Andean Corridor

We are connecting habitats and communities to protect a biodiversity hotspot in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, as well as the forested watersheds that supply water to millions of people living downstream.

From our office in Cuenca, Nature and Culture International is working to protect Andes ecosystems in South America

Our office in Cuenca has been leading the initiative since 2013.

The Andes Mountains contain some of the greatest levels of biodiversity on Earth due to the extraordinary number of species found in its cloud forests and high altitude ecosystems. Many of these species are endemic – found nowhere else in the world – making this one of the world’s number one priorities for biodiversity conservation.

However, the Andes’ vital ecosystems are threatened by unsustainable practices that provide poor economic returns. One major threat is the destruction of forests for cattle grazing, after which the soil is depleted. Recently, these forests have become increasingly threatened by logging and today, just 5% to 25% of the original forest cover remains in most areas.

We are working with local governments and communities to create a contiguous corridor of protected areas extending 600 miles down and across the spine of the Andes. This is especially significant as it will connect two protected areas, Sangay National Park and Podocarpus National Park, both of which are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Ensuring habitat connectivity throughout the Andean Corridor

Our work to protect Andes ecosystems in South America includes ensuring survival of the spectacled bear

The spectacled bear, found in the Andes, in South America’s only bear species.

Between the Sangay and Podocarpus National Parks in the Andes of Central Ecuador remains an unprotected area that is considered one of Ecuador’s top conservation priorities. Its ecosystems provide important environmental services such as clean water, as well as connectivity along the Andes to ensure the survival of emblematic but threatened species such as the spectacled bear, mountain tapir, Andean condor and many more.

Safeguarding water supplies by protecting key ecosystems

Our primary conservation strategy in this region is to support municipalities in the creation of reserves that protect forested watersheds, which provide clean water to hundreds of thousands of people and conserve areas of high biodiversity. To date, we have played an integral role in the creation of 370,000 acres of reserves in the Andean Corridor, including:

Gualaquiza Municipal Reserve


217,360 acres | 17,000 people

Gualaceo Municipal Reserve


42,000 acres | 40,000 people

Azogues Municipal Reserve


36,642 acres | 33,000 people

Our work to protect Andes ecosystems in South America includes ensuring survival of Buckley’s Giant Glass Frog

Buckley’s Giant Glass Frog – previously believed to be extinct – was rediscovered last year.

We are also working with many of these municipalities to implement an innovative mechanism for financing conservation through a regional water fund called FONAPA. Through this program, municipalities implement a water fee paid by users, generating nearly $500,000 per year for conservation activities within the reserves. These include land acquisition, watershed management, reforestation and environmental education.

Opportunities for expansion

Our goal is to protect another 200,000 acres in the Andean corridor between Sangay and Podocarpus National Parks over the next year by expanding our work with municipalities to declare reserves. We are currently working with the municipalities of Santiago de Méndez, Sígsig, and Sevilla de Oro, and continuing to seek further conservation opportunities in the Andean corridor.