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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 that dates back to the Jurassic period contains a microcosm of the entire planet from deserts to rainforest 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 Fundación 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. 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.
El Dorado Nature Reserve, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta Toro (CR), San Lorenzo Harlequin Frog (EN), Santa Marta Bush-tyrant (EN), Santa Marta Parakeet (EN), Santa Marta Sabrewing (EN)
Montane cloud forest
Deforestation for pasturelands and coffee plantations
Land purchase and designation
Price per Acre:
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The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range’s isolation and diverse spectrum of ecosystems that stretch across extreme variations in altitude...
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range’s isolation and diverse spectrum of ecosystems that stretch across extreme variations in altitude (0 to 19,000 feet) and climate (desert to wet) ensure that this region has an unparalleled diversity of fauna and flora. The El Dorado Nature Reserve sits squarely in the wettest tropical forests from 2,000 to 12,000 feet elevation -- an area with rich soils and ideal climate for agriculture. As a consequence, many of the plant and animal species that reside here are already severely threatened with extinction. Among these species, there are three of the most threatened birds in South America: the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Bush-tyrant and Santa Marta Sabrewing. In particular, the area to be acquired includes over 90 percent of all known nesting pairs of the Santa Marta Parakeet. The Santa Marta Toro (Santamartamys rufodorsalis) is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Only one individual has been documented in over 100 years, and it was found in the El Dorado Nature Reserve in 2011 and identified by Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. The elusive species is restricted to the El Dorado reserve area, making it particularly vulnerable.
Following decades of uncontrolled colonization and agricultural expansion, less than 15 percent of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s original highland forest remains intact.
Principle threats include the expansion of farms, pasturelands and coffee plantations. In addition, the construction of vacation homes in the cooler climes of the mountain poses a growing danger to the forests. Unfortunately, the area’s many endangered and endemic species are concentrated in these cooler montane forests where threats are greatest. Almost every endemic species in the massif is struggling to survive amidst the continued destruction of their habitat. Thus, deterioration of this habitat poses a critical risk of extinction for many of these species. The El Dorado Nature Reserve is the only strictly protected area in the region, but its protection has been repeatedly challenged by neighboring landowners wanting to encroach on the reserve and develop housing. This project will greatly step up protective measures to not only protect against challenges but also expand the area under protection.
Deep in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains live four distinctive indigenous communities, including the Kogi people.
A culturally intact pre-Columbian society, the Kogi have lived in remote conditions since Spanish conquest. Within the upper part of El Dorado Nature Reserve is a small lagoon that is a sacred lake of fertility to the Kogi people. The Kogi, who frequently visit the site, believe that if the lake dries up, the human race will lose its fertility and vanish. To the indigenous people hidden within its folds, this mountain range is “the heart of the world.” In more recent times, Colombian colonists have settled in the area, and they survive on a local economy dedicated to unsustainable cattle ranching and coffee production.
Thanks to the support of our board members who cover the majority of our operating expenses, Rainforest Trust is able to allocate 100% of your project donation directly to conservation action.
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