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Ecuador is a less economically developed country (LEDC) in South America. It takes its name from the equator, which runs through it. Like many of the world's poorer countries Ecuador relies on primary products for its trade with the outside world. Oil, bananas and coffee are three of its most important commodities, and roses have recently been added to the list.
Like many LEDC countries, Ecuador is keen to develop tourism as an alternative source of income. Payment for tourist activities is usually in US dollars rather than the national currency, the sucre, which has little value outside Ecuador. Tourism is currently Ecuador's seventh most important source of earnings. The government is hoping to increase its importance because tourism provides a valuable source of employment, as well as foreign earnings.
Ecuador contains 2% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders, and this is an area which could be developed for tourism. Tropical rainforests are the richest habitat on Earth, supporting a greater variety of plants and animals than any other habitat. The hot, wet climate encourages trees and plants to grow quickly. The rainforest typically has a layered structure.
Tributaries of the River Amazon rise in the Ecuadorian Andes and How eastwards to the Amazon basin. The main tributary in this region is the Aguarico River which itself has three main tributaries: the Cuyabeno, Sablo and Pacuyacu Rivers. The Ecuadorian government and the indigenous people of this area are keen to develop tourism because it will provide jobs and income.
They are also anxious to protect the rainforest and maintain the traditional way of life of local peoples. They believe this can be done through ecotourism, which is tourism 'directed towards exotic, often threatened natural environments, especially intended to support conservation efforts'. This is a form of sustainable development because it does not, in theory, harm the environment.
Ecotourism is not mass tourism. It is aimed at smaller groups of people who have particular interests – wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers, botanists and photographers. It is this type of visitor that Ecuador would like to attract to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
The reserve is considered to be a 'hot spot' of biodiversity, undamaged and remote. Small groups of visitors are welcomed and looked after by guides from the indigenous Cofane and Cuyaheno tribes. Access is difficult. From Quito, the capital of Ecuador, a 35 minute flight to Lago Agrio is followed by a 2 hour bus journey to the Aguarico River. A 3 hour speed-boat trip then takes visitors to their accommodation on a 22-room floating hotel.
From their base on the 'Hotel' guides take visitors on expeditions to see the plant and animal life. These expeditions are either on foot or by dugout canoe. Local Cofane guides explain the medicinal uses of plants and trees in the rainforest, and trained naturalists guide tourists along the trails and waterways, where they point out the many species of mammal, reptile, insect and bird which can be seen and heard. These include sloths, jaguars, monkeys, parrots, toucans, caimans and anacondas.
A further 2 hours by boat takes visitors on to a base camp in the forest where they spend nights in the jungle under nets, but open to the elements.
One of the aims of these activities is to make people aware of the natural world and give them respect for the environment of the indigenous people. At the Cofane interpretation centre tourists can see how local people live in harmony with their environment. Visitors are not allowed to take-photographs because this would be too intrusive. They can buy items such as beads made from local seeds which have been strung together.
The income gained from this type of ecotourism is used not only to help local people earn money, but also to maintain the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Places like this cannot support large-scale tourism but it is hoped that those who are able to visit will realise the importance of such unique natural environments.
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