Nicole was born and raised near Bonn (Germany).
She completed a master of science in biology at the University of Bonn, majoring in ecology and environmental sciences. During her time as a university student Nicole did several backpacking trips through Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia until her fascination for neotropical rainforests brought her to South America. She participated in a tropical ecology course in Brazil and studied edge effects on bird populations. In 2003, she backpacked through Ecuador for the first time and volunteered at a biological station in the Amazon. She fell in love with the country and a year later she conducted the field research for her master thesis on the ecology of hummingbird pollination in Mindo (Ecuador) where she also met her husband Wilo. In 2005, Nicole graduated from university and returned to Mindo where she lived and worked as a bird and nature guide for a year. At this time the idea of Un poco del Chocó was born. To realize their dream Nicole and Wilo went back to Germany for work. Nicole jobbed in different fast food restaurants, worked as a postwoman and tutored high school students in the afternoons. In 2008, Nicole and Wilo returned to Ecuador and finally bought the land for their project Un poco del Chocó. While Wilo started building their house in the reserve, Nicole obtained her license as a naturalist guide and honorary forest ranger. She also started teaching high school student groups for National Geographic Student Expeditions during the summer, first as a local guide in Mindo and later as a trip leader. Since 2013 Nicole has led several Marine & Tropical Biology and Wildlife Conservation programs for Nat Geo student expeditions in Ecuador and the Galapagos (2013-2016), Australia (2015), Belize (2016), Namibia (2017, 2019) and Costa Rica (2018). In 2018, the Ministry of Tourism certified her as a National Tour Guide for Ecuador. Furthermore, Nicole participated in bird banding programs and courses in England (2012), Peru (2013), Ecuador (2014), Colombia (2017) and recently in Costa Rica (2018), where she also got certified as a bird bander by the North American Banding Council. Nicole is a member of the Asociation of Naturalist Guides in Mindo and the official compiler of the Mindo-Tandayapa X-mas bird count.
At Un poco del Chocó, Nicole manages the biological station, teaches tropical ecology courses, supervises internships and research projects and gives birdwatching tours through the reserve.
Management, Research & Internship Supervisor
Wilfrido (Wilo) Vaca
Wilo was born and raised in Mindo (Ecuador).
He is an artistic carpenter and wood-carver; his first wood sculpture he had already carved at the age of 11. Due to the economic situation of his family, Wilo only went to school until the age of 12. Later he worked with his father as a lumberjack and learned carpentry. At the age of 17, Wilo realized that logging has no future and stopped working with his father. So he lived on casual jobs in Mindo and in Quito. Because of his knowledge of trees, he also assisted phenology studies at the Ecuadorian coast for a few months. In 1996, he travelled to southern Germany where he worked at different organic farms and learned German. In 2000, he returned to Mindo and established the first tubing business with some friends. When the construction of the OCP-Pipeline through the „Mindo-Nambillo“ Reserve started, Wilo and other activists set up a protest camp in the canopy. Despite the pacifistic protest the camp was cleared by the army, Wilo and other activists were arrested and the pipeline was built through private land. After these events Wilo built the restaurant of his parents where he worked until he met his wife Nicole and went to Germany with her. There he worked for a painting and restoration company for two years. Back in Ecuador in 2008, Wilo started building their house in the reserve. In 2010 the construction of the station house followed. In 2016, Wilo added a bigger common area to the station house and in 2018 he build the new dormitory.
At Un poco del Chocó, Wilo is responsible for the carpentry and maintenance work, the improvement of the trail system and the care for the organic garden. Besides supervising the volunteer work he also enriches the station with his culinary skills.
Carpenter & Cook
Christian is a young local from the nearby village Las Tolas. Since Wilo and Nicole started Un poco del Chocó, he often helped out on weekends or during his vacation. In 2013, he graduated from high school and now works at the reserve full time. As he is interested in birds, cooking, carpentry and ecotourism, the reserve is the ideal place for him. Christian is currently studying at the Instituto Tecnológico Internacional ITHI to obtain his certification as a national tourist guide.
At Un poco del Chocó, Christian is our “man for everything”. He works together with volunteers on the trails and in the garden, helps cooking, guides tourists and assists Nicole with her bird banding project.
Staff, Field Assistant
Nature Reserve & Biological Station
Leonel (Leo) Montalvo
Leo, Christian's younger brother, is also from the nearby village Las Tolas. He joined our team in 2019 after graduating from high school and has since become our second "man for everything". Just like his older brother Christian he is interested in wildlife, loves cooking and carpentry. Currently he is learning about the birdlife in the reserve and Nicole and Christian are training him as an assisitant bird bander as well.
At Un poco del Chocó, Leo also works together with volunteers on the trails and in the garden, cooks lunch and assists Nicole with her bird banding project.
Staff, Field Assistant