The Researcher Documenting Life in Earth's Most Biodiverse Ecosystem
Diego Mosquera shares the lush Ecuadorian Amazon with the world through camera traps, social media, and academic research.
Diego Mosquera has a lot of neighbors: Jaguars, rare dogs, anteaters, ocelots, thousands of species of birds and an estimated 100,000 different species of insects. Mosquera manages the Tiputini Biodiversity Station deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which makes up 6.5 square kilometers of the most biodiverse region on Earth.
“I went as a student, and I fell in love with the jungle,” Mosquera told me on the phone. “11 years ago, I saw a jaguar from a canoe. He was in the forest, I was in the river, and I was looking at the jaguar and he was looking at me. I was hypnotized. He wasn’t scared at all. I still get chills when I remember that moment.
”I consider the jungle my real home now,” he added. “I spend most of my time there.”
I visited Tiputini four years ago. It’s not easy to get there: A flight from Quito to an Amazonian city called Coca, then a three hour canoe ride, three hour jeep trip down a dirt road cut through the jungle by oil companies, followed by an additional couple hours in a canoe to reach the research center, which is a mecca for botanists, primatologists, entomologists, zoologists, and other scientists from around the world.
The station—which is made up of a couple jungle huts, a kitchen/cafeteria, a larger, two-story research building, and trails and tower structures to study the jungle floor and canopy—can only hold about 20 researchers at a time. Visiting Tiputini is a rare privilege, and so Mosquera is doing his best to make the Amazon accessible to those who can’t visit.
Mosquera has set up a series of camera traps on the jungle floor, which he uses to take photos and video of extremely rare species like jaguars and wild dogs. Recent footage—which he posts on his website, Facebook, and Instagram—includes a jaguar mother with two cubs, a jaguar hunting prey, and two photos of the bush dog, which is considered one of the rarest animals in the Amazon (of Mosquera’s 200,000 camera trap photos, he has only two of bush dogs and has never seen one with his own eyes).
He’s been applying for grants that would allow him to put camera traps in the jungle’s canopy, offering a chance to get candid footage of what is essentially an entirely different ecosystem than the rainforest floor.
Mosquera has used the camera trap footage to write scientific papers demonstrating that the Ecuadorian Amazon is the place with the most jaguars on Earth. Last year, researchers at Tiputini compiled all the scientific research that’s been done at the station into a book that was distributed to local schoolchildren.
In the last few years, Mosquera has also started flying drones above Tiputini to get an aerial perspective of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park—it’s breathtaking footage that offers a stark contrast to the views you see while flying into Coca, where the rainforest has been clearcut for farms, ranches, and buildings.
“When I started flying the drones I was able to see this picture of a pristine forest that basically hasn’t changed for 10,000 years,” he said. “You can understand the complexity of the forest—the lakes, the natural clearings. Now I want to use drone sensors to study the phrenology of the forest—how often trees produce fruits and use it to compare that to what the animals actually to. It helps you get a better picture of how the forest actually works.”
Mosquera’s outreach has been particularly important in the last few years, as the Ecuadorian government begins to open pristine areas of Yasuni to oil drilling, which has proved disastrous in other parts of Ecuador and Peru. He spend much of his time in Tiputini, but goes to Quito and other parts of Ecuador for a week or so a month to teach classes and share what he’s learned about the forest.
“We’ve created an awareness around conservation, which is something that’s hard to measure—pretty much impossible,” he said. “But we’re a reference for all of Ecuador. People from the government don’t have a clue what’s going on here in scientific terms. This is how they learn.”
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