1Frame4Nature | Lucas Bustamante


More than 9000 species of vascular plants have been formally described in the Chocó forests. This entire diversity act like carbon reservoirs, producing clean air for us.

What YOU Can Do: 

Conservation is not just an NGOs responsibility; it has to start with each of us, each of our choices. At the end of the day, if we lose the rainforests, it will not be just a loss for Ecuadorians but for all of mankind. So what can I do to help not just the Chocó but also all the rainforests on Earth, which share similar threats? It’s not so difficult! Taking a look where our wood comes from, not purchasing exotic animals that come from the pet trade, trying to avoid products with oil palm, educating our children about the importance of preserving rainforests, supporting governments that believe in conservation and environmental issues – these are just some of the ideas that come to mind. Small things and changes can create huge differences, directly or indirectly making us actors in the conservation of tropical areas. We have to act now! We are already late…but must act now to change the course of what we have left!

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210 species of Amphibians have been described in the Chocó, 10 of these belong to Glassfrogs. Well known for their clear abdomen with visual organs, these frogs are a symbol of the beauty and vulnerability of this precious ecosystem. In the picture, a female of Reticulated Glassfrog (Hyalinobatrachium valerioi) is showing its eggs through the belly.


Insects are the least known and explored taxa in the world, especially those found in the Chocó. Every year, new species are described as scientists go further into this macro world. The Shield Mantis (Choeradodis rhombicollis) is one of the best examples. Majestic as it looks at only 4cm in size, it is one of the top predators among insects.

iLCP Fellow Lucas Bustamante 1Frame4Nature: 

Tropical regions hold the vast majority of biodiversity on Earth; between 40% and 75% of all biotic species live in the rainforest. I was very privileged to be born in the heart of the tropics, a beautiful place called Ecuador. Smaller than the state of Arizona, this tiny nation holds the largest variety of ecosystems present in South America: the Amazon, Andes, Chocó, Dry forest and also the Galápagos Islands. In addition, its eternal spring weather makes Ecuador it the most biodiverse nation per square kilometer on Earth.


There are almost 300 formally described species of mammals in the area. Above, Tremarctos ornatus, commonly known as the Spectacle Bear from the Andes, is the only species of bear endemic to South America. Unfortunately, it is listed as a critically endangered species, which its biggest threats coming from hunting and habitat loss caused by deforestation.

Background Story La famosa lagartija Pinocchio. Por casi 50 años se consideró extinta hasta que fue vists nuevamente en el 2005 por un ornitólogo en Mindo (Pichincha, Ecuador). A partir de esa fecha, decenas de herpetólogos y turistas han visitado Ecuador para fotografiarlo y estudiarlo, tratar de entender su comportamiento e historia natural. Tuve la oportunidad de encontrarme con este místico animal después de trabajar durante 3 años en la región: fue un sueño cumplido. Saqué mi trípode y empecé a deleitarme con cada sonido del obturador. IUCN Red List: Endangered Technical specification Canon EOS 7D + 100mm Canon macro IS USM L 2.8 lens; 1/100 sec at f2.8; ISO 100; tripod

The Pinocchio Lizard (Anolis proboscis) tops the list of reptiles of the Chocó. With a distribution area less than 300km2, it is one of the most threatened reptiles on Earth, despite their unique beauty and exotic shape.

In Northwest Ecuador we found the Chocó, an enchanted rainforest that could have the same, or more, biodiversity than the famous Amazon basin, and is one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots. This means it has a countless number of different species, many of them endemic – species that only occur there! Sadly, more than 95% of this forest has been cleared, rendering it one of the most threatened tropical forests in the world – if not the most!


The Chocó Trogon (Trogon comptus) is an endemic bird of these forests, together with the more that 500-recorded species there.

Background Story The Chocó region is one of the top 25 global biodiversity hotspots with the largest number of species threatened by humans. Worse, the Ecuadorian part of Chocó is almost gone: illegal logging and oil palm plantations have left only 2% of the original forest standing. With a degree of biodiversity comparable to the Amazon, the Choco hosts many species found nowhere else on earth. That means that if this ecosystem disappears, many of the most charismatic monkeys, elegant birds and colorful frogs, like this Little-Devil Poison-Dart Frog (Oophaga sylvatica), will disappear too. The first time I visited these forests, a couple of years ago, I found these frogs in the dining room in my hotel. When I took this picture last year, it took hours to find a single individual. I hate to imagine these magical forests completely empty; with no more tiny red dots jumping between leaves and roots. Technical specification Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye Lens for Canon; 1/15 sec at f6.3; ISO 100. Tripod Exact location San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas, Ecuador.

The Little-Devil Poison-Frog (Oophaga sylvatica) is one of the colorful dots that ornate the Chocó. Poison frogs have ambulatory pharmacies that hide in their skins and are one of the best sources for potential medicines. Sadly, these guys are one of the main targets in the illegal pet trade.

During my last years studying, visiting and photographing the Chocó, I have seen it declining. Its main threats so far are the palm oil, crops, lumber companies, and slash and burn agriculture. It appears to me very difficult to accept that every day, hundreds of acres of this rainforest are being destroyed in exchange for a fine piece of furniture for our dining room or some of our daily-use products containing palm oil, like some toothpastes, soaps, and makeup.


The building of roads inside pristine forests sometimes can be worse than extractive activities in tropical countries mainly because there’s aren’t strong enough regulations for urban expansion. Therefore, people start deliberately to build houses, to grow monocultures, to deforest and to hunt wild animals.

Background Story Navegando en una canoa por el río Sábalo (Sucumbíos, Ecuador) me encontré con esta escena, una triste escena que se ve a diario en los bosques amazónicos. Gente cortando árboles con más de 100 años de edad en un bosque tan vírgen es una escena que te congela la sangre. En un solo árbol en la amazonía pueden haber más de 100 especies de diferentes organismos (anfibios, reptiles, aves, plantas, insectos, mamíferos) que son dependientes de este micro ecosistema. Mientras no existan políticas públicas que ofrezcan alternativas concretas para los pobladores de ciudades amazónicas, seguiremos viendo como día a día la amazonía y su exótica biodiversidad se caen delante de nuestros ojos. Technical Information Canon EOS 5D Mark II + EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens at 400mm; 1/125 sec at f5,6; ISO 200

Deforestation is probably the most significant problem in the Chocó. More than 12.000 hectares are cleared per year, which means that the Chocó lose an area the size of 34 soccer fields per day!

So here’s where photography becomes essential as the best tool to raise awareness about environmental conservation and to show the people that this green planet has serious problems that threaten the balance of nature. Together with my NGO Tropical Herping and Muchmore Design, we decided to launch Save The Chocó. This project aims to protect the Chocó forests and to raise global awareness to preserve them, using aesthetical design and conservation photography as its main instruments. So what are the goals of Save The Chocó? As much as we can do we…:

  • Buy strategic-located, critically threatened and well-preserved lands in the area, that will be managed for local foundations aimed to preserve those forests.
  • Work with local and foreign governments and NGO’s on educational campaigns to help them realize the real value of the area for a sustainable life quality in the long term.
  • Support the training of local communities and people around the area in eco-tourism, as a more profitable and less invasive way to live.
  • Conduct biological research studies of groups of animals, plants and living things that inhabit the area in order to understand what is formally at risk.
  • Look for influential and famous people that support and sponsor the initiative.

The result of these actions are then shared using audiovisual materials like coffee table books, documentaries, photo stories and articles in local and international press.


Similarly to the rainforests, the illegal pet trade is another threat to the Chocó. People love to have wild animals as pets, contributing to them being taken outside the jungle. The vast majority of animals die soon after because of a lack of understanding in their handling and also because they can be a potential vector of infectious diseases on a global scale.


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