Ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy or THE HOBBIT in rapt enchantment with the lush environs of Middle Earth, only to walk out into the real world surrounding you and suddenly feel inexplicably underwhelmed?
Well, the fascinating “Walking Trees” of Sumaco Biosphere Reserve are essentially real-life Ents that will remind you how much wonder remains waiting to be truly appreciated by man.
The forest near the French Bigal River Biological Reserve’s research station within the Sumaco has lost around 200 hectares of forest to human clearing since 2010. Thousands hectares more surrounding it have fallen or deteriorated since the 1986 construction of a more convenient access road. It’s a celebrated park highlighted by soaring condors and the towering rage of active volcanoes in a country encompassing one of the world’s largest protected partitions of wild forests. Over 500 species of birds, 51 large mammalian species, 64 species of reptile, 61 varieties of amphibians and over 6,000 plant species reside within the Sumaco about three hours by car followed by another seven to 15 hours by mule, boat or foot from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito – a total 100km journey southeast, much of it on a mud-addled uphill road. Among the numerous species that call the Sumaco home, certain trees within its protected confines actually travel two to three centimeters per day as their new roots gradually relocate across the forest.
The trees’ roots can grow up to 20m in length as they seek out more solid ground, causing old roots to slowly lift into the air as the tree bends toward its new ones. It’s something of an adaptation that keeps the tree chasing the best sunlight and earth over several years.
It’s just one of the wonders of a mystical place still revealing such wonders as previously undocumented waterfalls rising over 30 meters high, previously undiscovered species of mammals and reptiles, and even over 150 new cockroach species discovered in a single location.
An “agricultural reform” program has recently made strides toward saving the Sumaco. Locals can easily gain authorization to cut trees down in the interest of gaining a piece of land’s living rights, which they can – and often do – sell after fives years. However, many choose to preserve their land responsibly, buying sizable parcels for under $500 per hectare and holding on to the land to protect it from destruction and preserve its flora and fauna.
Treebeard would be proud.