Sangay National Park, Ecuador
Sangay National Park ( 1° 27'-2° 15'S, 78° 04'-78° 31'W) is located in the central Andes is the largest area of unaltered wild land in the country's eastern Cordilleras. It has outstanding natural beauty, two snow-capped active volcanoes and an entire range of ecosystems from the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin to mountain glaciers. Its isolation has protected a great diversity of wildlife including indigenous species such as the mountain tapir and Andean condor.
Threats to the Site
The Park was inscribed on the List of the World Heritage in Danger in 1992 because of heavy poaching of wildlife, illegal livestock grazing, encroachment along the Park's perimeter, and especially unplanned road construction. The building of this road from Guamote in the mountains to Macas on the plain across the south end of the Park continues to be the main threat. It has already caused irreversible damage to the natural environment, both directly by the use of dynamite, pollution, erosion and the loss of biological corridors and indirectly from new settlements, cattle ranching, logging and increased poaching.
The Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment stated that listing had helped the Sub-Secretariat of Forestry and Renewable Natural Resources responsible for the management of the site, to halt road construction temporarily and to elicit a US$1.6 million project, financed by the Government of the Netherlands and jointly implemented by WWF and the Ecuadorian Conservation Organisation Fundacion Natura, to strengthen protection of the Park.
In central Ecuador 160 kilometers (km) south of Quito on the eastern side of the Cordillera Oriental range of the Andes. The town of Riobamba lies 20 km west and Macas 15 km southeast: 1° 27'-2° 15'S, 78° 04'-78° 31'W.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1975: Originally gazetted as a National Wildlife Reserve (271, 925 hectares) under Interministry Agreement No. 190
- 1979: Status changed to National Park under Interministry Agreement No. 322
- 1992: The area was almost doubled under Official Register No. 929 by a 245, 840 ha. extension to the south which is not part of the World Heritage Site.
World Heritage Site: 271,925 hectares (ha). Sangay National Park with extension: 517,765 ha.
State, in Morono Santiago, Chimborazo and Tungurahua provinces. In the National Park extension, outside the World Heritage site, there are private properties. Administered by the Ministry of the Environment, formerly by the Sub-Secretariat of Forestry and Renewable Natural Resources (INEFAN).
900 meters (m) to 5,319 m.
The park comprises three geomorphologic zones: the volcanic High Andes, eastern foothills and alluvial fans. The highlands, of pre-Cretaceous metamorphic and plutonic rocks, rise from 2,000-5,000 m and are dominated by three strato-volcanoes: Tungurahua (5,016 m) and Altar (5,319 m) in the northwest and Sangay (5,230 m) in the west centre of the park. Tungurahua and Sangay are both still active: Sangay regularly ejects hot rocks and tephra and has the one of the world's longest records of continuous volcanic activity. Tungurahua last violently erupted between 1916 and 1925 and erupted in 2002. Altar has an eroded and glaciated caldera to the west, and is considered extinct. The eastern foothills in the north-east and south-east are low irregular mountains between 1,000 m and 2,000 m high formed of outcrops of sedimentary rocks. Large east-sloping alluvial fans dominate the east side of the Park between approximately 800 m and 1,300 m. Younger segments of these fans are only slightly dissected, but older parts are cut into by canyons up to 200 m deep.
The High Andes zone is in the intermediate and upper Cordillera Oriental, an area of rugged topography with deep steep-sided valleys, abundant cliffs and many rocky jagged peaks. There are three subzones: subglacial, from 2,000 m to 3,000 m which is unglaciated; a glaciated subzone between 3,000 m and 5,300 m, with arêtes, cirques, and U-shaped valleys with meandering rivers, and a volcanic subzone dominated by lava and volcanic ash deposited during more recent times on the cones and flanks of the three volcanoes.
The major rivers drain east to the Amazon Basin. From north to south these are the Llushin and its tributary Shicoyocu, Palora and tributaries: Collones, Sta Ana, Sangay & Namoqim, and Upano and tributaries: Volcan & Sangan. They fall with rapid and dramatic variations in level. Run-off is extremely rapid due to high rainfall and steep slopes, and erosion is substantial, although controlled by thick forest vegetation. There are numerous waterfalls, especially in the hanging valleys of the glaciated zone and along the eastern edge of the Cordillera, and many lakes, including Laguna Pintada near Altar which is 5 km long.
Above 4,500 m rocky lithosols are found in limited areas around the principal volcanoes. A thin layer of organic matter covers recent ash falls around and to the east of Sangay volcano. In the east between 3,000 m and 4,500 m are extensive black Andean soils of the Paramo formed from volcanic base material. Black Andean soils of the cloud forest are found on the middle slopes of the Andes, in a variable north-south oriented band, particularly in areas of high rainfall and cloud cover. Moist reddish hydrolytic latosols cover much of the low eastern subtropical forest region. These are generally acid and heavily leached.
The Park is just south of the Equator, but being high, has a subtropical and temperate climate. Rainfall is strongly orographic. The eastern slopes of the Cordillera receive the most rainfall as moist warm air from the Amazon basin moves up over the Andes, creating a cloud forest belt. The mean annual rainfall at Pastaza, just northeast of the park, is 4,827 millimeters (mm); at Macas to the southeast, 2,414 mm. But Penipe beyond the western boundary has a mean annual rainfall of only 633 mm. Seasonal variation is more marked to the west, with only 122 days of rain recorded in Riobamba. The wettest periods vary frm site to site, and are generally from November to February and April to October. Annual temperatures aree relatively constant, although there is considerable diurnal variation. The mean annual temperature in the east is 20° C with a mean maximum and minimum of 25.4° C and 16.4° C and absolute recorded maximum and minimum of 31°C and 10°C. At the highest elevations, temperatures never rise above zero. A permanent snow line occurs at about 4,800 m.
At least 3,000 species are known to occur in the park. Some 93 families, 292 genera and 1,566 species have been identified in the Andean forests of Ecuador above 2,400 m, and most of these genera are represented in Sangay. The vegetation has three main zones: alpine and subalpine in the high paramo, montane cloud and wet forests, and subtropical rain forest in the upper Amazon basin. It is principally influenced by altitude and rainfall, with the most luxuriant vegetation growing on the wetter eastern slopes.
Alpine rain tundra has formed between 4,500 m and the snow line, dominated by lichens and bryophytes. A subalpine rain-paramo zone occurs between 3,400 and 4,000 m, with three main vegetation types: Festuca tussock grassland; areas of cushion plants and other low-growing species, and undisturbed stands of bamboo Nuerolepsis sp. The edge of this zone has been lowered in the west by anthropogenic burning. Below 3,750 m montane rainforest grows on the wetter eastern slopes. The vegetation of the upper half of this zone grows about five meters high and is dominated by Polylepis tomentella, Buddleia incana, Miconia salicifolia and Myrtus communis associated with Monnina crassifolia, Baccharis teindalensis, Disphostephium lavandulaefolium and Gnoxys spp. Montane wet forest is found in the western valleys with pure stands of Polylepis sp. or Gnoxys sp. associated with Buddleia incana where undisturbed.At lower elevations, there is a greater variety of small trees and shrubs, including Senecio vaccinoides, Diphostephium sp.,Vaccinium spp., Miconia salicifolia, Brachyotum spp., Myrtus communis, Osteomeles spp.and Monnina crassifolia.
Between 2,000 m and 3,000 m lower montane rainforest occurs on steep-sided valleys. Forests on its upper slopes are up to 12 m high, dominated by Weinmania sp.and Oreopanax sp. Lower down, the canopy grows to 40 m and includes Podocarpus oleofolius, cedro Cedrela odorata, Oreopanax sp.,Weinmania sryadifolia and Alnus jorullensis, found in pure stands in disturbed areas. The understory layer is formed of small trees such as Miconia sp. and a third layer of Piper ecuadorensis, Cyathea sp. and Bocconia sp. Ferns, epiphytes and orchids are abundant and towards 2,000 m, Cecropia sp.,cedro Cedrela odorata, palms and Rubiaceae are present. Subtropical rainforest occurs below 2,000 m where temperatures range between 18°C and 24°C and rainfall may reach 5,000 mm annually. Species diversity is very high and members of the Lauraceae and Moraceae such as Ficus spp. and Chlorophora spp., palms, Cedrela odorata and wild avocado Persea sp.occur. Undergrowth species such as Selaginalla sericea and brightly coloured flowers of the Gesneraceae and Lobeliaceae are common. This formation receives less rainfall in the south, forming a subtropical wet forest, although there is no clear distinction with wetter areas. Species include Cordia alliodora, Necandra sp., Ocotea sp., Cedrela rosei, Inga sp. and Ochroma lagopus. Centropogon trachyanthus is endemic to this area.
The fauna is not well-studied, although it is known to be species-rich. Species distributions correspond with vegetation zones and there is distinct altitudinal zonation. At the highest altitudes guinea pig Caria sp. and Andean fox Dusicyon culpaeus, mountain tapir Tapirus pinchaque (EN) and puma Felis concolor occur. Elsewhere in lower forests, spectacled bear Tremarctos ornatus (VU), giant otter Pteronura brasiliensis (EN) jaguar Panthera onca, ocelot Felis pardalis, margay F. wiedii, lowland tapir Tapirus terrestris (VU), white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus clavium, brocket deer Mazama rufina and northern pudu deer Pudu mephistophiles, and are found.
Some 400-500 bird species may be present, although comprehensive inventories have not yet been compiled. The park contains two Endemic Bird Areas, the Central Andean Páramo, home to ten bird species of restricted range, and the Eastern Andes of Ecuador and northern Peru, home to 15 restricted-range species. Among these are listed the spot-winged parrotlet Touit stictoptera (VU), redfaced parrot Hapalopsittaca pyrrhops (VU), little woodstar Acestrura bombus(VU), coppery-chested jacamar Galbula pastazae (VU) and masked mountain tanager Buthraupis wetmorei (VU). Notable other species include condor Vultur gryphus, seen particularly around the mountain area of Altar, Cubillin and Quilimas, cock of the rock Rupicola peruviana ecuatorialis, in substantial populations in inaccessible upper forest areas of the eastern Andean slopes, giant humming bird Patagona gigas, torrent duck Marganetta armata, king vulture Sarcoramphus papa and swallow-tailed kite Elanoides porficatus.
Prior to 1534, the area was inhabited by some 30,000 Indian Huamboyas and Indian legends are still told about the volcanoes. In the following century, the Spanish prospected for gold, began to settle the country and put down a rebellion. 19th century explorers found no inhabitants in the area. Colonization of the eastern side started in the early 20th century.
Local Human Population
Most of the park area has been inaccessible and uninhabited. However, lands to both east and west have been populated for several years now, with a number of cooperative farms close to the eastern boundary which may edge closer. In 1987, there were approximately 400 people living at Atilio to the southwest, 70% of whom were permanent residents. The area to the south added to the park in 1992 had a resident population of about 1,000, adding to planning and management problems. There is also a noticeable increase in the presence of vaqueros and hunters in the western areas of Culebrillas and Plazapamba . The Alao area is peopled by the indigenous Peruhá Amerindians.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
Since the recent eruptions of Tungurahua, only 300-400 visit the park annually, down from approximately 3,000 a year, since most visitors tended to stay in the Tungurahua area - which had been starting to show signs of wear. Mountaineering on the major peaks of Tungurahua, Altar, Cubillin, Quilimas and Sangay is one of the park's major attractions. Facilities include accommodation, hot springs, and trails. A tourist information centre has been built in Macas. Since 1989 the Peruhá Association of Indigenous Guides of the Volcanoes Altar and Sanguay (ASGUIAS) has operated from San Antonio de Alao and Guargualla. This indigenous organization has been awarded professional status by the Ecuadorian Government. It offers a guide service, a dormitory and tourist shop and promotes sustainable tourism. Difficult access has tended to limit public knowledge about the park which could be promoted.
Scientific Research and Facilities
A study of management alternatives in 1976 examined natural, social, cultural and historic resources in the area, and reviewed alternatives such as agriculture, forestry, economic potential of minerals and management as a wildland area. The results directly led to the establishment of Sangay National Park. The 1980 management plan analysed biophysical, socio-economic, cultural and biological-ecological aspects of the park to provide the foundation and justification for the different management programs. Research into the mountain tapir was undertaken in 1991-2, and among other subjects monitoring of the spectacled bear by the Fundacion Natura Ecosciencia is ongoing, but relatively little is known about the Park's natural resources which offer good opportunities for research.
Sangay National Park is one of the world’s most complex series of ecological types, so far little altered. It has received the highest resource analysis rating of any park in Ecuador. Its natural regions, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, physiographic formations, geology, history and other unique characteristics make it the most outstanding protected area in mainland Ecuador. It is an important protector of many watersheds, and has archaeological interest of unknown extent.
The management plan by Schuerholz et al. in 1980 was to be implemented over five years from 1982. Its main objectives were to protect the site's integrity through zoning, to apply appropriate management to each zone, and to define zone boundaries and launch a program of education and awareness. The main primitive and scientific zones where no human activities are permitted comprise 90% of the area. Other zones are for ecological recuperation, extensive and intensive recreational use, and administrative use.
Until recently lack of access made the Park relatively easy to protect and it was under the management of the Sub-Secretariat of Forestry and Renewable Natural Resources (INEFAN). Between 1990 and 1995, with financial aid from Fundacion Natura Ecuador and technical help from the U.S. Peace Corps, numerous facilities were built, including a tourist information center at Macas; guard posts at Atilio and San Juan (Alao) in the west, Palora, Macas, San Isidro, Pablo Sexto, VI Cooperativa, Sinai and 9 de Octubre in the east, and Rio Negro and Candelaria in the north; shelters at El Placer hot springs and at the base of Sangay volcano. Trails at Pondoa (Tungurahua) and Alao (El Placer) were modified, and signs were added to trails and at park entrances.
Management equipment includes four jeeps, 11 motorcycles and six horses. Due to decentralization in the Ecuadorean public sector, the park management is headed by two managers whose offices are located at Riobamba and Macas. The Association of Indigenous Guides of the Volcanoes Altar and Sanguay, the indigenous cooperative, uses proceeds from tourism to finance projects to benefit their community. A new management plan is prepared, and WWF with the Ecuadorian conservation organization Fundacion Natura, have implemented a five year conservation project funded by the Dutch government to deal with some of the problems faced by the park.
The Park is most open to invasion on the east and south-east, and up the Alao valley in the west to hunters from Riobamba. Most of the subtropical lowland forest on the eastern park boundary has been converted into cattle pasture and agricultural land. Overgrazing of the fragile paramo by cattle and sheep has occurred in the western areas of Filo de Plazapamba and Culebrillas Chico, resulting in extensive soil erosion and compaction. In 1987, fires burned approximately 300 ha in Naranjal Chico and 1,000 ha in Atilio destroying native vegetation but the area has since recovered.
Native animals do not yet seem to have been adversely effected by fire or introduced livestock, except in the Alao area northwest of Sangay volcano where urban poachers take mountain tapirs and deer, and the range of mountain tapir may be affected by increasing numbers of cattle. A 1996 report mentions the introduction of non-native species of trout into Rio Culebrillas which may subsequently colonize Rio Namaquim, one of the Sangay rivers, and the upper Rio Palora. Subsistence poaching occurs in the areas around Filo de Plazapamba and Altar. There has been sporadic confrontation between the residents of Atilio and park guards, the last in 1995 . Both spontaneous and organized colonization of the lower slopes of the Andes around the edge of the park is destroying the vegetation, contributing to erosion and could threaten important watersheds. Poaching by Shuar Indians who lost most of their land to colonists migrating from the Sierras, still occurs. There are incursions into the forests along the western and southern boundaries of the park and into the Llushin River area in the north.
In 1992, the site was placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger because of the construction of a road by the Ministry of Public Works across the south end of the Park from Guamote in the high Andes to Macas on the plain to the southeast. Although the site is only crossed by the road for 8 km, it is severely affected by the construction impacts: pollution of the Upana River and nearby lakes, use of dynamite, destruction of biological corridors, microclimate changes and indirect effects: new settlements, cattle ranching, poaching and logging. The construction has also worried local people about their rights to land. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) team and park staff met opposition at the time but relations with the local people are now good and according to INEFAN, colonization in the Guamboya valley and along Rio Palora and small scale mining activities have been stopped. There is also a potential threat of artisanal gold mining in the Llushin Grande and Huamboya areas. Effective park management has been greatly hindered by too few staff and too low a budget. However, by 2001, a UNF-funded pilot project to test the effectiveness of monitoring and management tools developed by IUCN and WCPA may precede removal of the site from the danger list.
Two park managers, three biologist/sub-superintendents, four technicians and 12 guard parks. In 1994 the park staff was reduced by 30% because of government cuts.
A budget of 120,000,000 sucres (US$55,000) was proposed for 1995, US$1.6 million was pledged by the government of the Netherlands, to be implemented by Fundacion Natura, the WWF, and the Nature Conservancy to help protect the Park.
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1983. Natural Criteria ii, iii, iv.
- Listed as World Heritage in Danger in 1992 due mainly to the impacts of road construction.
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- UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2002) Report on the 25th Session of the World Heritage Committee,2001. Paris.
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- WWF & IUCN (1997) Centres of Plant Diversity. A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Vol.3: The Americas. IUCN Publications Unit, Cambridge, UK.
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