Playa de Oro, an Afro-Ecuadorian community located in a remote part of the Chocò Rainforest in northwestern Ecuador, owns 10,000 hectares of virgin rainforest. By the mid-1990s, logging companies had already clear cut much of the Chocò rainforest, and were drooling to get their chainsaws on Playa de Oro’s timber. There was indecision among Playa de Orans as to whether they should sell their forest (which is collectively owned by the community). They were aware that logging would not merely wreck their forest and contaminate their river, but would also destroy their hunter-gatherer way of life. On the other hand, if they didn't sell out, where else could they get the money to pay for basic community necessities such as water, electricity, teachers, and health care? Ecotourism was a possibility, but they lacked the seed money to develop that.
Earthways Foundation Project Director Rosa Jordan first visited Playa de Oro in 1995. She had been searching for a large patch of rainforest , which could be designated as a jungle cat reserve, to provide safe habitat for neo-tropical felids. When she learned of Playa de Oro’s reluctance to log and desire to try ecotourism, she suspected that the conservation project she wanted and the sustainable development project they wanted might be a match. Earthways offered Playa de Oro assistance in developing an eco-lodge, asking, in exchange, that the people of Playa de Oro not hunt or harm jungle cats, and designate as a reserve the 10,000-hectare block of rainforest to which they hold title. Two-way education would also be involved, as outsiders did not know exactly what endangered species existed in Playa de Oro territory, and Playa de Orans did not know which of the local species were endangered.
Even before the lodge opened, staff began collecting information on endangered wildcats living in the reserve. Although jaguars and pumas are native to the area, it seemed that the big cats had been hunted out, leaving only four smaller neo-tropical felid species: jaguarundi, ocelot, margay, and oncillas. “Tigrillo”, or “little tiger” is the common Latin American name for all small spotted wildcats, so the reserve was called the Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos. The rarest of these, the margay, would be its flagship species.
Later, nature photographer Terri Nash was successful in setting up a homemade camera trap system, which caught a margay on film, the very first night. This margay photo peaked the interest of other wild feline conservationists and enthusiasts, and helped bring some much needed attention to the Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos. In 2001, Tracy Wilson, (then the Conservation & Education director for the nonprofit organization Feline Conservation Federation), utilized wildlife surveillance cameras to “photo-trap” both margays and ocelots in the wild, as well as other endangered species. Tracy and the reserve staff also frequently found jaguar and puma tracks, which indicated that big cats had not entirely disappeared from the area—or perhaps had, and were returning now that they were no longer being hunted.
The Playa de Oro reserve was designed with self-sufficiency in mind, but as it would take time for ecotourism to develop, Earthways found donors to assist in keeping it afloat. Contributions came from the Atkinson Foundation, Hunt Foundation, Wild About Cats, and the Feline Conservation Federation. In 2006, Rosa Jordan decided to retire from her project work, and handed over her responsibilities for this project to Tracy Wilson, whom she had been mentoring closely since Tracy's involvement in 2001.
By late 2006--the ninth year after the reserve's inception and the fifth year of lodge operation—The Playa de Oro Community judged that it was able to manage the project on its own. Ecotourism income continues to be thin, primarily because of community's inexperience with promotion and its lack of communications facilities. However, the community receives on-going assistance with tourism promotions, and bookings from Earthways volunteers. Playa de Oro continues to receive a small annual community-development grant from Earthways, in recognition of its ongoing commitment to protect jungle cats and their habitat.
In late 2007, the Playa de Oro community renewed their commitment of protecting their forest and the wildlife, as well as continuing their tourism efforts by signing a new contract with Earthways. In return, Earthways will continue to provide the annual community development grant, assist with tourism equipment and maintenance costs, organize a few group tours each year, provide this website and an outside contact for tourists, offer advise and guidance for their tourism business, and raise donations for special community needs such as funding for the elementary school and teacher.
WAYS TO PARTICIPATE
Fundraisers and Promotions are needed on an ongoing basis to raise money for various aspects of this project, such as funds for the Playa de Oro elementary school teacher, otherwise the children in Playa de Oro would not receive any education at all. The school teacher's salary costs just $2200 a year. We encourage more groups and individuals to get involved and help support the Playa de Oro Reserve. If you or your organization would be interested in doing a fundraiser, please contact Tracy Wilson.
Another way to participate and support this project, and is the funniest way of all to lend your support, would be to visit Playa de Oro either in one of our group tours, or by traveling there independantly. Visitors help provide the Playa de Oro community with jobs and is a positive way for the community to earn a living off preserving their forest and not destroying it for a one time pay out. We have group tours scheduled for Nov 08, Feb 09, June 09, and Nov 09. Contact Tracy Wilson directly for more info on the group tours or to travel there on your own at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donors who wish to do so may indicate exactly what their contributions are to be used for, and are welcome to visit the project to see that their donation was used as designated. Personal donations are made through the US nonprofit organization, Earthways Foundation, and thus are tax-deductible. Earthways covers all overhead expenses, so that 100% of donated funds go directly to the project designated by the donor.
Please send Donations to:
20178 Rockport Way
Malibu, CA 90265
(Please clearly indicate your donation is for teh Touch The Jungle project)