Dr Mika Peck, a Conservation Biologist from the University of Sussex, calls this place ‘a hotspot within a hotspot’ for biodiversity.
“There are 300 species of tree per hectare, so almost every other tree is a different species. Compare that to the UK which has a total of around 30 species!”
Having first come to Ecuador in 1995 with a Royal Geographical Society expedition, Dr Peck knew that the forests on the Western slopes of the Andes were incredibly diverse. The magic of what he had seen in Ecuador on that first expedition never left him, so 10 years later, he decided to return.
Looking for a research focus, he contacted Diego Tirira, Ecuador’s leading expert on mammals, who told him that there was a population of Brown-headed spider monkeys (Ateles fusciceps fusciceps) in the region, but their numbers were in steep decline. Research needed to be done to understand more about the species before it was too late. Together they applied for and were awarded a DEFRA Darwin Initiative grant for £250k for a 3-year project focused on primate conservation, and in particular, on the Brown-headed spider monkey. This project, known as PrimeNet, consisted of mapping primate populations around Cotocachi-Cayapas, an area to the east of Tesoro Escondido.
Their research eventually brought them to Tesoro Escondido, where much of the small population of monkeys seemed to be concentrated.