The story of the Payamino Project starts 39 years ago: In 1968, at the age of 4, Darwin Garcia moved to the Payamino territory with his father who was the first teacher in the area. Darwin spent the next 15 years of his life growing up as a Payamino child, learning the secrets of the forest and living a traditional indigenous way of life. At the age of 19 Darwin left the community to pursue his education and, having worked for some time to raise enough money, put himself through University, studying to become a Jungle Teacher. Over the next 20 years Darwin kept in touch with his adopted community and in 1997 returned to the community to set up a tourist enterprise. Darwin’s enigmatic character, very good knowledge of English, and love and understanding of the forest he grew up in meant business was good as word of mouth recommendations spread. In 1999 Nan Swannie, a graduate of the University of Glasgow Zoology Department, bought Darwin’s tour after reading a recommendation at the South American Explorers Club. Inspired by Darwin’s mission to protect his forest Nan returned to the UK and told Dr Stewart White about the area. He decided to take Nan at her word and led the first University of Glasgow Ecuador Expedition in the summer of 2000 to study the ornithology of the region.
With the first Glasgow Expedition being a success, the door was opened for a more comprehensive project to be implemented. In 2001 Nan and her partner Jens Sisgaard, an employee of Aalborg Zoo, Denmark, set up a project called Zoos Go Wild and secured funding from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to spend a year in South America researching 42 conservation projects with the intention of providing European Zoos with information to set up in-situ conservation programmes. Aalborg Zoo was the first to agree and in 2002 the Payamino Project was officially designated with a guaranteed 10years of funding. Since then a further four zoos have started programmes with projects visited in 2001.
“Project Payamino was initiated because there was a need for support in the community San José de Payamino and because they have a territory of 60.000 ha of primary rainforest in one of the most species diverse areas of the world. And because there is a Darwin and a connection to the zoo world. The focus has always been wildlife and habitat protection, but we soon realised that the way forward was to work with the community and focus on education, health and alternative, sustainable incomes. At the same time we wanted more research for two reasons: 1. to find out what was hiding in the forest and 2. to use these findings to raise the value of the area in the eyes of the conservation world and the official Ecuador.”
Jens Sisgaard, Project Co-Founder
A deal was struck. The community agreed to stop hunting and fishing for the bushmeat market; to stop the sale of live animals; to stop using poisons and dynamite in fishing and hunting; to stop selling timber and to stop oil, mining, and logging companies from entering the community territory. In return Aalborg Zoo agreed to provide $15,000 per year to support the community, split between community projects, buying handicrafts and employing Darwin as the Project’s Ecuadorian Co-ordinator. They also agreed to provide alternative sources of income to supplement the zoo’s money, to provide a sustainable future for the community. This project is now exactly half way through its initial ten year agreement and is entering what could be a difficult phase as promises made need to be fulfilled.