Finches 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.
Alpacas 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.
Before 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.
Monkeys are similarly abundant on either side of Ecuador’s central Andes mountain range. Following on from last week’s blog on inhabitants of the Amazon jungle, we’ll now look at four species of the Pacific coastal regions. The following text is adapted from the Ministry of Tourism’s official observation guide, Primates of Ecuador.
Brown-headed Spider monkeys [Ateles fusciceps] – Also known as bracilargo (long arms) or chuba (Afro-Ecuadorian), these measure from 31-63cm (without tail). It lives in primary or old secondary forests, where it prefers tall, thick trees with wide treetops and overlapping branches. These features provide it with good visibility of the forest and rapid traveling. You might also find it on the ground eating clays in salt licks, which are natural mineral deposits that exist in nutrient-poor ecosystems. It can travel up to 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) per day; its body is well designed for this. It has a complex social organization that consists in groups that stick together or separate depending on food availability. Larger groups travel in times of abundant fruit.
Monkeys are equally prevalent on either side of Ecuador’s central Andes mountain range, and in next week’s blog we’ll look at species resident in the Pacific coastal region. Below, five inhabitants of the Amazon region are summarised. The following text is adapted from the Ministry of Tourism’s official observation guide, Primates of Ecuador.
Squirrel monkeys [Saimiri sciureus] – Also known as mono payaso (clown monkey) or mono soldado (soldier monkey), these measure from 25-32cm (without tail). It lives in primary and degraded forests, near water bodies. It moves a few feet above the ground where vegetation is dense, branches are thin and lianas (vines) abound. It may descend to the ground to look for invertebrates which represent a large proportion of its diet. It is very active, spending most of the day moving around.