres before the recent purchase—offered limited carrying capacity for the Pale-headed Brush-finch.

Being restricted to a single site has left the Pale-headed Brush-finch vulnerable to external threats. Three large fires, spreading from neighboring agricultural land, have negatively impacted the survival and the reproduction rates of the species.

The recent purchase will create a new satellite protected area two miles from the present Yunguilla Reserve. Because the two areas are separated by a mountain ridge, the risks of fire affecting both sites at the same time will be greatly reduced. The sites are also connected by a water channel which will encourage the dispersal of brush-finches between them.

“Jocotoco's effort to save the Pale-headed Brush-finch is a wonderful example of how successful wildlife conservation can be achieved with expert knowledge and dedication,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager for Rainforest Trust. “Rainforest Trust is excited to continue supporting this invaluable project as it continues to expand and develop.”

“ABC is particularly invested in this species, having financed the expedition that rediscovered the bird in addition to providing early support to build the reserve,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of ABC. “This species is of global significance given that the entire remaining population persists in one location. This project demonstrates that protection of small populations restricted to single remaining sites can be an effective way to halt species extinction. With the addition of this new habitat, we expect the continued improvement of this species' conservation status and prospects for its long-term survival,” he added.

The Yunguilla Valley is one of many threatened habitats in the coastal dry forests of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru. The region is of high biological importance, containing at least 84 endemic species of birds, 19 of which are threatened with extinction.

American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.
The Jocotoco Foundation is an Ecuadorian non-government organization established in 1998 to protect land of critical importance to the conservation of Ecuador's endangered birds and associated biodiversity. The Foundation primarily achieves this by purchasing lands and managing them as ecological reserves. To date, the Jocotoco Foundation has established ten reserves protecting about 12,000 ha (approx 30,000 acres).
Rainforest Trust is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving rainforest and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and indigenous communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has saved nearly 8 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 85 projects across 22 countries.