In the middle of the Life Centre you will find its colourful, fluttering heart: the Butterfly House, home to dozens of winged creatures, flying erratically from leaf to leaf.
Flashes of orange, translucent panes and eagle eyes blink into sight and then disappear. Though the scene of countless butterflies flitting around this bubble of lushness decorated with waterfalls and fountains may sound like a dream, this is a scientific experiment (one of Mashpi’s most successful) guarded over by four team members.
Many a process (and even more hours) goes into the Butterfly House, with each species collected from all over the reserve. Once it’s in the cage, it is observed, it’s eggs studiously collected by picking them off the backs of leaves. Then, each of their life stages documented, from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly.
Meet the people who keep the life cycles of these beautiful creatures in full flow.
Joselito is from the nearby town of Pacto and has been employed at Mashpi for over five years, and started working in the Butterfly House two years ago.
What were you doing before you started working in Mashpi?
I was working in agriculture, in panela. Working with cane is really hard, it’s a year-and-a-half of work before you can harvest it, and you need a mule for that!
How did you come to work at Mashpi?
A group of us from Pacto came to listen to a talk here by Carlos Morochz, and I started working below in the forest. I didn’t know anything about butterflies before I started working in the Life Centre two years ago.
What is an average day like?
We arrive early in the morning, check the cage for any damage, clean it and put out food and water. Then we clean the boxes where the pupas are kept, disinfect them, and put out food for each pupa – each one has its own type of leaf it likes to eat.
Next, we check the eggs, picking them off the leaves in the cage and sticking them to a new leaf so we can observe them. After that, we take the pupas out.
After lunch it’s a case of checking the plants and food for the butterflies, and looking for eggs. And that’s it! The next day we do it all again.
What do you love about Mashpi?
I love working with nature, on a mountain! We are breathing pure air, not like in Quito. It’s taught me a lot about the environment: back home I try to get others to be more interested, to clean rivers and plant trees.
21-year-old Agusto comes from the Community of Mashpi.
How did you end up working in Mashpi?
I came here six years ago, before the hotel had even opened. I was employed specifically to work with butterflies, but I also knew I would have the chance to study.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working at Mashpi?
A lot of my family work in agriculture, and that’s what I was doing before I came here. Some others work in Santo Domingo as day labourers. Maybe that’s what I would be doing too.
What do you like about your work at Mashpi?
I love the tranquility, and the freedom to do what you want. I’ve learned so much about butterflies, and had training in guiding. I read a lot and do my own experiments. I learn just from watching the butterflies, and I love to see the changes in them, this radical change.
What makes Mashpi so special?
The nature. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It’s so diverse, even just the insects.
Do you sleep at the hotel like the guides?
I come in at 6.30 every morning. There’s a mini bus that comes to pick us up, but sometimes I come walking from home. It’s 40 minutes walking through the forest. I’m happy to do it alone as I grew up here.