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The Andes Amazon Conservancy: Protecting the wildlife and cultures of the Amazon

By Robert Bradley

The Ecuadorian Amazon has the greatest concentration of wildlife diversity on earth and is the home of several indigenous communities who have lived sustainably in this ecosystem for thousands of years.

What many of us understand is that climate change, oil and mineral extraction, human development along roads and rivers, and deforestation for cattle grazing are rapidly destroying this ecological and cultural treasure.

What impacts the Amazon impacts the well-being of the rest of the world.

What many of us don’t know is that critical conservation projects exist at the headwaters of the Amazon basin in the Ecuadorian Andes-Amazon region. Much of this region is still biologically intact, sustaining very high biodiversity and the indigenous cultures who reside there are still committed to the preservation of their lands and their cultures.

At the Andes Amazon Conservancy, we are working with indigenous cultures to establish critical bio-corridors, to protect their lands, and to offer viable alternatives to destructive development that all too frequently lure those needing income into cattle raising or supporting the oil and mineral extraction industries.

We intend to help preserve Andes-Amazon landscapes by building the health and economic well-being of the rural and forest peoples who have traditionally cared for them while simultaneously shifting Ecuador’s economic vision from extraction to eco-tourism. Enhanced eco-tourism networks that function as roadless economies in Ecuador is a viable and strategic means of positive and productive economic development.

The Rio Shiwiar

Successful conservation initiatives require land protection, buy-in of the local people, and governmental support. To meet these requirements, the Andes Amazon Conservancy has created the following projects:

  • Identification and advocacy for the protection of key bio-corridors linking the Amazon with the Andes that provide migration routes for entire natural communities including mammals , insects and seeds.
  • Supporting plans for how indigenous groups can make the most effective and sustainable use of their land, beginning with the Ecuadorian Shiwiar people.
  • Planning and building an ecological hut-to-hut network in these critical landscapes, gifting the huts to local villages, identifying key natural and cultural resources, and training the local support staff to deliver excellent tourist experiences – all to help support income alternatives to the extractive industry, for rural and forest peoples.

The Shiwiar Project:
Innovative Collaboration in 500,000 acres of Roadless Amazon Rainforest

Leaders of the Shiwiar people in the Ecuadorian Amazon have begun collaborating with the Andes Amazon Conservancy as they develop conservation plans for their territory.

The Shiwiar want a secure and sustainable future for themselves and their territory of ancient rainforest that sits near the border of Peru. They are fighting the growing threat of oil exploration and extraction, which despoils watersheds and destroys the biodiversity that is essential to their livelihoods. They are inseparable from their highly diverse environment and know best how to preserve their lands and culture.

The people of Amazon communities live much the same way they have for centuries.

In western cultures, land planning is taken for granted and allows communities and nations to respond to threats and seize opportunities through political and legal action. Across South America, however, many areas are threatened by oil exploration or mining but most indigenous people have no maps showing their land use goals. Such maps would show the value of land conservation over the extraction of natural resources, and support political and legal arguments to preserve their territory.

In this groundbreaking project, a conservation plan for critical parts of the Shiwiar territory is being created. The will and ancient wisdom of the Shiwiar people will be documented using satellite and GPS data to protect:

  • Permaculture reserves where sustainable harvests of foods, medicines and fibers will support future generations. Permaculture in the Amazon incorporates ancestral knowledge of lands and culture with innovative agricultural techniques.
  • Pristine watersheds that provide the clean water that’s essential to the health of their communities and wildlife.
  • Wildlife migration corridors that are required to maintain the diversity of the area which includes three-toed sloths, black-mantled tamarin, nine-banded armadillo, capybara, agouti, coati, tapir, and jaguar.

According to Adam Gebb, migration/landscape connectivity specialist and ethno-ecologist who is overseeing the Shiwiar Project, during February, members of the Andes Amazon Conservancy will travel along the Conambo River in the Shiwiar territory, near the border with Peru, to identify areas for Wildlife River Crossing Migration Sanctuaries.

“For millions of years, most animal, insect and seed migration has occurred up and down river valleys. But currently, longs swaths of development including towns and agricultural fields along many rivers block almost all migration from the Amazon towards the Andes. So migration along rivers usually leads to a wall of development.Therefore migration now needs to be facilitated in another direction, across the valleys rather than alongside rivers,” said Gebb.

The Shiwiar Project is a pilot program that seeks to create Wildlife River Crossing Migration Sanctuaries that will maintain cross-valley migration. Succeeding with these migration sanctuaries could have highly significant implications for conservation in many parts of the Amazon. This represents the hope and commitment of the Andes Amazon Conservancy.

Said Gebb, “This project for planning Wildlife River Crossing Migration Sanctuaries will help the Shiwiar people to maintain bio-diversity by avoiding localized extinction that happens when development creates isolated pockets of habitat.

The Andes Amazon Conservancy believes strongly that without effective land use planning for indigenous territories the extraction industries will seize opportunities for corporate profit with environmental destruction becoming, in their minds, merely collateral damage.

For more information, please visit the Andes Amazon Conservancy website at www.aaconserve.org
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Robert Bradley is a member of the Andes Amazon Conservancy.