Urgent Disaster Relief for El Dorado Nature Reserve

Colombia

  • Santa Marta Parakeet. Photo by Alonso Quevedo

Fundación ProAves’ El Dorado Nature Reserve is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range which boasts the highest concentration of endemic birds in the world and protects a breeding stronghold of the Santa Marta Parakeet, along with a variety of rare amphibians and plants.

Unfortunately, these species are now struggling to survive amidst the tragic destruction of their habitats. Though the reserve is a designated protected area which prevents logging and other negative land uses, it has been drastically impacted by recent ecological disasters.

In the spring, two fires swept through the reserve and spread rapidly since they occurred during the dry season. This catastrophe damaged nearly 124 acres of forest habitat, including the nest boxes for the Endangered Santa Marta Parakeet.

This fall, Hurricane Matthew caused major damage to the reserve’s infrastructure and trees, and wildlife populations that depend on this land severely suffered. The ProAves staff witnessed heartbreaking scenes when surveying the destruction, including lifeless hummingbirds and a Scarlet-fronted Parakeet that had plummeted to its death because of the intense storm, a branch still clutched in its claw.

Fortunately no humans were hurt, but it will take momentous efforts to return this reserve to its spectacular nature. With your help, El Dorado Nature Reserve can once again be a safe refuge for the species that call this place home.

Biodiversity

  • One of the many types of Harlequin frogs. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

Numerous scientific publications and every major international conservation organizations has identified the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as the planet’s single most important site for threatened and endemic biodiversity.

Boasting the highest rates of bird endemism in the world, the range is home to over 600 bird species, including more than 20 found nowhere else, such as the Santa Marta Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata) and the Santa Marta Warbler (Basileuterus basilicus).

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta also hosts a stunning diversity of rare and endemic amphibians species, including the critically endangered Harlequin frog (Atelopus nahumae),that are threatened by habitat loss.

Isolated from other mountainous regions, many of the species found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta evolved there and are not found anywhere else in the world.

While many of its species have already been identified, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta still holds biological secrets. In 2011, the Santa Marta Toro, a cute hamster-like mammal long-thought extinct, was rediscovered after an absence of 110 years.

Laura and Bella Carriker, direct descendents of South American naturalist Melbourne Carriker, help tell the story of the urgent need to save the irreplaceable land and wildlife of the Colombian rainforest.

 

Challenges

  • Forest in the surrounding area is threatened by encroaching development. Photo by ProAves.

Major ecological disasters have negatively impacted the wildlife habitats at El Dorado Nature Reserve. Two fires swept through the property this spring and destroyed nearly 124 acres of forest, and Hurricane Matthew caused major damage to the trees and infrastructure of the reserve.

Following decades of uncontrolled colonization and agricultural expansion, only 15% 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 forests.

Many endemic species are found at altitudes between 4,300-9,200 feet, where their range comprises less than 190 square miles. Deterioration of this habitat poses a critical risk of extinction for many of these species.

Communities

  • The Kogi are reclusive and their lives are entwined with the land. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Deep in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains live 20,000 indigenous Kogi people. A culturally intact pre-Colombian society, the Kogi have lived in remote conditions since Spanish conquest.

The Kogi have been joined in more recent times by Colombian colonists that survive on a local economy dedicated to cattle ranching and coffee production.

Landscape

  • The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has a vast range of different environs. Photo by Rainforest Trust.

Located in northwestern Colombia, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the world’s highest coastal mountain range. This ancient massif, which pre-dates the Andes, rises from the Caribbean Ocean to an altitude of 18,700 feet. Landscapes ranging from tropical rainforest to alpine tundra and glaciers are represented within its limits.

Solutions

  • ProAves is hard at work attempting to make critical expansions to El Dorado. Photo by ProAves.

Rainforest Trust partner Fundación ProAves is working to restore the El Dorado Nature Reserve so that it can once again be a safe haven for wildlife in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. ProAves is repairing infrastructure, clearing damaged trails and reviving habitat through forest restoration in areas that were most impacted by the fires and hurricane.

With rampant deforestation placing the Sierra Nevade de Santa Marta at risk, Rainforest Trust and its partner Fundación ProAves surveyed the area to locate critical areas for endemic flora and fauna at greatest risk of extinction.

Together, the two organizations embarked on a major conservation initiative to purchase and protect privately-owned properties. Since 2006, a dozen key properties have been purchased, which have been used to establish the El Dorado Reserve.

The reserve protects one of the last strongholds of cloud forest in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and contains nine critically endangered species, including the Santa Marta Parakeet, the Sierra Nevada Harlequin frog, and the Santa Marta Frog.

In 2011, ProAves created the Carriker Bird Sanctuary after securing the upper elevations of Vista Nieve, a farm made famous with publication of Melbourne Armstrong Carriker’s book “Vista Nieve: The Remarkable True Adventures of an Early Twentieth Century Naturalist and His Family in Colombia, South America.” The reserve was named to honor the ornithological achievements of Carriker, one of South America’s foremost naturalists.

Fast action is needed to secure and permanently protect these properties before it is too late. Funds raised for this project will allow ProAves to consolidate and make critical expansions to the El Dorado Reserve and the Carriker Bird Sanctuary. Doing so will provide necessary habitat for the endangered species that depend on these unique areas for their survival.