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Podocarpus National Park

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Podocarpus National Park was established in 1982 with the goal of protecting the largest forest of native Andean conifers of the genus Podocarpus. This national park includes a portion of the Cordillera Real, a series of small Andean lakes, lowland Amazon forest and cloud forest dominated by three species of Podocarpus, the only gymnosperms native to Ecuador. Podocarpus is the only area in southern Ecuador with large tracks of continuous undisturbed virgin forest ranging from tropical to temperate climates.

did you know?

Podocarpus local honey producers were so successful in their trade that they voluntarily assessed a tax on themselves to support conservation in the area.

Arturo Jimenez, Fundación Arcoiris

Arturo Jimenez, Fundación Arcoiris © Andy Drumm

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total area protected:
361,458 acres
map of site

Eastern Cordillera Real Montane

partner organization:
Fundación Arcoiris

Ecological Importance

Podocarpus National Park boasts one the richest areas in the world for bird diversity. More than 560 species of birds have been documented in the park. Endangered species such as jaguar, puma, mountain tapir and spectacled bear,are also found within the park’s borders.

Podocarpus supports the chinchona tree, the original source of the anti-malarial drug, quinine, as well as the three Podocarpus species.

The park shelters the headwaters of four rivers that sustain more than half the population of Ecuador’s southernmost region. Unlike most Andean watersheds, here underground springs are replenished by rainwater filtered directly through the forest floor. The park is regionally important as the only protected area in southern Ecuador. It also protects the critical Catamayo River Basin that provides water for the city of Loja and a small region of northern Peru.


The most serious threat to the park is mining, with most of the park granted in mining allowances. Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural, and pollution also put a severe stress on the natural resources of Podocarpus. Other major threats include unresolved land tenure and lack of environmental awareness among local institutions and communities. Wildlife poaching as well as the illegal extraction of orchids and quinine are other critical issues facing park managers.

A Strategy of Success

Park in Peril (PiP) funding in Podocarpus spanned from 1993 to 2001 and concluded with consolidation in 2001. Before PiP intervened in Podocarpus, the park’s boundaries were undefined and limited infrastructure and staff and low levels of community support hindered park development. Mining was an ongoing problem within the park and PiP’s partner, Fundación Arcoiris, had limited capacity to manage the park.

With PiP funding, the park expanded its infrastructure from three small shelters to a new shelter, training center, lodging accommodations, and an administrative center. PiP activities enabled the park staff to grow from a field staff of five to a multi-disciplinary staff of 15, with all staff receiving training at local, national, and international levels. The park was also able to undertake many important research and management activities such as research on frugivorous birds and forest fire monitoring initiatives. The PiP program also helped Fundación Arcoiris develop a self-sufficiency goal with ecotourism, membership, and commercialization of agriculture products programs helping to support this goal.

Several sustainable economic development alternatives were developed including, reforestation, organic farming, and bee keeping, which contributed to a greater local and national awareness about the importance of Podocarpus. These projects provided significant income to local people, giving residents greater incentive to support conservation efforts. In 1999, local beekeepers produced 10,000 pounds of honey for markets in Quito and other cities. Such positive results derived from sustained international financial and technical assistance to Fundación Arcoiris have produced trickle-down benefits to other local grass-roots organizations such as the Beekeepers Association of San Pedro de Vilcabamba.

In 1993, Fundación Arcoiris attracted international attention from the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees and was able to influence the elimination of further mining concessions in Podocarpus and pushed out the two mining companies operating in the park.

As part of the PiP program, Podocarpus was able to meet numerous conservation goals, as well as improve its knowledge of the local communities and improve the communities’ capacity to earn income sustainably. The park developed clear and effective strategies to mitigate threats such as mining and with PiP support, local organizations like Fundación Arcoiris were able to effectively carry out their conservation mission.

Read more about Podocarpus...

Fundación Arcoiris
The Nature Conservancy in Podocarpus

Read more about projects in Ecuador...

Machalilla National Park
Condor Biosphere Reserve

Ecuador Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Ecuador