Two communities in Ecuador and Peru
safeguard vulnerable wildlife refuges

Two communities on opposite sides of the Ecuador-Peru border are waging their own private battles to protect their biodiverse ecosystems. The communities are only 25 miles apart yet they are unaware of their shared ideas about conservation, of efforts to create local protected areas, of careful attention to their ancestors’ traditional practices to conserve nature. They walk together, each a mirror image of the other, to save what might otherwise be lost – their forests, their pristine water and their rich biodiversity.

This is a story of the resilience of farming communities searching for sustainable alternatives in the face of scarce resources and no government support.

An invasion is looming on the border between Ecuador and Peru, an area that has witnessed four violent clashes over huge tracts of land. But this struggle, which has been going on for more than 50 years, has nothing to do with weapons, armored vehicles or uniformed troops. Rather, it involves human beings and their destructive footprint in verdant forests and crystalline rivers that are now at risk.

Threats to wildlife are unmistakable in the border region that extends for a little over 932 miles. Hundreds of species of flora and fauna — such as the puma and the spectacled bear — cohabit there, many of them endangered due to the loss of vegetation and pollution of water caused by deforestation, mining, hunting and other human activities.

In Ecuador, the lust for timber, oil and gold has depleted forest cover. From 2014 to 2022, the South American country lost almost 330,000 acres of native forest, according to Ecuador's Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE), the equivalent of 186,000 soccer fields.

The destruction of native vegetation is more prevalent in the eastern Amazonian provinces, where oil wells and legal and illegal mining are also increasing, an environmental crisis shared by Ecuador and Peru.

A study by the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG) on forest loss between 2001-2020 shows the increase in deforestation in both countries: 1.5 million acres in Ecuador and 7.1 million acres in Peru.

Extractive activities have unleashed environmental and social problems. When oil companies enter the area, roads are opened and then used for other purposes as well. Over time, secondary roads are built for logging and land invasion by settlers. Viewed from the air by monitoring flights or drones, these main roads and secondary offshoots resemble the outline of the skeleton of a fish.

The rush for easy money has proved hard to resist for the inhabitants of rural towns. As mining activities have taken hold so, too, have black markets and shady businesses.

Although the authorities and institutions of both countries have implemented some protection measures and have a network of conservation areas, it has not been enough. And it has indirectly transferred conservation responsibilities to people who do not have the necessary training or resources.

But in several areas of Ecuador and Peru, there are communities that follow their ancestors' traditional practices to conserve nature. There are also populations that have rethought their presence in the territory.

That is the case of the Ecuadorian town of San Andres and the Peruvian community of Huancabamba. These towns are in different countries and their residents are unaware of their shared ideas about conservation. They are only 25 miles apart and they walk together — without knowing it — on the path of conservation, overcoming the difficulties that it represents.

In San Andres, farmers and local governments in the province of Zamora Chinchipe joined forces to seek help from nongovernmental organizations to create formal protection areas. At the same time, dozens of villagers fenced off their land to conserve the micro forests that are still standing.

In Peru, rural communities participated in the creation of private conservation areas, spaces recognized by the government for the administration and care of the environment. The community of Segunda y Cajas, in Huancabamba, organized to confront the mining activity in the territory that has cost many lives.

These are populations that, without knowing it, are looking at each other through a mirror of conservation and resilience. And today more than ever, they need to stand together in their struggle.



  • mono

    Red howler monkey

    Alouatta seniculus

  • Red howler monkey

    Spectacled bear

    Tremarctos ornatus

  • Tapir


    Tapirus pinchaque

  • Deer



  • Cock-of-the-rock


    Rupicola peruvianus

  • Puma


    Puma concolor

  • Ocelots


    Leopardus tigrinus

  • Peccaries


    Pecari tajacu

Published: 08-april-2024