Ecuador: Yasuni Man - The Film

The Project: ‘Yasuni Man’ is a documentary film by Ryan Killackey that will be focusing on the biodiversity, the Waorani indigenous culture, and the current issues pertaining to the oil discoveries in the Yasuni region of Ecuador. He was worked on it for the last several years and it will be released in 2015.

Yasuni National Park is a 3791 mi2 national park at the eastern end of Amazonian Ecuador. The region is known by many biologists to be the most, or one of the most, biodiverse regions on earth. In the same area, the Waorani (also spelt Huaorani) indigenous people have been living for over several hundred years as hunter-gatherers in this wildlife-rich section of the rainforest. Overlapping with Yasuni NP are an “Intangible Zone” of 2365 mi2 which serves as a reserve for the Waorani indigenous peoples native to the area including two uncontacted tribes, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane; and the UNESCO Yasuni Biosphere Reserve of 6495 mi2.  The park has world record numbers of various species.  Species counts will increase as more information is gathered (perhaps as a result of this project), but recent counts as of 2009 in the park1 are:

  • 150 amphibian species
  • 121 reptile species
  • 382 fish species
  • 596 bird species
  • 169 mammal species (including 117 species of bat)
  • over 100,000 species of insects
  • over 4,000 vascular plant species per 10,000 km2
  • 43 endemic species of vertebrates
  • 220-720 endemic species of plants

Over the last several decades, oil companies have been discovering oil under this region of the Amazon. Pressure continues to build for many of the Waorani groups as roads are built into their lands, bush meat is carried off to sell in nearby towns and villages, illegal loggers encroach to carry off the valuable timber, and oil exploration and drilling continues to grow which often results in spills and increased environmental disturbance to the surrounding lands. The most recent oil spill occurred May 31st, 2013 where a pipeline broke due to a landslide, spilling 11,000 barrels of oil into the Coca River. The oil has since made it’s way into the Napo River, which borders the northern end of Yasuni National Park.

For over the last three years, Ryan Killackey has been working to film his documentary within the Yasuni region. With the help of several Ecuadorian biologists, Ryan was able to gather valuable data on the abundant number of species found within the territory which will be shown in the film.  In addition he documented the way of life of the Waorani, being that they have been living in harmony with their natural environment for several hundred years without the help of outside civilizations.  His film will also describe the issues at hand with regards to the discovery of petroleum underneath this section of the Amazon and how it has affected the cultures and wildlife to date.

For a trailer of the film ‘Yasuni Man’, see here:

And for a 6-minute short film Ryan made for Yale University in conjunction with his film see here.

The Work: In 2012, I worked for two months on this project with Ryan in Ecuador. During that time we traveled throughout the Yasuni region and a portion was spent camping with a team of biologists and the Waorani. My job was to record the audio of the many animal sounds as well as of the interviews conducted of the biologists and of some people in Quito. Ryan and I would haul our gear deep into the rainforest and then set up while fending off ants, wasps, and mosquitoes so that we could capture the video and audio of various monkeys, birds, frogs or the work of the Waorani and biologists.

About the filmmaker: Ryan Killackey is a Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker. A graduate of the University of Montana’s Wildlife Biology program, he has worked on several film projects for PBS Nature, National Geographic, Passion Planet and Digital 3D. He has received four film awards from the International Wildlife Film Festival.


1  Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park Bass MS, Finer M, Jenkins CN, Kreft H, Cisneros-Heredia DF, et al. (2010) Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park. PLoS ONE5(1): e8767. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767