Caroline Smith is a trainer at SeaWorld San Diego who works with the Animal Ambassador Team and a wide variety of different species. This experience was one reason Caroline was selected to spend some time in Ecuador as a conservation ambassador at an organization called Fundacion Ecologica Rescate Jambeli. Fundacion Jambeli is an animal rescue center that works with the government of Ecuador to rescue, rehabilitate and release native animals confiscated or surrendered from the pet trade. These animals range from primates to reptiles to spectacled bears. The animals that cannot be released spend their lives being taken care of at the facility located in the rainforest outside of Guayaquil, Ecuador. SEA has been involved with Fundacion Jambeli since 1998 when collaboration started on the Guayaquil Macaw Conservation Project.
Today was my first full day in Ecuador! The main focus of my trip will be the breeding project of the Guayaquil Macaw at Foundation Jambeli which is a rescue and breeding center in Ecuador. Rafaela Orrantia, who is the director of Foundation Jambeli, will provide me with an overall view of different conservation issues effecting Ecuador.
Rafaela and I first traveled over to Santa Elena to visit a place called La Chocolatera. La Chocolatera is a beautiful reserve composed of hundreds of miles of protected beaches. Upon arrival, we were shown around by park rangers from the Ministry of the Environment. I learned all about the native wildlife that they were focused on protecting such as sea turtles and a local colony of sea lions. La Chocolatera is such a beautiful reserve; it receives many visitors every year, which the ministry takes advantage of as an educational opportunity. While visitors are at the reserve they have the chance to speak to park rangers about the history and goals of the reserve.
After visiting this beautiful reserve Rafaela and I traveled up the coast on a small road trip toward Puerto Lopez. The goal of this trip was for me to see the different types of forests and how little was left of them. The first leg of the trip was composed of dry tropical forest which is the natural type of habitat that the Guayaquil macaw prefers. Over an hour later the surrounding forests began to change into humid tropical forest which was much greener and you could actually feel the difference in humidity when rolling down the window! Rafaela, who is extremely knowledgeable in Ecuador’s flora and fauna was able to easily point out all the areas of forest that no longer existed! What an eye opener; such little natural forest was left!
I think Rafaela has a few more insightful conservation activities lined up for me, but I also can’t wait to meet some of the surrendered birds which people originally bought as pets that are being rehabilitated at the rescue center.
Ecuador’s Only Aquarium
Our first stop today was at Acuario Valdivia, which is Ecuador’s only aquarium! The aquarium staff was extremely delighted to show us around the facility and answered all of our questions. Acuario Valdivia is an extremely special aquarium; this aquarium is not funded like many aquariums around the world (in fact it was not until this year that two staff members received wages). With very little resources to work with, the accomplishments of the staff speak volumes about their concern and passion for their surrounding environment. Luis Reyes, the director of the aquarium and Javier Suarez, a marine biologist and just a few other staff members have helped rescue and return many sea turtles back into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The aquarium also has several other rescued residences such as two Humboldt penguins, a juvenile sea lion, and several birds such as the pelican, blue footed-booby, and an albatross.
After touring this facility Rafaela and I sat down with the staff to speak about ways they can improve the aquarium and the rescue and rehabilitation success rates. We spoke about ways to open lines of communication between Acuario Valdivia and SeaWorld to increase their knowledge on the species that they are rescuing. Acuario Valdivia is also working on ways to increase education locally in hopes of creating more of a desire to help protect and care for local wildlife.
Early this morning, Rafaela and I set out for the coast to check out a local community’s sustainable tradition of weaving the Panama hat! This may sound like a simple process but there are many intricate steps involved and it can take a person many years to learn the art of fine weaving. This tradition has been around for over 1,000 years in Ecuador! We met up with a gentleman named Edgar who would be our tour guide for the day.
As we jumped out of the car we noticed that all the houses in the neighborhood were surrounded by several rows of palms of toquilla which were hung up on rope. We were quickly invited inside by a family to take a tour and see the entire process. Traditionally, the toquilla palm is collected in the mountains by the men; far away from where the palms will be prepared. After receiving the toquilla palms, the women will then cut the ends off using a machete and split the palm into finer strands which make it much easier for weaving. Next, the women placed the palms in a large almost caldron looking pot to cooking for a while. Once thoroughly cooked the palms are then hung up on rope to dry. After watching this process, a sweet woman took us into her backyard to show us a tall and narrow hut used for smoking the already cooked palms. This process refines the palms and can be repeated for more expensive and finer hats. The hats are then woven by hand, depending on the quality of the hat it can take anywhere from a few days to ten months to weave a hat. It was so exciting to see entire neighborhoods involved in a traditional practice that is sustainable.