To visit the ChocÃ³ Forest in Ecuador, you have to take a rickety ferry across the CanandÃ© River. On the other side, youâ€™ll find a pristine wilderness with plants and animals that exist nowhere else. This leafhopper, for instance, is unlike anything that Javier Aznar, a Spanish photographer and biologist who has been fascinated by insects since childhood, had ever seen before. Likewise, three tropical entomologists who examined his photograph agree that the bug, a cicadellida from the genus Chinaia, might be a previously undocumented species.
This brilliant little creature represents the new and enormous promise of this corner of the world, which has long been shrouded in mystery. Part of the ChocÃ³ is in Colombia, where militants have made it almost impossible for researchers to study. The other part is in western Ecuador, where loggers have destroyed 95 percent of the forests since World War II.
Now, though, things are looking up for the land and its undiscovered wildlife. The conservation group FundaciÃ³n Jocotoco has purchased nearly 20,000 acres of the Ecuadorian ChocÃ³ between two government reserves, with plans to establish a protected area larger than Yosemite National Park. The land so teems with life that a PhD student who spent just five months in the Ecuadorian ChocÃ³ discovered 284 new ant species. Martin Schaefer, who heads the foundation, says, â€œThere are so many treasures there that we donâ€™t even know about yet.â€
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