Rare Colombian Species Saved From Vacation Home Development

WASHINGTON, DC, April 7, 2006 (ENS) - Quick action by an alliance of conservation groups has raised $130,000 to purchase a haven for endangered species on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, before it could be developed for vacation homes. Now the site will be protected as a nature reserve.

One of the world’s most important areas for endangered species, the site in the northeast corner of Colombia, near the Venezuelan border, is the sole breeding ground for the Santa Marta parakeet, classed as globally endangered. Another 18 bird species and five threatened amphibians can only be found there.

parakeet

Globally endangered Santa Marta parakeet (Photo © ProAves Colombia)
The American Bird Conservancy, Conservation International, and Fundación ProAves of Colombia stepped in to protect the 1,600 acre site on the northwest slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta massif.

“This represents a great leap for avoiding extinction,” said Alonso Quevedo, president of Fundación ProAves. “Not only is creation of the reserve a landmark for Colombian conservation, it is a fine example of international collaboration.”

All three conservation groups are among the 55 members of the Alliance for Zero Extinction. The alliance issued a report in December 2005 that identified 595 sites around the world containing the last significant habitat for one or more endangered species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and plant.

The Alliance listed the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta site as one of the most crucial sites to protect.

In late December, Fundación ProAves learned of the imminent sale of plots at the site for construction of vacation homes.

The group alerted the Alliance for Zero Extinction of the crisis, and in less than a month, the American Bird Conservancy and Conservation International had secured the $130,000 necessary for Fundación ProAves to buy the entire site.

The site now will be safeguarded as the El Dorado Nature Reserve.

Santa Marta

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Photo courtesy Alliance for Zero Extinction)
“We were able to save this site from the bulldozer in the nick of time and managed to safeguard the parakeet’s last remaining stronghold,” said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “This is an important international conservation success and a model for quick, effective, international action.”

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the highest coastal mountain ranges in the world,

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world, rising from the shores of the Caribbean Sea to 5,775 meters, almost 19,000 feet. It encompasses almost all climatic zones across a strip only 17 miles in a straight line from the sea to the tops of the mountains.

These mountains shelter many species found nowhere else across a multitude of isolated ecosystems.

Giant anteaters, white-bellied spider monkeys, white-lipped peccaries, red crested tree rats, and red howler monkeys are among the 120 species of mammals that roam the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, along with elusive cats such as the jaguar, puma and little spotted cat, according the the Nature Conservancy, which also does conservation work in the area.

The Sierra Nevada harbors 46 species of amphibians and reptiles; those that live above 9,900 feet (3,000 meters) are found nowhere else on the planet, having evolved in complete isolation, the Conservancy says.

At least 628 bird species have been recorded in Sierra Nevada. Some species, such as the Santa Marta antpitta, rusty-headed spinetail, Santa Marta bush-tyrant, and white-lored warbler, are found nowhere else on Earth.

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Santa Marta bush-tyrant (Photo © ProAves Colombia)
Other unique birds found in the Sierra Nevada are the Andean condor, blue-knobbed curassow, sapphire-bellied hummingbird, and black-solitary eagle, which are endangered species.

This site is a vital stopover point for declining neotropical migratory birds that breed in the United States and Canada, such as the cerulean warbler and the golden-winged warbler.

At least 71 species of migratory birds that travel between Colombia and North America have been recorded in the Sierra Nevada.

Protecting the new El Dorado Nature Reserve prevents destruction of valuable and rare biodiversity, and also ensures a clean water source for coastal towns that depend on two watersheds that have their sources at the site.

“Such quick action to save several species of birds and amphibians from extinction shows the importance of conservation partnerships such as the Alliance for Zero Extinction,” said Claude Gascon, Conservation International’s senior vice president for regional programs.

“By working together, we were able to forever protect a site identified by Alliance for Zero Extinction as the last remaining habitat of critically endangered species."