for National Geographic News
To protect some of the rarest birds in the world, a private foundation is creating new nature reserves spanning thousands of acres of South American bird habitat.
The seed for this unique conservation effort was the surprise 1997 discovery of a new bird species in southern Ecuador (see map).
To date, more than 5,500 acres (about 2,200 hectares) of cloud forest have been set aside to protect nearly the entire known range of the Jocotoco antpitta, the ground-dwelling antbird that started the movement.
An additional six reserves encompassing more than 14,000 acres (5,600 hectares) have been established in other parts of the country.
These reserves protect several rare and threatened birds, including the entire known global populations of the pale headed brush finch and the black breasted puffleg, a rare hummingbird (wallpaper: hummingbird in a cloud forest).
The program sets aside essential habitat that would otherwise be logged and turned to agricultural fields.
"We have taken it upon [ourselves] to try to protect those species that are not protected in national parks," said Niels Krabbe, a bird expert at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Krabbe is a cofounder of the Ecuador-based Jocotoco Foundation, which was established in 1998. The foundation plans to create two more reserves within the next two years.
All of the reserves are relatively small compared to the vast swathes of forest locked up in national parks. But each parcel of land serves to protect at least one rare bird whose survival would otherwise be in question, according to Krabbe.
Greg Butcher, the director of conservation science for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C., said the Jocotoco Foundation was inspiration for the recently formed Alliance for Zero Extinction.
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