Colombian Nature: Inspiring Action During Coronavirus Times

By Catalina Gutiérrez | July 9, 2020

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Farallones de Cali National Natural Park. Credit: ©Catalina Gutiérrez/WCS

I live in the Andean mountains on the outskirts of Cali, a city located in the southwest of Colombia. The outstanding view of one of the 59 national parks of Colombia, called Farallones de Cali, is a privilege that I share with the 2.2 million inhabitants of this city. Six out of the seven rivers that cross Cali originate in this park, which rises some 3,000 meters above this city set in the inter-Andean valley.

After nearly three months of lockdown, the economic crisis has pushed Colombia to reactivate several sectors even though coronavirus infections have not yet peaked. The unemployment rate has reached nearly 20 percent and predictions for the whole region are not encouraging.

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Above left: The Bay-headed tanager (Tangara gyrola), is one of the 150 bird species that can be observed in Cali. Credit: ©Catalina Gutiérrez/WCS; Above right: A colony of Tetragonisca angustula, the most common stingless bee species used in meliponiculture in Colombia. Credit: ©Catalina Gutiérrez/WCS.

Yet while I have many reasons to feel pessimistic, nature itself has given me so much peace and strength during this time. In the richest country for bird species, my husband Mauricio and I never cease to be amazed at the colorful companions of ours. What has really surprised us is the increasing inventory of bees in our garden. We counted some 33 species so far — many observed during active pauses between virtual meetings.

“Yet while I have many reasons to feel pessimistic, nature itself has given me so much peace and strength during this time.”

During this time, I’ve continued to improve my knowledge of beekeeping. Care for our native stingless bees (meliponiculture) has become a promising sustainable activity that is slowly attracting more practitioners in Colombia. We are promoting those efforts among local communities in our projects.

Andean bear. Credit: ©Mauricio “El Pato” Salcedo/WCS

While nature continues to inspire me, I am constantly thinking about how we will continue and adapt our work on the ground. Although our staff has not stopped working from home, we all are anxious to continue our work in the field, alongside local communities.

“Although our staff has not stopped working from home, we all are anxious to continue our work in the field, alongside local communities.”

Several longstanding projects had to be put on hold when the coronavirus crisis hit. For instance, some on our team had been looking for signs of Andean bears to determine the boundaries of the area used by this species so that we can implement conservation measures accordingly. Others were assessing biodiversity across communal land in the Choco ecoregion to support its designation as a protected area.

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Capacity building for the women association of Carare (Asomucare) in productiveactivities such as bakery and crafts has contributed to the home economy during fishing bans. Credit; ©Mauricio “El Pato” Salcedo/WCS

Reducing the risk of disease transmission for local people is one our main priorities now. With that goal in mind, we are currently evaluating how to improve internet connectivity — for instance by installing internet amplifiers in remote localities to ensure good communication and advance some capacity-building activities. We are also working on biosafety protocols to reduce risks when we are able to return to the territories.

“In the richest country for bird species, my husband Mauricio and I never cease to be amazed at the colorful companions of ours.”

While there remains a general feeling of uncertainty, our commitment towards nature conservation and its sustainable use in Colombia continues to be strong. Combating illegal wildlife traffic and halting biodiversity loss will continue to be pillars of our efforts. These actions are especially important at a time when Colombia has lost at least 75.000 hectares of forest this year.

Certainly we must adapt and innovate our ways of work. We stand ready to address that challenge. Nature inspires but also demand actions, as conservation, our own health, and the health of wildlife are intimately linked.

Catalina Gutiérrez is Country Director for the Colombia Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Catalina and the Colombian team are working at the conservation of key and threatened species, supporting the government in creating and managing protected areas, and promoting sustainable landscapes together with multiple stakeholders.

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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