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Ongoing Projects

Spectacled Bear
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Earn a free trip to Baños


Dedicated to the promotion and protection of biodiversity.   

San Martin Zoological Park in Baņos, Ecuador

The San Martin Zoological Park houses many species of animals found in the Sierra and Orient regions of Ecuador (spanning diverse habitats: grassy highlands, cloud forests, and amazonian rain forests).

The zoo's mission is to conserve and rehabilitate animals, and when possible to release them back into the wild. For the past thirteen years, it has provided care to sick wildlife, shelter for endangered species rescued from the international pet trade, and rehabilitated hurt animals brought to the zoo by local people. Current efforts underway at the zoo will move it toward becoming a Biodiversity Center for central Ecuador: the building of a conference center (hostel and meeting rooms now complete); the building of a biodiversity library (under construction); the building of an animal clinic that will service the community as well as the zoo (also under construction).

San Martin Zoo serves an educational function for both Ecuadorans and visitors to Ecuador: providing vivid lessons in vital concepts like habitat and the value of biodiversity. San Martin plays a role in reshaping attitudes about hunting, deforestation, ecology, and man's role as part of nature.

The San Martin Zoological Gardens are located approximately four hours from Quito, in the town of Baņos, known as gateway to the Amazon. Situated at the base of Tungurahua, at an altitude of approximately 6,000', the zoo is physically located within a series of canyon walls next to the Rio Pistaza. Click here to view the United Nations' map of Ecuador.

Endangered Species Photographic Documentation Project

Wild Spots Foundation
See Calendar for trip dates

Originally established as a college class in Biogeography (which is still offered by NSU), this project was first extended to science teachers (see Archives), then to photographers and veterinarians, and is now open to the general public.

Wild Spots Foundation provides an opportunity to visit the San Martin Zoological Park and surrounding areas in Ecuador, and to support the mission of the zoo.

Project participants have the chance to photograph or sketch (many rare) species, to volunteer as needed by zoo staff, and to experience the dynamic of a small, locally owned zoo first hand. Participants contribute observations, photographs, and/or sketches to a growing historical database about the zoo animals. Participants stay in clean rooms within the zoo compound.

The zoo is less than a mile from the center of Baņos with its shops and markets, its famous Basilica, and the hot-spring baths that give Baņos its name. Hikes to waterfalls, along and over mountain ridges offer participants many glimpses of Andean culture and Ecuadoran life.

A day trip to the Amazon basin is part of the project week. Participants observe the change of habitat first hand as dramatic river gorges become shallow, and streams braid toward the largest body of fresh water on earth. A small botanical garden outside the frontier town of Puyo displays a broad range of indigenous plants & trees, as well as many species of orchids. Garden guides explain the traditional uses of plants and the interdependencies between plant and insect species.

The San Martin Journey

See Calendar for trip dates


Dates: The trip generally runs from an early Saturday departure to a Saturday night arrival back home.
Costs: $2250
Transportation (included):
          Round trip air travel from Miami International Airport to Quito,
          Round trip van or bus to San Martin Zoological Park,
          Round trip van or bus for the Amazon basin day trip
Accommodations (included): San Martin Hostel
Food (included): Breakfasts and dinners
Additional expenses (not included): Lunches, shopping, tips, Ecuador exit fee (approximately $40), travel insurance
Dangers and warnings: please read our 10 reasons not to travel letter!


The following outline describes broadly most foundation trips to San Martin. Note that this schedule can be adapted for groups with special interests (such as photography, zoology, botany, veterinary medicine) or requirements (such as departure from other cities).  A Wild Spots Foundation leader usually accompanies a group and may offer workshops in digital photography or science education.

Day 1: Departure & Arrival
Meet at Miami International and depart on a flight to Quito.  Meet San Martin representative in Quito and drive to traditional Ecuadoran hacienda for lunch and/or photography.  Arrive at San Martin for dinner.

Day 2, 3, 4: Observe, Photograph, Sketch, Volunteer at the Zoo
Meet Zoo representatives, staff, and translator.  View Zoo mammals, reptiles, birds. By special arrangement with the zoo, Wild Spots Foundation project participants are allowed into enclosures with non-agressive animals & birds such as the Capybaras & the Blue-crested Motmot, the Owl Monkey, and the Sickled-wing Guan for purposes of photography. Special viewing arrangements are also made for some of the other animals like the rare Spectacled Bear and the Andean Condors.

Depending on factors like weather, zoo needs, species availability, and individual interests, participants can spend hours volunteering, photographing, sketching, or observing zoo creature.

Midday participants often drive into town (taxi: $1.25, bus: $.20) for lunch at local restaurants, shopping, internet & telephone access, visiting the church with its famous paintings and its museum, or otherwise exploring town.

On Wednesday and Saturday, a farmer's market in town provides an added incentive for town visits.

Day 5: Day trip to Puyo & Botanical Gardens
To view & hear described a vast array of ingigenous plant and tree species, as well as many carefully cultivated orchids. Several opportunities to visit dramatic waterfalls and take hikes are available en route. Breakfast and dinner are served at the zoo.

Day 6:
Choose your favorite zoo activities, hike the surrounding terrain, or take an optional day trip to nearby indigenous and local markets.

Day 7:
Depart after breakfast for Quito and the flight back to Miami.

For the upcoming schedule of trips to Ecuador, see the Calendar.

Blue-crested Motmot


Wild Spots foundation is building a small cache of trip leaders who can escort groups to San Martin, work with staff on the ground, and provide organization, travel experience, and people skills.  Photography leaders should have experience in photographing wildlife and/or botanicals.  The foundation is also interested in leaders with other backgrounds such as veterinarian medicine, zoology, and neotropical birding. If you are interested in learning more about leading trips to San Martin (as described on this page), please email Dr. Barry Barker at: barkerb@wildspotsfoundation.org

Wild Spots Foundation,  757 SE 17th St Causeway,  Fort Lauderdale,  Florida, 33316.    954-816-1974

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