The Chocó Hotspot constitutes the most biologically unique region on Earth, straddling the equator and rising from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the high peaks of the Andes, it includes the world’s wettest rainforests. In the heart of this narrow swath of land lay the last patches of a remote and untouched wilderness - the home of the Golden Poison Frog - the most toxic terrestrial animal. These unique forests support the single greatest concentration of endemic birds, amphibians and orchids on the planet. The last remaining rainforests of the Golden Poison Frog are also home to some of Latin America’s poorest and neglected communities: less than 1,500 Eperara Siapidara Indians survive with little known about their culture or history. Additionally, some 5,000 Afro-Colombian people, descended from slaves who escaped in the 19th century, colonized this mostly inaccessible area.
The harsh climate and remoteness had, until recently, saved the region from the impacts of economic development. In recent years the search for gold and timber has brought about a rising wave of exploitation from dubious non-local entities and people that operate outside of the control of the law and governmental institutions. Bribing these vulnerable and extremely poor peoples has led to a ravaging of their natural resources, damaging their rivers with toxic mercury and siltation that, in turn, have drastically reduced fish populations.
With the spiraling environmental damage from outside forces piercing the heart of the Chocó, local communities have requested the urgent support of GWC’s primary partner in Colombia, ProAves. We aim to help train and build capacity towards environmentally friendly economic development and education to improve livelihoods. In return, communities are committed to removing exploitative forces bent on destroying their culture and environment. Furthermore, we will establish strict conservation areas across over 330,000 acres of mangroves, rainforests, cloud forests and critical páramo watersheds, protecting these habitats in perpetuity. This will form the world’s first protected area directly connecting and encompassing every major tropical ecosystem from mangroves, rainforest, and cloud forest to highland páramo. The Chocó region of Colombia quite possibly holds the highest concentration of unique biodiversity on Earth. There are no other spatial options to save these species. The 330,000 acre area will create a conservation mosaic of public lands, private lands, indigenous territories and municipal watersheds, thereby protecting many major ecosystems from coastal mangroves of the Pacific Ocean to 12,000 feet peaks of Colombia’s Western Andes. The proposed project would protect a broad elevational gradient of habitat, thus ensuring the present and future survival of the Golden Poison frog and countless other endemic and threatened organisms. This 15 mile wide and 35 mile long corridor, which is primarily the Rio San Miguel watershed in the heart of the Chocó region, is one of the top Biodiversity Hotspots on the planet. Analyses of global biodiversity patterns indicate that this area may hold between 5-7% of all species, including many endangered and endemic species, with countless new species awaiting scientific discovery.
The spectacular Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis) (EN), enigmatic Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae) (CR), Colourful Puffleg (Eriocnemis mirabilis) (CR), and Brown-headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps) (CR) are all endangered species endemic to this corridor area. The region holds over 550 bird species, of which 50 are endemic, over 60 endemic amphibians, most of which are threatened with extinction, and an estimated 2,000 species of orchid. Also, mammals such as the Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris) (VU), Jaguar (Panthera onca) (NT) and Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) (VU) occur in the area.
The Golden Poison Frog is deeply embedded within cultural traditions of the Eperara Siapidara indigenous communities and the source of poison used in darts to hunt for food, whereby they gently brush the tips of arrows and darts on the frogs back with no harm done to the frog. Darts and arrows keep their deadly effect for over two years. This frog’s unique toxins have produced medical drugs to combat leukemia, osteoporosis, cancer and infections of the liver.
The Golden Poison Frog has the scientific epitaph of terribilis – terrible – because it is the most toxic animal on Earth. Sadly, this unique species is at imminent risk of extinction and only survives in the last fragments of its native habitat, within and around the Afro-Colombian and Eperara Siapidara indigenous communities. This critical habitat is completely unprotected and has had no prior conservation attention. Searches supported by GWC during 2010 located the core populations of the species and revealed an urgent need for immediate protection from mounting threats in the forms of illegal commercial logging, gold-mining and the illegal trafficking of this species.
Fundación ProAves is the leading organization in the protection of birds and their habitats in Colombia. ProAves works to prevent the extinction of birds through the protection of key habitats, working in close partnership with institutions, communities, and governments. ProAves engages in activities that work to promote conservation and to protect natural ecosystems. ProAves’ conservation programs have resulted in the creation of the largest private nature reserve system in Colombia, the establishment of the first Colombian conservation easement, and the establishment of three national, annual environmental campaigns.
Without the support and involvement of the local communities this proposed corridor will not succeed. The greatest strength of ProAves has been their integrated conservation approach of working with local communities around protected areas, and we will fully deploy this strategy to save this important area of the Colombian Chocó. We will employ a multifaceted conservation program that includes:
Building a solid long-term relationship with the local communities through interactive workshops and learning exchange experiences.
Provide the technical support, training and resources for the communities to zone their territories, designate strict conservation easements, and manage their natural resources.
Implementation of alternative income strategies to develop sustainable micro-business enterprises: artisanal crafts, local goods, sustainable products, and ecotourism.
Gain access to governmental and private funding for community infrastructure, including meeting places, schools, ecotourism facilities, and other needs.
Community outreach and environmental education campaigns for schools and the entire community.
Capacity building communities in habitat restoration and agro-forestry to improve areas damaged by mining and to develop sustainable forestry activities like Tagua palm nut harvests and forestry plantations.
Train community members in wildlife monitoring as a means to evaluate the success of the protected area and sustainable harvesting projects. We will focus on monitoring keystone species such as the Golden Poison Frog, Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Jaguar and key food species.
In May 2001, five small Afro-Colombian communities in the major river watersheds of San Miguel, Napi, Guaji, Guapi, and Francisco were collectively assigned 697,500 acres. These communities own and maintain full legal rights for use and exploitation of all their land, including complete forest clearance, if they wish. The communities have requested the help of ProAves to help plan the designation of a large part of their lands for a permanent declaration for biodiversity conservation. In return, ProAves will train and build community capacity towards managing their lands, including the proposed 330,000 acre protected area, and strengthening education and local economic activities to improve livelihoods and alleviate poverty.
With the community support, our project will establish one of the most important tropical landscape conservation corridors on Earth, stretching from the Pacific Ocean and mangroves continuously across a massive swath of lush rainforest and then upwards across cloud forest to 12,000 feet Andean peaks of natural páramo grasslands. The corridor will also connect at the highest peaks to a 12,000 acre municipality watershed reserve and the 1,000 acre Zamarrito del Pinche Nature Reserve that ProAves has helped establish, both on the opposite (eastern) slope of the Western Andes. Together with ProAves’ extensive experience in the designation and management of protected areas across the Northern Andes and Chocó region, we will establish the community capacity to both protect and manage their lands.