On Colombia’s Caribbean shores stands the highest coastal mountain on earth. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a corrugated pyramid of rock that rises almost four miles high. This ancient massif dates back to the Jurassic period and contains a microcosm of the entire planet from deserts to rainforests to glaciers, with an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else. It is regarded as the planet’s single most important site for threatened and endemic biodiversity as it boasts the highest concentration of endemic bird species in the world. As a result, the prestigious journal Science dubbed the area the “Most Irreplaceable Site on Earth” and a major priority for biodiversity conservation.
Located on the Sierra Nevada’s most vulnerable northwestern flank – less than ten miles from the city of Santa Marta – is perhaps the world’s most important nature reserve – El Dorado. Established in 2006 with Rainforest Trust support, we have helped our Colombian partner Fundacion ProAves greatly expand the reserve’s protected area over the past decade, safeguarding habitat for threatened species such as the Critically Endangered Santa Marta Toro and the Santa Marta Harlequin Frog. Only one individual of the Santa Marta Toro has been documented in over 100 years, and it was found in the El Dorado Bird Reserve in 2011 and identified by Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. The elusive species is restricted to the northwest slope of the Santa Marta mountain range, making it exceptionally vulnerable.
Following decades of uncontrolled colonization and agricultural expansion, only 15 percent of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s original vegetation remains unaltered. Principle threats include the expansion of farms, pasturelands and coffee plantations. In addition, the construction of new vacation homes poses a growing danger to the forests.
In a final push to consolidate this crucial reserve, Rainforest Trust is seeking $1,824,957 to strategically acquire key properties and protect 12,179 acres to provide a safe haven for the planet’s most important biodiversity hotspot. With rampant deforestation placing this biodiversity jewel at tremendous risk, our partner has surveyed the landscape to locate the most critical areas for endangered and endemic flora and fauna. These are the areas that will be urgently protected in perpetuity. In addition, a multifaceted conservation program has been implemented that includes reserve protection, eradication of invasive and non-native Mexican pines, a massive habitat restoration program and installing nest-boxes to help the Santa Marta parakeet populations rebound. The ongoing expansion of the reserve is critical to safeguard the area’s wildlife. The new 12,179-acre sanctuary will safeguard the future of countless endangered species that depend on this unique area for their survival.