In a previous article I described Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve in Ecuador. It showed you just some of the remarkable, diverse and unique nature here. It is part of the Chocó rainforest that runs North from Ecuador through Columbia and into Panama.
In this article, part 2 you could say, I want to tell you of the remarkable story of how the Mashpi Reserve came to be saved from the loggers. 95% of the Chocó in Ecuador has been destroyed but the story of Mashpi’s rescue from the loggers is an up lifting conservation story and gives one hope for the future of such special places around the world.
The story begins with a logging company buying Mashpi to log it out. They drove in the road and cleared a small area for the sawmill. Working for the logging company was a local engineer called Fernando Timpe. Fernando fixed the machinery for the company and generally kept everything running. Fernando, however, had become disillusioned with the destruction of the Chocó forest in Ecuador. He recognised how special the Mashpi forest was and, for him, it was the final straw – he quit his job and started to try and save the place from the loggers. Fernando didn’t have the cash to do it by himself, however, he did know one of Ecuador´s leading Orchid experts and former Director of the Botanical Gardens in Quito (Ecuador’s capital city), Juan del Hierro. The retired Director came out to visit Mashpi and at once recognised what a special section of the Chocó it was. In particular, being an orchid expert, he saw the amazing diversity of the orchids in the area and surmised that the rest of the flora and fauna was probably as diverse.
As with Fernando, Juan himself did not have the personal resources to do much about it but, crucially, he knew a man who did – a certain Roque Sevilla. Roque is an important Ecuadorian businessman and had, at one point, also been Mayor of Quito.
The important thing for this story is that Roque is, as his Pilar wife says, “a frustrated naturalist” and an orchid nut. Fernando, the retired Director of the botanical gardens and Roque went out to see Mashpi together. By this time the logging company had gone bust so the land was in the hand of the receivers. One visit was enough. Roque and some friends brought Mashpi – 1,200 hectares of primary Chocó rainforest.
Roque and his friends then set about saving more of the rainforest. They sent in an ecologist who spent years living in a tent in the forest to record as much as he could about the diversity of the forest. With this evidence and Roque’s influence Quito City 17,000 hectares around Mashpi has been designated a special area of Sustainable Development. This means that the people living the area can stay where they live but the remaining forest is protected. The Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve is at the centre of this huge area and provides the core of untouched primary reserve.
All this was done with the saving of the forest and its wildlife in mind. But once saved from the loggers things have developed. Community and education programmes have been introduced to those living around the reserve but to really save the forest you need to make it worth something standing rather than logged. So then came the dream of building a lodge from which guests could set out to explore the magic of the reserve. This would create employment for the locals that directly linked protecting the forest to employment for locals. It has been a long project. It took four years to build the lodge, as everything needed had to come in down the small logging track. Very little machinery could be used, as that would have meant taking out trees. All the glass panels where manhandled into position to avoid the need for cranes etc.
The result is amazing. Like a beautiful modernist spaceship that has quietly settled into a clearing in the forest Mashpi Lodge lies right at the heart of the reserve right on the site of the former saw mill.
I had the privilege of having dinner with Roque and Pilar in Quito. Whilst he is obviously a very successful businessman it was when we discussed wildlife and the rainforest than his eyes lit up. Although Mashpi Lodge is no doubt a business venture – and good luck to them – I have no doubt that it is first and foremost a conservation project.
Whilst Roque, Pilar and the dedicated team they put together that saved this corner of paradise, there is no doubt in my mind that it is Fernando Timpe that is the hero of the piece. For who amongst us would have the bravery to quit our jobs and give up our family’s livelihood to save a forest and its remarkable wildlife?
Fernando I salute you.
Fernando now works in the reserve – I saw him drive up the lodge road in a pick up truck – but he was too busy saving the forest to stop and chat. A pity, I would have liked to shake his hand and thank him!!