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Volunteer in an Andean Conservation Hotspot Featured

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Location:  Carchi Province, Ecuador
Type of Assignment:  Conservation and sustainability
Project Duration:  Minimum 2 Weeks
Activities:  Work at the biological reserve in conservation tasks.


The Organization

How is the Organization involved with the community?

This biological station lies on a transitional ridge where the forest abruptly ends and turns to páramo grassland. At 3,100 to 3,600 meters above sea level, the forest is unique on a world scale because it possesses a surprisingly diverse flora and fauna for such a high altitude site. Norman Myers has recently classified the Andean Mountain forests as the world’s first “conservation hotspot”.

The reserve includes over 1000 hectares for use of conservation efforts, education, and exploration of unique flora, fauna, and culture of the Ecuadorian highlands. At present day only 4% of the original high altitude forest remains that once covered the Ecuadorian Andes. The remaining forest is found only on the inter-Andean slopes, in a valley between the eastern and western cordilleras.

Since then, the organization has been concentrating in development in these areas:

  • Conservation of the biological and cultural diversity.
  • Development of biological research.
  • Teaching appropriate agricultural methods to the indigenous communities in Ecuador (outreach).
  • Management of natural resources.
  • Promoting the use of non-timber products.
  • Development of models of reforestation.
  • Management and community welfare.
  • Promoting environmental education.
  • Other community work that improves the quality of community life.

Background to the project and its aims?

The primary mission at this reserve is the conservation of some of the last remaining inter-Andean cloud forest. Native species are propagated at the biological station’s greenhouse and tree nursery. An active scientific research program involves describing the unusual high altitude diversity of flora and fauna. Botanical gardens around the station quickly introduce visitors to some of the important plants found in the reserve.

A strong emphasis on collaboration with the local community of Mariscal Sucre includes a hands-on environmental education course with local high school students and an agro-forestry program that promotes organic fruit and vegetable growing with the agricultural cooperative.

Plant and wildlife is diverse and abundant. In the forest region, an inventory of flora in the reserve includes 250 herbaceous plants and more than 60 trees. Orchids and the distinctive Melastomataceae exhibit an impressive variety of species. Above the forest, an abrupt transition leads to yet another unusual and spectacular ecosystem: the expansive and open alpine paramo with its gardens of soft-leafed “Frailejón” plants. The distinctive straw-like grasses are dotted with a colorful diversity of endemic flowering meadow plants, and the spiny “Achupalla,” favorite food of the Andean Spectacled Bear.

Over 160 bird species have been identified by confirmed multiple sittings – following the same theme of a world record for altitudes over 3000 meters. The extremely threatened Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan is abundant, along with a number of other important and endangered Andean endemics such as the Black-tight Puffleg Hummingbird, Crescent-Faced Antpitta and Masked Mountain Tanager. A number of large mammals reside in the Reserve, among them the threatened Andean Spectacled Bear and the Northern Pudu Deer. Signs mountain foxes and puma are frequent and the animals themselves are occasionally seen near the guesthouse. Amphibians and reptiles, although not particularly diverse, are abundant and apparently quite important for conservation reasons. A previously unknown Eleutherodactylus frog has been studied within the Reserve and warns of the threat that forest fragmentation will hold even to small frog species.

What are the daily volunteer activities in the project?

Daily activities vary on the volunteer’s skills, so the work schedule is pretty flexible. Volunteers get to participate in a wide range of activities, or tailor suit their skills to one of five areas: conservation work, sustainable organic agriculture, research initiatives, reserve maintance, and environmental education.

  1. Conservation of Andean Plants:
    Volunteers participate in experimental silviculture of Andean trees; they assist in seed and data collection, maintaining the nursery, transplanting seedlings, opening reforestation lines and in reforestation. There is also an orchid garden that requires maintenance and enhancement.
  2. Sustainable Organic Agriculture:
    At the station there is a breeding ground to practice organic agriculture techniques and share the experience with the local communities. Volunteers help preparing the soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting and with general maintenance.
    Also, once a week volunteers visit nearby community farms to help enhance these methods seeking to produce alternative food sources and incomes. Volunteer assist with the alternative animal production of guinea pigs (cuyes) by planting the crops to feed these animals and feeding them.
    General projects include: Llamas, organic gardens, botanical garden, forestry nursery, native fungus, fruit gardens, creole hens, lombricultura, Andean tubers – 20 different types (mashua, melloco, oca, different types of potatoes) and more.
  3. Research in the Cloud forest and páramo biological inventories:
    • As part of the treks on the trails of the reserve, volunteers develop biological inventories (especially plant and birdlife). For this, they collect scientific information about the flora and fauna observed during the hikes./
    • Herbarium collection: volunteers can also make plant collections to leave them in a herbarium at the station. The information will be used to make a booklet about the flora at the reserve.
    • Research assistants: If we have any research project going on at the reserve, volunteers may participate as research assistants.
    • Meteorological station: Volunteers have to collect data from temperature, precipitation, wind and radiation. (New and automatic)
    • Personal investigation: If volunteers want to propose their own personal investigation, they can feel free to do it. The coordinator at the station will arrange the agenda to give the volunteers some time to develop their personal project.
  4. Reserve maintenance:
    Volunteers and staff work to maintain and develop the biological station. The activities involved include trail design in the forest and making signs for the areas in the station. Additionally, when volunteers know the station well, they may assist visitors with guidance.
  5. Environmental education:
    As part of the community development objective, environmental education is offered to the local community. Volunteers develop and instruct classes on conservation, biology, and human issues for local school children and adults. The program is taught in local schools.
    English teaching: Volunteers interested in teaching English to children around the community have the opportunity to do it twice a week – from Tuesday to Thursday. If you want to bring your own materials to give it to the children, it is much appreciated as resources are scarce.

Program Details

Quick facts about the trip:

Project duration:  Minimum 2 weeks
Project Location:  Carchi Province, Ecuador
Airport of arrival:  Quito (UIO)
Activities:  Sustainable development tasks with the local community.
Working hours: Monday to Friday from 7h30 to 11h30 and 13h30 to 16h00.
Requirements:  Volunteer must be in good physical condition. Certificate of the following vaccines: Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG), Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever.

What's included:

Accommodation:  Volunteers sleep in one of 4 dormitory shared rooms (space for 20 volunteers). The volunteer house features a full kitchen and indoor bathrooms with hot-water showers, phone and 4 electrical heathers. Although the Station has electricity access, we recommend bringing a head light to walk anywhere at night. Wifi not available on site. At average from 2-8 volunteers on site at one time.
The accommodation in Quito upon arrival is also included the first night before travelling to the project location. It will be at a host family and includes three meals, laundry service, and internet access.
Meals:  3 meals per day 7 days a week.
Airport pickup: In Quito and transportation to host family house.
Pre-departure Orientation and Onsite Training::  Volunteers receive a comprehensive workshop on being a volunteer in the project, safety and security in the destination country, culture shock, and pre-departure preparations.
Support::  24/7 during your volunteering time.

What's not included:

Flights, visas, insurance.
Other optional activities not included in program fee:

  • Spanish lessons (USD 8/hr for a one on one class, USD 5 in a group).
  • City tours and trips to surrounding areas.


Program Duration Cost (USD)
2 weeks 718.00
4 weeks 1,051.00
6 weeks 1,336.00
8 weeks 1,579.00
10 weeks 1,849.00
12 weeks 2,113.00
16 weeks 2,641.00
20 weeks 3,182.00
Additional weeks 267.00 per week

All Registration Fees are included in the prices above.