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Mindo: Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

June 27, 2022

When Ecuadorians talk about their country a real sense of pride shines through. Ecuador has a bit of everything. The Andes slices down through the center of the country resulting in a pleasing symmetry with either side surrounded by lush, wet rainforests. Ecuadorians have certainly earned their boasting rights. For a relatively small nation it packs a punch.

Just on the bus from Quito to Mindo one witnesses how quickly the landscape here changes. Quito resides on the western slopes of the Andes and in the two hour bus ride to Mindo the world outside the window transforms. The drive begins at an impressive elevation of 9,350 feet, and then the bus descends in elevation. The surrounding scenery quickly changes to something new. Shrubs and temperate plants of the higher elevation fade and soon the hills are covered with shades of green. Trees begin to drip with moss and mountainsides are carpeted with a thick layer of plants. A mountainous temperate zone transforms into the cloud forest, and deep in the heart of this region we find Mindo comfortably nestled.

A view of Mindo surrounded by cloud forest

But Mindo has undergone some major changes in the past few decades. If you choose a spot in Mindo and look out to what is now thick forest, there is a good chance that 50 years ago you would have been looking at farmland. Where today we see tall trees and dense canopies was once grassland and cattle. Mindo is now a renowned ecotourism destination with only a few patches of grazing space to be found relative to massive tracts of forest. 

So how did the cloud forest return to this area? Mindo is a real success story of reforestation.

The South American rainforests are home to some incredibly valuable hardwood trees: mahogany, tropical oaks, and Spanish Cedars to name a few. These woods are desired worldwide for product manufacturing. Furniture, desks, and flooring in homes everywhere come from these trees. Hardwood’s value lies in its strength and strong wood takes years to grow. Loggers came through the area, virtually wiping out the hardwoods, many of which are of vital importance to the ecosystem as sources of food and shelter. 

In the wake of the loggers came ranchers who saw the potential of the area to support cattle for meat and dairy production. The ranchers used a technique commonly referred to as slash-and-burn agriculture. This means that in order to make space for their herds of cattle, they cut down what remained of the forests, made massive piles of this vegetation, and set it on fire. Once vast tracts of virgin rainforest are quickly reduced to piles of ash and smoke. 

Around 50 years ago a handful of locals were convinced that a better future for Mindo would be based around ecotourism. These young men left Mindo to travel and in their travels learned about environmentalism and the idea of ecotourism. They returned to their home with a seed to plant. Through their efforts, these men convinced their friends and neighbors to reforest the land that had been clear cut for cattle. They assured them that the economy would change in due course and people could make livings as well or better than before. At first they were met with disbelief and trepidation, but as the money started to come in from visitors the movement picked up steam. Since then, large sections of secondary forest have regrown making Mindo the ecotourism Mecca that we know it as today. The cloud forest in and around Mindo is a young and healthy entity.

Mindo is a testament to the success of these reforestation efforts. Reforestation requires hard work and patience, especially when contrasted with the speed that deforestation can occur. But with the return of the cloud forest return many natural gems, like the highly endangered White-fronted Capuchin Monkey, the jewel-colored Golden-headed Quetzal, and the elusive jungle cats like ocelots, jaguarundis, and pumas.

Despite the overall success of reforestation in the area, certain species have continued to remain absent, like many of the slow-growing hardwoods that were first targeted in the logging days. One of these species is the Aguacatillo tree. This tree’s name is Spanish for “little avocado,” and as its name suggests it is a close relative of the avocados we all know and love to put on toast. Their fruits are a favorite of many of the bird and mammal species of the cloud forest. Andean Bears, a species listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, are one of the animals that most heavily rely on the Aguacatillo as a food source. Here at Reserva las Tangaras we have been busy trying to reintroduce this important plant species to the area. We managed to acquire 50 seedlings from a native plant nursery in the area and have planted them around our property. We hope that with proper care and a little luck these seedlings will grow and provide food for the bears and other animals for decades to come.

A lovely guest helping plant Aguacatillo seedlings at Reserva las Tangaras

If we wish to see successes like Mindo’s repeated in other vulnerable habitats around the world, we should strive to support ecotourism globally. The foreign money brought in by tourism provides the means and incentive for locals to be able to invest in the preservation of their natural resources. In the absence of tourism the only options left for people to make a living tend to be harmful for the environment, like logging and agriculture. Choosing sustainable and eco-friendly travel destinations can have a dramatic positive impact on some of the world’s most valuable ecosystems.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Craig Miller permalink
    February 6, 2023 8:04 pm

    This is truly inspiring.


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