Jocotoco’s Utuana Reserve, also known as ‘Bosque de Hanne’, was established in 2001 to protect one of the last remnants of humid highland forest in southwestern Ecuador. It hosts several bird species that have highly restricted ranges.
The reserve was established in memory of Hanne Bloch for her efforts to protect the last forests in southwestern Ecuador. Hanne studied at the University of Copenhagen for between 1989 and 1991 under the guidance of Jon Fjeldså. Her work included the mapping of remaining forests and their birdlife in the highlands of Loja. Hanne continued the work to protect these forests through the 1990s, until her tragic death in a plane accident in 1998. The reserve is managed by the Jocotoco in cooperation with the ArcoIris Foundation, a Loja-based conservation group with which Hanne worked closely.
Before Utuana became a reserve, much of the forest in the area had been removed and what remained was disappearing fast. The land was owned by a community of about one hundred families who depended on the forest for fuel and wood. Fundacion Jocotoco’s Conservation Director Francisco Sornoza and other Jocotoco staff worked closely with the community to build trust and support, support that ultimately led to the agreement to establish a reserve here. Although small (200 ha or 494 acres), Utuana protects an important remnant of tall forest with old moss-covered trees and dense thickets of Chusquea bamboo. Located in a generally dry region of Ecuador, the forest gets much of its moisture from low-lying clouds. Surrounding Utuana at lower elevations, areas that used to be covered with deciduous forest have now largely been cleared and replaced by farmland or secondary woodland and scrub.
Along with Jocotoco’s Yunguilla and Yanacocha Reserves, Utuana serves as an example where sometimes it is necessary to establish a reserve protecting a very rare species or a unique habitat even if the area to be protected is very small. In cases like these, there simply is nothing else left! We feel that it is worth making the effort to conserve these remnants; and gratifyingly, more often than not the species being targeted do manage to stage a comeback. In places of the world like Ecuador where there is an extraordinary level of biodiversity and a high level of extreme endemism (we sometimes call these species “hyper-endemics”), it is necessary to protect a specific place no matter where it is or where it is located. In the specific case of Utuana, the forest type protected in the reserve only occurs at upper elevations where there is sufficient cloud to provide moisture. Most forest of that type has long since been removed in southwestern Ecuador, and the few surviving remnants are tiny or have lost much of their biological value, usually through the removal of larger trees or of the understory. Unfortunately all too often it is only after they have been destroyed that local communities realise the importance such forests had in providing a steady, reliable supply of water to lower elevations.
To date, about 110 bird species have been found at Utuana. The reserve is of particular importance for the conservation of certain montane Tumbesian endemics, notably the Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Grey-headed Antbird, Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, Piura Hemispingus, Bay-crowned Brushfinch, and Black-cowled Saltator. In the dry season, the reserve serves as a refuge for birds found lower on the slope. Of interest is the presence of certain typically high Andean bird species such as the Undulated Antpitta, and there are exceptionally high populations of the Rainbow Starfrontlet and Purple-throated Sunangel, two magnificent hummingbirds that regularly visit the Utuana feeders but which otherwise are scarce hummingbirds with a small and quite patchy distributions.
Two additional bird species of note are the Peruvian Sheartail and Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, both of which are common and widespread in disturbed habitats in western Peru, but have so far only been recorded in Ecuador at Utuana where the sheartail is rare (only one record) but the spectacular tit-tyrant is resident and quite easily seen.