Colombia is one of the world's “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet's biodiversity. In 2013, Colombia became the first country to record a landmark 1,900 species of birds—a figure that continues to increase every year. The country has nearly 20 percent of the world's total avian species, including 200 migratory species, 87 threatened birds, and 78 endemics. Colombia’s diverse geographies include important sites for Audubon’s coastal and forest priority species such as the Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Reddish Egret, and Least Tern. By focusing on key coastal and forested sites in the country, we can help conserve essential wintering grounds for these species.
Like other countries that birds depend on in Latin America, Colombia has dynamic social, economic, and political conditions. The recent end of the country’s 52-year civil war presents both conservation opportunities and challenges. In this decade Colombia has more than doubled its national conserved area—from 13 million hectares to 28.4 million hectares—an extraordinary achievement. But to meet promises that peace will bring prosperity, the Colombian government is under intense pressure to prioritize economic development.
In some Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) the end of fighting has set off a reverse exodus as hundreds of thousands of people return to recolonize the rural areas from which they fled. Agriculture, forestry, and mining are increasing and are already threatening essential bird habitats. The region is also struggling with issues related to the impacts of climate change, such as water and food security.
A Comprehensive Conservation Strategy
The protection of birds that use the flyways of the Western Hemisphere is at the heart of Audubon’s Strategic Plan. Our goal is to establish 500,000 acres of new protected areas in Colombia, and improve management of an additional 3.6 million acres of bird habitat across priority forest, coastal, and wetland ecosystems that support priority species. We intend to accomplish this goal via the following initiatives:
1. Conservation Action and Collaboration: In Colombia we are supporting the establishment of new IBAs and protected areas totaling 500,000 acres that include Pacific mangroves and eastern Andes tropical montane forest. Audubon has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Colombia’s National Park Service to collaborate in the areas of biodiversity conservation, climate change, ecotourism, environmental interpretation, monitoring, community outreach and education, project formulation, and fundraising. Audubon is working with the Colombian government and other partners to incorporate conservation of migratory, endemic, and endangered birds into the management of six parks totaling 3.6 million acres:
- Farallones de Cali National Park
- Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park
- Los Flamencos Sanctuary
- Chingaza National Park
- Los Nevados National Park
- Otún Quimbaya Sanctuary
2. Tourism: Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, Audubon has teamed with partners to develop bird-focused ecotourism as a way of conserving the habitats birds need most. With more species of birds than any other country, Colombia has the potential to become the world's premier birdwatching destination. Audubon is working with Calidris, our BirdLife International partner, to cultivate bird-based tourism as a way of generating greater local commitment to bird conservation. We are currently supporting the establishment of a national network of birding trails that will use bird tourism as a tool for conservation and local economic development across 50 IBAs, 20 national parks, and 30 local communities.
These initiatives are different from many other ecotourism efforts because they are based locally. Audubon experts train local guides in bird identification and ecology, with the goal of certifying guides to eventually run tours themselves. In this way, birders directly support local people and communities, help preserve local biodiversity, and nurture an emerging ecotourism industry. To date we have established two trails, the Northern Colombia and Central Andes Birding trails, with two more expected to be completed in early 2020 (Read more about this project, including the results of the pilot phase, in our Birds Mean Business report.)
3. Climate-Change Adaptation: Several regions in Colombia are struggling with issues related to the impacts of climate change and ensuring water and food security. Via our climate partnership with BirdLife International, Audubon is providing capacity-building support, scientific expertise, and other resources to develop science-based climate adaptation plans. We are working to complete a national-level climate change analysis for Colombia ́s birds, develop an adaptation action plan, and launch monitoring and adaptation initiatives that will positively affect the protection, conservation, and climate resilience of IBAs and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).
4. Capacity-Building: Audubon is assisting Calidris, our BirdLife partner in Colombia, with fundraising, long-term strategic planning, advocacy and government relations, and other institutional areas. Throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, strong partnerships with local organizations are helping us to advance policies and practices that achieve conservation goals. These organizations have personal and strong ties to their governments and other constituents, and are able to deliver concrete, on-the-ground actions that address critical threats to Audubon’s priority bird species.