‘Irreplaceable’ Areas Identified in New Study

Atelopus walkeri or laetissimus - xs - Copy Atelopus walkeri found in El Dorado
el dorado scenic El Dorado Nature Reserve
philippines cockatoo Philippine Cockatoo found in Cleopatra’s Needle

A study of the world’s protected areas released in the November 14th edition of Science has identified 137 sites containing the world’s most ‘irreplaceable’ wildlife. Two of the most critical areas cited in the report are sites Rainforest Trust is working to protect.

Scientists analyzed data from 173,000 protected areas along with assessments of 21,500 species on the IUCN’s red list to calculate the ‘irreplaceability’ of individual protected areas. The results were then compared to determine each area’s contribution to the survival of bird, amphibian, and mammal species.

Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park, which has the earth’s highest concentration of continental range-restricted bird species, was named the most ‘irreplaceable’ protected area for threatened species in the world.

Many threatened and endangered species found in the park, however, also depend upon the 2,000-acre El Dorado Nature Reserve, which Rainforest Trust CEO helped establish in 2005. The reserve, which lies on the northwestern edge of the park, protects montane cloud forests and is home to a multitude of endemic and endangered bird, plant, and amphibian species. Three of the most threatened bird species found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (the Santa Marta Parakeet, the Santa Marta Bush-tyrant, and the Santa Marta Sabrewing) thrive at El Dorado.

Due to it’s biological importance, the reserve – which grew by 604 acres with our support last year – is an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site. A new Screech-owl species was discovered there in 2007, and a long-lost mammal species rediscovered in 2011.

Also mentioned in the study was the Palawan Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary, located on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The sanctuary ranked fourth on the list of overall ‘irreplaceable’ protected areas in the world.

Palawan Island, known for its high endemism rates, is also the site of a new Rainforest Trust project. Like the Palawan Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary, the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve will save habitat for a large number of endemic species. Thirty-one endangered and threatened species are found on and around Cleopatra’s Needle, including the last significant populations of the Palawan horned frog, the Philippine flat-headed frog, and the Philippine Cockatoo.

“The study’s findings confirm that Rainforest Trust is not just working in important areas – but some of the most critical in the world – to protect and maintain the earth’s biodiversity,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “Our mission points us towards ‘irreplaceable’ areas, and our projects in Colombia and Palawan are good examples of this.”

An international collaboration of conservation organizations contributed to the study. Participants included the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), the IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation), the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), and BirdLife International.

Colombian Rancher’s Wildlife Mission

luis Luis Ángel Ramírez
chestnut-capped_piha_proavesChestnut-capped Piha
quebrada que limita los predios de proaves y epm,  (2)Arriertito Antioqueño Nature Reserve

Luis Ángel Ramírez, a shopkeeper in the Colombian village of El Roble, has spent much of the last 13 years as the unofficial voice of conservation in a wilderness of ranchers and loggers quickly destroying the forests of Colombia’s Antioqueño Department.

Ramírez, who grew up on his family’s ranch and still works part-time as a rancher, understands well the urge to expand cattle production. The impulse, however, failed to resonate with him, and he eventually played a central role in setting up a reserve to protect the region’s wildlife.

Ramírez’s first conservation victory came as a boy when, after much pleading, he successfully convinced his father to spare the family’s forested properties from the axe.  After he and his brother inherited the family ranch, Ramírez realized his dream of protecting the forests permanently by converting his inheritance into a nature reserve.

The reserve now forms an important part of a protected area sheltering a multitude of threatened Andean wildlife. The 5,300-acre Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve, which has doubled in size due to Rainforest Trust support, contains tracts of primary rainforest that provide habitat not only for threatened bird and frog species, but also for the rare Spectacled bear.

Since its creation, Ramírez has been persistent in his efforts to support the reserve and ensure its success. “I’ve always assumed the role of caretaker for the reserve, making sure it was protected,” he said.

Another role he has adopted is that of local guide. In 1997, he accompanied a group of researchers (including Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman) that discovered the Chestnut-capped Piha (known locally as the Arrierito Antioqueño), an endangered bird species endemic to Colombia’s Central Andes.

Since aiding in its discovery, Ramírez has become a local champion for the Chestnut-capped Piha, advocating for improved protection. “We can’t let its song be lost from the world,” he explained.

With much of its habitat destroyed by mining and logging, the Chestnut-capped Piha is now confined to isolated forest fragments, one of which is protected by the Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve. Due to its importance for the survival of the Chestnut-capped Piha and other species, the reserve has been named as an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site.