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A new “San Lucas Warbler” has been formally described by Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. The Warbler was discovered during the first ever bird survey conducted in the Serranía de San Lucas, an isolated and conflict-ridden mountain range in northern Colombia that Dr. Salaman has called “possibly one of the greatest biological enigmas in the Americas.”
The new Warbler, named the San Lucas Warbler (Basileaterus tristriatus sanlucasensis), was formally described in the latest Bulletin of the British Ornithologist Club by Dr. Salaman. It has been initially designated a distinctive new subspecies of the Three-striped Warbler based on differences in molecular biology, plumage and voice from other populations and will likely be recognized as a distinct species with further research in the future.
The Serranía de San Lucas is a narrow 68 mile massif in northern Colombia covered in lush tropical rainforest that rises to over 7,000 feet. This once heavily forested massif has long been a stronghold for the ELN guerrilla insurgents, peppered with land mines and more recently plagued by illegal gold mining. The dangerous political landscape has prohibited access to researchers and conservationists.
| New San Lucas Warbler
© Dr. Paul Salaman
Dr. Salaman (second from right) during 2001 expedition
© Dr. Paul Salaman
The forest of the Serrania de San Lucas
© Dr. Paul Salaman
Dr. Salaman led a team of field biologists on several attempted expeditions to the San Lucas massif in 1999 and again in 2000, before being turned back by guerillas. In 2001 the team was able to successfully mount an expedition to reach over 4,500 feet an area known as El Retén.
The team managed to make the first ever biological surveys in the highlands of the Serranía de San Lucas under very difficult conditions that involved navigating mined hillsides and tense encounters with guerrillas. They managed to survey at 4,500 feet to find this new Warbler on the 18th of March, 2001. The San Lucas Warbler is the first new taxa described from this mountain range.
In addition to this new discovery, the team recorded 374 bird species, eleven of which are considered threatened by the IUCN, including the Critically Endangered Blue-Knobbed Currasow. The survey also found endangered mammals such as the Spectacled Bear, Silvery Bare-Face Tamarin, and the White Fronted Capuchin Monkey, all classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
These preliminary results highlight the global importance of the Serranía de San Lucas for biodiversity and point to the possibility that many more species of flora and fauna unknown to science may be found at higher elevations. Biologically, the Serranía de San Lucas is one of the least known and most interesting areas in the Western Hemisphere.
Unfortunately, discoveries of massive gold deposits in the 1990’s and an expansion of illicit coca production have drastically altered the San Lucas Landscape in the past two decades. Today less than 10 percent of the forest’s original 2.5 million acres remains due to agriculture, small scale mining and other human impacts.
Rainforest Trust and our Colombian partner ProAves have pushed local authorities and the Colombian government to create a national park to protect the Serranía de San Lucas for over 15 years. Unfortunately, mining activities in the massif have prevented to date the creation of a protected area.
In Dr. Salaman’s words, “the biological treasures of the Serranía de San Lucas are disappearing and despite all of our best attempts this ‘lost world’ is being destroyed before our eyes.” The discovery of this endemic, the first new taxa found here, further highlights the biological importance and need to protect this unique mountain range.
Salaman has now described six birds new to science, including the Chocó Vireo–which he discovered at the age of 19. In 1998 he helped found Fundación ProAves, which has become one of the most effective conservation organizations in South America. After graduating with a D.Phil from the University of Oxford in 2001, Salaman undertook a post-doctoral fellowship at The Natural History Museum, before coordinating biodiversity science in the Andes for Conservation International. Salaman is a member of the Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Global Council. He joined Rainforest Trust in 2008 as the Director of Conservation and was appointed the CEO in January 2012.
Click to read Dr. Salaman’s 2001 expedition report.