Author Archives: happygringo

Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Finches

galapagos-finches-ecuadorFinches were one of the many birds Darwin studied in the Galápagos Islands before publishing his monumental work on natural selection. Today, the mangrove finch is on the verge of extinction in the Galápagos. There are around 100 left, with just 20 breeding pairs. To keep the finches from disappearing altogether, the Charles Darwin Research Station and San Diego Zoo have engaged in a captive breeding program.

Recently, a third group of fledging mangrove finches were released on Isabela island. All birds are fitted with miniature tracking devices. Some returned to the aviary, but several finches released in past years have been seen in the wild. This showed finches raised in captivity are able to survive long-term.

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Medicinal plants of Ecuador

medicinal-herbs-plantsIt’s estimated seven out of ten Ecuadorians use medicinal plants. Ethnobiologist Omar Vacas has spent 15 years researching local flora used for centuries to cure diseases. He published an article about traditional medicine used by the Kichwa people in the Napo jungle province. He says the Kichwas are often unaware that this info can be useful in developing pharmaceutical drugs. For example, balsa can reduce labor pains. There are 23 conditions including toothache and rheumatism that can be cured by plants used by the Kichwas. These include uña de gato (cat’s claw), ortiga brava, achiote de venda, palo de tortuga, sábila (aloe), ruda, dulcamara, sangre de drago (dragon’s blood), chancapiedra, chaya, valeriana, boldo, condurango and zarzaparrilla.

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Alpacas of Ecuador’s Andes

camelids-llamas-alpacasAlpacas roam the slopes of the Cotacachi Volcano. They belong to the indigenous community of Morochos. José Flores, vice-president of the community, says the alpacas are the best friends of the highland moors (páramos). He explains the animals don’t affect the topsoil because their legs have pads and their teeth cut the grass like scissors. That’s why the community decided to introduce Peruvian alpacas (currently 57) to replace cattle whose hooves eroded the surface of the moor. The area near the top of the volcano is considered an important buffer zone to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

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Condors of Ecuador’s Andes

ecuador-andes-condorsBefore the arrival of the Spaniards, settled cultures in what is now known as Ecuador were guided by deities. The Incas believed condors were the messengers of the gods. Sociologist Dimitri Peñasco says the condor is believed to lead the dead into an upper realm, called Hanan Pacha. This realm included the sky, sun, moon, stars, planets and constellations. The condor is also said to be able to morph into human form. This has been the inspiration for many legends.

It is Ecuador’s national bird, depicted on the flag and coat of arms as a symbol of bravery and power. Andean condors are one of the largest birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet. Females lay their eggs in steep, rocky areas to protect them from predators. They can mainly be found in five areas of the country: Antisana Eco Reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Eco Reserve, Zuleta in Imbabura province, the Nabón region in Azuay province and Cajas National Park.

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