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The Ecuadorian Amazon contains very few sites that have not yet been fully discovered. One of them is the Kutukú Cordillera (mountain range) in Southeast Ecuador close to the Peruvian border.
Ecuador is the most densely populated country in South America. It has a population of 14.5 million inhabits an area of 275,000 km², which is a quarter of the size of Bolivia - a country with far fewer inhabitants. 13% of the Ecuadorian population is indigenous peoples. Around 20% of Ecuador's land area is under some form of protection status under the State Natural Areas Heritage (Patrimonio de Áreas Naturales del Estado). Ecuador also has a natural areas category known as "Protection Forests" which consist of public, private or community-owned areas specifically created to protect river basins.
The largest of these forests is theKutukú-Shaimi Protection Forest (Bosque Protector Kutukú-Shaimi - BPKS) which occupies most of the Kutukú Cordillera. The latter is a typical Amazonian mountain range separated from the Andes Cordillera by a valley containing the Upano River and the city of Macas, capital of Morona Santiago province.
The Kutukú-Shaimi Protection Forest covers a total of 311,500 ha and still contains large areas of different types of difficult-to-access tropical rainforest. Its very remoteness is the reason why the area still enjoys an excellent state of conservation. Only by flying over the area can one get a good view of its stunning escarpments, crevasses and waterfalls.
Although the area is well preserved, it is hardly known at all from the biological point of view. It has been estimated however that at least 480 species of birds, 51 species of mammals, 81 species of amphibians and 41 species of reptiles exist in the area.
But perhaps what makes this area unique is the presence of the Shuar indigenous people, an ancient warrior tribe which has lived in the area for hundreds of years and which neither the Inca empire nor the Spanish colonisers were able to subdue. In 1490 the Shuars repelled the Incas and in 1599 got rid of the Spanish interlopers from their territory for ever. The Shuars were known by the Spaniards as jíbaros or savages because they beheaded their enemies and then proceeded to shrink their heads, employing a gruesome ritual known as "Tzantza".
Around 5493 Shuar families currently live in the Kutukú-Shaimi Protection Forest and its area of influence together with around 1000 settler families, making a total of some 18,000 individuals living in the forest. The Ecuadorian Government has made various Shuar indigenous organisations responsible for the administration of the BPKS. These organisations have requested technical help towards the conservation and sustainable management of the area.
Another important feature of the BPKS is that it could be the continuation of a massive ecological corridor between the eastern slopes of the Andes and the Amazonian Cordilleras of Ecuador and Peru. For years it has been the idea of linking the Llanganates-Sangay corridor (where WWF has worked for several years) with an area that could include Sangay National Park, the Kutukú area and the Cordillera del Cóndor, and even to extend it to the south as far as the Abiseo River in Peru.
The Kutukú-Shaimi Protection Forest presents a veritable mosaic of reasons for a major intervention in view of its rich biodiversity, its potentially high number of endemic species, and ts regional importance as part of various ecological corridors. But probably the most important feature is the presence of an indigenous people that is keen to conserve an area which they themselves have always regarded as a sacred ground for hunting and gathering. Thus, conservation of this area must be a priority.
Tarsicio Granizo
Protected Areas and Indigenous Territories Strategy, coordinator
WWF Living Amazon Initiative