Proposed Tour

Proposed Mountain Tapir Tour with Itinerary: Sangay National Park, Ecuador
Guide: Craig C. Downer, A. B., M. S., Ph.D. studiesWildlife Ecologist Post Office Box 456, Minden, Nevada 89423 USA Email:     Telephone:  (775)901-2094

I UCN, Species Survival Commission, Tapir Specialist Group; American Society of Mammalogists.
Author of mountain tapir chapter in Tapirs: a Road to Recovery (IUCN, 1997), including an action plan to save the mountain tapir from extinction, plus several other articles, both scientific and popular, on the mountain tapir.

Date of preparation of proposal and itinerary: August 12th, 2005 Possible dates of tour: Any time but preferably during the dry season, which is generally October through January. A tour could be arranged for latter half of year 2005. Duration of tour: Two weeks, plus travel time.

Cost of tour
$5000 dollars per person plus airfare round-trip to Quito, Ecuador. Fees can be made as a tax-deductible contribution to the Andean Tapir Fund and will be used for furtherance of action plan to save the mountain tapir from extinction. Travel arrangements will be made by each tour participant. Size of tour: Four to twelve eco-tourists Personal Requirements: Good to Excellent health, no heart or respiratory or other serious ailments. Physically fit individuals, accustomed to rigorous mountain hiking expeditions to elevations up to 4,000 meters. Doctor examination and certificate preferred for all participants.

Equipment Required:
Mountain hiking boots, impermeable coat and pants, sleeping bag adequate to freezing temperatures, half-gallon canteen, mess kit and cooking utensils, water purification tablets or filters, binoculars for field observation of wildlife, camera with several rolls of film, 100 – 400 ASA recommended, wide-angle and telephoto lens recommended; portable stove with butane cooking fuel, high rubber boots, best purchased in Ecuador, compass, field guides to plants and animals, hat for sun and rain, gloves, sun-screen, insect repellent, personal first-aid kit, sunglasses, special required foods and medicines, change of clothing. Hepatitis and tetanus shots recommended.

Site of tour: Sangay National Park, Ecuador, site of Craig C. Downer’s mountain tapir study.
Local guides: Puruhaes Indians from town of Alao, Chimborazo, accustomed to working with Downer.

Day One:
Meet in Quito. Overnight in Quito. Introductory talk and slide/video show on mountain tapir presented by Downer. Tour participants will be provided with maps of the tour and articles concerning the mountain tapir and Sangay National Park. Final check of equipment required. Final arrangement for travel to Sangay National Park.

Day Two:
Proceed to Riobomba, about four hours to the south of Quito in vehicle. Meet with Sangay National Park Superintendent to discuss tour and receive updated recommendations for best observation areas. Purchase provisions for expedition at native Riobamba market. I (Downer) will oversee major purchases while catering to the particular requests of tour members. Tour members will assist. Proceed to Alao in the afternoon, arriving before sunset. Camp at Sangay National Park ranger station in this quaint town inhabited by Puruhaes Indians. Final arrangements for local guides and porters, who have worked with Downer for years. They will be informed of our coming beforehand through the park officials daily radio communications. After dinner, prepare for early-morning departure. Additional orientation talk and discussion with Park Rangers.

Day 3:
After breakfast, hike into Culebrillas sector of Sangay National Park, ascending from circa 2,900 meters at Alao, to over 3,900 meters elevation at La Tranca pass by midday, passing through delightful Bosque San Luis, with spectacular views of upper Alao Valley, a classical glacially-sculpted cirque.

Characteristic species will be pointed out by myself and our native guides, including plants important as food and shelter sources for the mountain tapir. We will identify animal and plant species encountered and point out the different ecological community types as these relate to elevation, geological history, and major human impacts. Some fine overviews of Alao Valley exist on this trail.

Arriving around mid-day at the La Tranca Pass, the tour will pause for a brief lunch, viewing the spectacular Sangay Volcano. We will then descent from the pass into the Culebrillas river, viewing spectacular cliffs to the east, where Downer’s team first captured and collared a mountain tapir, the female adult whom we named “Sambita”, and who later became the mother of the famous “Esperanza”, subject of a nature film by a famous British producer. Two eco-types, paramo and delightful elfin cloud forest, will be traversed, about which I will explain some fascinating aspects.

Some delightful waterfalls will be observed; and a number of fascinating birds species — including colorful mountain tanagers — should also present themselves during this our first day’s hike into the western edge of the Park. Camping will occur at the old corral which has two straw huts, at 3,300 meters elevation. Hot meals will be cooked within the huts and can be eaten either inside or outside. Camping will be in pitched tents provided by each individual or group of individuals on the tour.

Day 4:
The morning will serve for rest and recuperation; however, after mid-day we’ll visit the home ranges of mountain tapirs that I studied from December 1989 through the end of 1995. I have visited this area every year for over a decade. Our tour will include a spectacular waterfall in a little-known area. The giant umbrella plants will be observed. These are important for the food and shelter of many animals, including the mountain tapirs, and also assist in slope stabilization through vegetative reproduction after terrains have been obliterated of all life by slides, burning, volcanic destruction, or torrential rains — all common in the area. The influence of volcanic activity in the evolution of plants and animals of this region will be exposited by the biologist guide. Many fascinating details of mountain tapir natural history, including through visits to their mineral sites, will be pointed out to tour participants. We should be able to observe the fascinating torrent ducks here as well as mountain tapirs themselves, or at least their tracks and other signs. We will plan a sound sleep this night in anticipation of the arduous hike that awaits us the following day.

Day 5:
Hike east from Culebrillas camp over Timaran Pungo (Timaran = “peak” in Quichua), about 4,100 meters elevation, through elfin forest, to grassy highland paramo. Then descend through paramo grassland to Llanallacu camp where Downer earlier observed a Great Horned Owl. Llanallacu refers to “black waters” in Quichua, the native tongue widely spoken in the northern Andes. The waters are black due to the heavy ash deposits received during frequent eruptions from Sangay volcano. Meters of ashen soil attest the presence of Sangay Volcano, which is the longest active volcano in the world and the most active for all the Andes.

Some interesting birds should be observed, including the distinctive orangish, large, round-eyed tapaculo with its short tail. Perhaps the “cervicabra”, or red brocket deer, common to the area, will also be observed. If we are lucky, the large, elegant whitetail deer, or the diminutive Pudu deer may be observed. Dramatic caracaras, members of the Falcon family, will almost certainly be seen. These are known to suspend themselves in midair in order to detect their prey — frequently the large fluffy rabbits occurring here. The rare Pacarana, a large rodent, may also be seen, as well as wild guinea pigs, or “Sacha Cuis” if we keep our eyes peeled. We may even see the Green Frog, unusual for its ability to hatch its young in egg sacks carried on its back.

Day 6:
Hike to La Playa, base camp for ascending Sangay Volcano. An early start, within one hour of sunrise, will permit us to take a slow but sure hike through some upper cloud forests, affording some excellent bird observations. When we reach a large sloping ridge, we will follow the ridge until early afternoon, ascending to the Abarca Tambo encampment, just west of Carniceria. It was along this Ridge that Ilusion and Dolores, two female mountain tapirs, were captured and radio-tracked during the early to mid 1990’s. Spectacular views of several snowy volcanoes will be enjoyed, particularly of the dramatic 5,230-meter-high Sangay and the exploded volcano, El Altar, both to the north.

After mid-day, we will descend to the north, crossing over some sharply accentuated ashy ridges and their intervening rivers. We will be very quiet and observe very carefully, for our chances are excellent of observing the mountain tapirs in this distinctive terrain, as I have upon several occasions before. I will point out aspects of this volcanically influenced ecosystem on the way, revealing interesting points of its evolutionary formation with special focus on the mountain tapir. — We should arrive at the La Playa camp before sunset in time to pitch our tents and prepare our meals, eating together in the old thatched huts where I have so often sojourned before. We will look in a canyon above the encampment where I have observed mountain tapirs on several occasions before, including a courting pair, before retiring. We will also gather evidence for possible illegal hunting of the tapirs and other species. We should sleep well.

Day 7:
Day spent in the vicinity of La Playa encampment seeking to quietly observe the mountain tapirs. This should be an excellent photographic opportunity both for the mountain tapirs and their highland habitat as well as the spectacular Sangay Volcano. It is in this area where I have successfully guided film crews as well as photographed the tapirs in the wild for my own articles and presentations. I will explain ecological points of interest and those tied in with the evolutionary history of the area, giving little-known details thereof. It is almost certain that we will observe many fascinating habits and signs of the mysterious mountain tapir, a herbivore that is sometimes nick-named the “Al Jolson of the Animal Kingdom” because of its dense black fur and white fur-fringed lips. The distinctive trunk also reminds one of a diminutive mountain elephant. Areas visited will include bedding sites, feeding sites, mineral procurement areas, areas of giving birth, shelter areas, customary trails, areas of social interaction, etc. We will also take a special look at germinating seeds springing from the feces of the tapir and that have often been deposited along the tapir’s trails or in other frequented areas of its home range. We should gain a genuine appreciation of what it means to live life as a mountain tapir and of what the mountain tapir contributes to life on Earth!

Day 8:
During this day we will climb to the base of the Sangay volcano. We will observe many of the transitional ecological communities which will provide an insight into the millions of years of evolutionary formation that has occurred in these fascinating Andean highlands. I have climbed to the top of Sangay volcano with Puruhaes Indian guides and can name many of the common as well as the rare plants and animals encountered as well as explain their special adaptations and contributions to the life community here. In a sense, this will be like going back through thousands and even millions of years to re-trace life’s daring progression on planet Earth. We will return to the encampment in time to prepare a meal and get adequate sleep. Before retiring we will discuss all our individual and collective observations. This day will afford an excellent chance for observing the mountain tapirs as well as other fascinating species such as the three deer species earlier mentioned, the Spectacled Bear, the rare Pacarana (a rodent), the Caracara, the Tapaculo, and the Andean Condor.

Day 9:
We will strike east with an early morning start. We will visit the traditional hunting area known as Carniceria, known for the wanton slaughter of animals in earlier times. We will also strike further east to visit a mineral site frequently visited by the mountain tapirs in the La Victoria area. This day there will also be an excellent chance for observing and photographing the mountain tapir and many unique plants and animal species of the high Andes. Additionally, our group will be enthralled by magnificent vistas over the vast Amazonian rain forests. From these ancient evolutionary cradles, the clouds which water Sangay National Park arise. One is advised to carry plenty of film as well as well- adjusted binoculars.

Day 10:
We will hike over a very high pass, ascending to a height of 4,300 meters elevation. Here we will enter into the primitive zone of Sangay National Park. This is another area where I have had considerable success in closely observing and photographing the endangered mountain tapir. It presents pristine ecological conditions. The fact that it is frequently obliterated by volcanic activity yet still maintains its exuberance testifies to the magnificent adaptation to harsh conditions by the life forms here. The colors of the mosses are exquisite! A British botanist who did pioneering botanical work in this area during the 19th century, Dr. Richard Spruce raved about the great moss species diversity he encountered here. Whitetail Deer, Brocket Deer, Spectacle Bear, Pacarana, Rabbit, Sierra Finch’s, Tapaculos, Caracaras, as well as the Mountain Tapirs are more friendly in this isolated region since they are less persecuted by humans. This means we should have an excellent chance of observing them. However we will take great care not to in any way harass these animals, and will keep our disturbances to a minimum. (This we will have promised to do when receiving the permit for our entrance into this zone from park authorities.) Our goal will be to atone for the thoughtless persecution and plunder these gentle botanists have experienced in the past at the hands of humans. Our goal will be to appreciate them for their uniqueness and ecological contribution. We will not regard them as mere objects for our use or abuse, as has too often been the case in the past. This area provides very spectacular views of Sangay Volcano and a very large natural amphitheater covered with a variety of colorful herbs, shrubs, grasses, mosses, and lichens. The snow fields on the volcano and its fumeroles are beautiful to behold! We well allow a few hours for our return on this tricky route. Our native guide will assure our safety during this most rewarding part of our tour. A special exhilarating experience of the high Andes and the Amazon Basin as inextricably tied together will be ours during this day.

Day 11:
This will be the beginning of our return. Passing over many ashy labyrinths created over centuries of eruptions, we will re-trace our entrance trail and, given our acquired experience, should have an even better chance of seeing the mountain tapirs and other species. We will take special note of any disturbances been caused by human intervention into the Park, documenting the invasion of livestock and hunters into this UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have observed an alarming trend of continuing and accelerated invasion by cattle, their vaquero tenders and hunters during the past decade. Many of the park violators are locals, but some of them come from outside Chimborazo state, or even from outside Ecuador, particularly those associated with local tours motivated by something other than taking just pictures. We should again be provided with spectacular overviews of both volcano’s: Sangay and El Altar. We will plan to camp at Llanallacu, as before.

Day 12:
This day we will return to the Culebrillas river valley where we will camp in the straw huts. Again we will note human disturbances and document these both in our notebooks and with our cameras and video recorders. Before we leave, we will compose a scientific evaluation of our findings. If everyone is so agreed, we will all sign this and present our documents to Park authorities before leaving Ecuador.

Day 13:
We will return to the Aloa park ranger station. On our way out, we will again experience a transit from more pristine conditions to those increasingly impacted by humans. So we will further evaluate human invasion into the park this day. I will entertain any questions from the tour participants answering them in considerable detail. This will be a day for final wrap up of tour objectives: equipment will be accounted for and our native guides will be paid for their services. In the community of Alao, we will visit the native homes of some Puruhaes friends of mine. We will plan a Fiesta as a final going away party and token of our appreciation. We will invite park rangers, tour guides and porters, and natives of the community, young and old. Hardy native dishes will be sampled. This will be a day of special satisfaction and celebration! We will plan for our early return to Riobamba on the following morning.

Day 14:
Departing very early, we well arrive at Riobamba by mid-morning. This will give us enough time to present our findings and discuss our concerns to the Park Superintendent. We will then return to Quito, arriving in the afternoon. We will have a fine dinner and enjoy a folklore musical presentation in the capital city, whose colonial center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Final flight reservations will be made at this time for those wishing to return to their homes immediately. Others staying longer in Ecuador will be oriented according to their interests. We will share addresses enabling us to keep in touch in future years and to coordinate efforts to preserve and restore the endangered mountain tapir and its beautiful cloud forests and paramo habitats. We will outline a strategy to follow through in coming years.
I certainly urge you to join in this tour of a lifetime. You will be one of the exceptional few living in the world today who can say “I have seen the dramatic Al Jolson of the Animal Kingdom”, or, if you prefer, the “Gentle Botanist” of the northern Andes, whose presence is so important for Andean ecological integrity. Participation in the tour will also make you an active part of mountain tapir preservation and restoration.
If interested, please contact me directly to make arrangements.