Do a quick Google search for the Santa Marta Toro (Santamartamys rufodorsalis) and you won’t come up with much about these unique critters: Only two specimens of the small mammal were collected prior to 1899. After several years of searching, this monotypic genus and unique species was finally rediscovered in primary lower montane cloud forest in Colombia in May 2011, proving it is still extant.
The Santa Marta Toro is the most unique and distinctive species of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, though the species’ population is considered to be extremely small and restricted to the northwest slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies the Santa Marta Toro as Data Deficient. Unfortunately the region has a high rate of habitat destruction and very little protection. The species is therefore highly susceptible to local environmental catastrophes like diseases, climatic changes, and drastic changes in the availability of resources or the destruction of its habitat.
Colombia is a conservation priority due to both high levels of endemism within its megadiversity and high levels of threats from deforestation, agriculture and unsustainable resource use. In particular, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an area of great diversity and endemism, where uncontrolled agricultural activities have led to habitat degradation, a reduction in primary forest area and possibly already the extinction of several endemic species. It is urgent that we determine the conservation needs of the Santa Marta Toro and associated habitat in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Conservationists have absolutely no information about the Santa Marta Toro’s natural history, ecology or population status. What little is known is based on a holotype collected by American biologist Joel Asaph Allen, from which the species was described in 1899. Additionally, a second specimen was given to the American Museum of Natural History by American ornithologist and entomologist Melbourne Armstrong Carriker, without a date or exact location. The rediscovery of the species in May 2011 gives hope that there are remaining viable populations. Thus, the Santa Marta Toro is a species of high priority for investigation.
The primary goal of the study is to assess the conservation status and needs of its population and to learn more about its natural history. We are using live mammal traps, camera traps and transect points to determine the extent of occurrence, population status, ecological requirements and other data to produce a species conservation plan for the species.
Our major goals are to:
- Establish the population and status of Santa Marta Toro by capture-mark-release
- Make a preliminary estimate of the population density in the study zone
- Collate preliminary information about the natural history and habitat use of this species
(Sierra Nevada photo by Nikki Roach; Toro photo by Lizzie Noble)
Santa Marta Toro (Santamartamys rufodorsalis)
ProAves, Rainforest Trust
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia