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Uncovering Ecuador's biodiversity jewel

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yasuni in Ecuador's Amazon region is thought to be the world's most biodiverse forest
  • Scientists in the area have used motion-sensing cameras to track rare animals
  • Threat to the area comes from huge oil reserves deep beneath the forest floor

(CNN) -- Yasuni National Park in Ecuador's Amazon region is thought of as the most biologically diverse forest in the world.

Covering around 1 million hectares of rainforest in eastern Ecuador's Amazon region, it is home to an abundance of plant and animal life.

Dr. Kelly Swing leads the Tiputini Biodiversity Research Center responsible for cataloging the area's amazing array of flora and fauna.

Swing has worked in the region for more than 30 years. One of the biggest problems his team faced was spotting the plant life and animals in the deep forests, home to more than 20 threatened or near threatened species.

The answer came in 2005 with motion-detecting and heat-sensing cameras, which have captured 28,000 images of many rare animals included curassows, ocelots and pumas.

While many species may be barely visible, the biggest unseen threat to the area's survival is from the rich resources of oil buried deep beneath the forest floor.

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Nearly 1 billion barrels of crude oil are thought to be under the northwest section of Yasuni, worth an estimated $10 billion. In 2007, the Ecuadorian government made an offer that the oil would not be extracted on the condition that developed nations compensated them half of the money that the country would have earned through extracting the oil.

The money, it says, would go toward social services for the local and indigenous populations of the area as well as to research into renewable energy technology.

"It's something that will set an example for other areas that have the same condition that we have. There are about 9 or 10 countries that could use this example," said Ivonne Baki, lead negotiator for Ecuador.

Yet some believe that Ecuador is holding a priceless piece of the Amazon to ransom. Ecuador's vice president, Lenin Moreno, believes otherwise.

"The Ecuadorian people are making the biggest sacrifice here because they are letting go of around $3.5 billion -- money which could be invested in the country's development."

 
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