- The Yasuni National Park’s Biodiversity
- Trees and Bushes
- Reptiles and Amphibians
- Fish, Frogs, Toads and Water
- Species Galore
- Links to Further Information
The Yasuni National Park’s Biodiversity
Perhaps one of the big mistakes has been to view nature’s reserves as ecological havens of species other than the human. In part, this is the doing of NGOs that concentrate on the ecosystem aspect of nature, leaving the existence of native peoples to the anthropologists. When National Parks are created, they are usually created on the basis of the existing biodiversity, and some ecological movements would rather keep the protected areas free of human presence, or so it seems. Considering this as a quirk of the movement for the protection of nature, let’s look at the focus of those studies which have come to declare the Yasuni National Park one of the most biodiverse in the world.
In the film, we could include only a few facts, chosen by their impact. But those few statistical facts presented on screen pale in comparison to the actual numbers that have made the Yasuni National Park, even with the oil companies present, perhaps the area in the world with the greatest diversity of plants and animals.
Trees and bushes
There exist 1.852 classified trees and bushes in the Yasuni National Park, with another 300 or more still to be classified. This gives us a total of over 2.300 trees and bushes in the reserve, a per-hectare count that accounts for more species than in all of North America put together. If one considers that both the ITT Block and the ITT Zone are still unexplored and have a different ecosystem than the area of Yasuni that has already been studied, then the count could increase considerably. These trees and bushes, it should be added, have been an integral part of the livelihood of native peoples inhabiting the area. They use the fruits of certain trees as food, or those fruits are in fact the food of animals that the people of the Yasuni feed on. Also, various types of trees, palm trees, and other bushes are used as materials for their houses, their weapons, their tools. For example, there are 50 different species of palms registered, which amounts to almost 10 percent of the palm species of the 550 palm species registered in all of the Americas.
Nevermind statistics. The bottom line for the people living there is that, without the jungle, without the rainforest, the cultures living there would basically cease to exist in their current form. The forest is their house, so it’s not just a matter of protecting them, as native people, but their home as well.
Reptiles and amphibians
People may not like the look of reptiles, but they play an important part in the balance of the ecosystem and the genetic pool. They seem to have appeared about 310 million years ago, and as the Yasuni National Park area did not freeze over during the last ice age —it’s considered one of the world’s Pleistocene refuges, with species dating from before the ice age—, the park holds the greatest number of species of reptiles and amphibians in all of South America, with 105 species of amphibians and 83 to 121 known species of reptiles. Will any more be found in the ITT Block and the Intangible Zone?
The park is one of the fifth top world bat reserves, with over 80 known species of bats. There are about 1.100 species worldwide, which amount to about 20% of the world’s registered mammals. Bats carry out the very vital role of pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds of the fruits that they eat, and help maintain a balance of insects, as around 70% of the bats are insectivores.
Insects are one of the most diverse groups of animals in the world, with over one million registered worldwide, amounting to half the number of all living organisms. The number of insect species that is presumed to exist in the Yasuni National Park alone is around 100 thousand per hectare. This is the highest documented insect biodiversity in the world. Scientists calculate that there are around 6 trillion insect individuals per hectare in the Yasuni. Social bees alone account for 64 identified species, which is another world record. How many insects cease to exist when one hectare of Yasuni gets cut down? How many species will never be known about when the jungle in this part of the world gets destroyed?
Ornithology, the study of birds, is one of the oldest natural sciences, as birds have fascinated humanity for eons, providing us with key concepts of evolution and ecology. Charles Darwin used the Galapagos finches as one of his key studies to develop his theory of evolution. The use of telescopes and field glasses brought the hobby and study of ornithology to the forefront, oddly enough being one of the most influential reasons for the improvements achieved in optics. Ornithology is an important subdivision of ecotourism, Ecuador being one of the favorite attractions in the world for birdwatchers. The Yasuni National Park, not much visited yet by tourists as it is quite far downriver and not easy to access, could become one of the main tourist attractions for amateur and professional ornithologists alike. 44% of the bird species of the entire Amazon basin can be found in the Yasuni, that is, this relatively small area of jungle, is one of the world’s most diverse when it comes to birds, with a total of between 567 and 630 bird species currently documented (depending on the study), and probably with more to come as the ITT Block becomes a tourist attraction, as so many of the other Ecuadorian national parks, including the Galapagos Islands.
Fish, frogs, toads and water
It is clear that the Yasuni National Park holds many world records as well as regional records of biodiversity. It couldn’t be any different with life found in the water or intimately dependent on it as the main environment for many species. Current calculations set the number of fish species at 540 per 5 Km. of waterways, and about 141 species of frogs and toads, which is 40% more than what can be found in all of USA and Canada combined. In case of an oil spill, the water is the most affected environment, and the ITT Block is made up of large areas of still waters, lakes, flood zones, meaning that an accident in one of the oil wells or pipelines crossing its territory would be catastrophic. Knowing the oil industry’s success in preventing such events, it would be impossible to avoid a catastrophe should the Yasuni-ITT Initiative be unsuccessful forcing Ecuador to resort to their first plan: to exploit the oil in the ITT Block.
These facts of record breaking numbers in biodiversity hide the other side of the story, that other species abound in the Yasuni, not necessarily record-breaking compared to what has been mentioned, but nevertheless still there, and still in astounding numbers, while others are on the near-extinction lists. 43 endemic vertebrates species, 280 species of vines, 164 species of mammals, 272 endemic plant species, these are but statistics that hide the essential fact that the Upper Amazon, of which the Yasuni is a part of, is perhaps one of the areas that will find the least dramatic changes due to climate change, and thus could help preserve the existence of ecosystems being destroyed in the rest of the Amazon basin by human activities combined with massive extinction caused by changes in the weather. Thus the Yasuni, but more specifically the apparently insignificant ITT Block, compared to the rest of the Amazon, has become the arrow head for a campaign, not only to find new ways of protecting the environment, but of new strategies to escape our society’s addiction to oil.
Many webpages exist now where the Yasuni National Park and the Yasuni-ITT Initiative are being mentioned. An area that was virtually unknown to the world, has suddenly sprung to the forefront in the fight for ecological preservation and the struggle to find a way out of fossil fuel dependency. Putting the two against each other, oil extraction vs. preservation of nature, “development” vs. “preservation,” whichever way we look at it, has made the world more aware that a battle is being fought, here, today, in our world, a battle akin to that portrayed in the film Avatar.