Colombia: Approaching the Point of No Return

Apr 14, 2014 | Displacement and Land Issues, Extractive Industries, News

FOR Peace Presence focuses primarily on the negative effects of militarization and developmentalism on the human population of Colombia. Try as we might, Macaws have been really hard to accompany. This article, originally written for Capital Canal, then translated for Upside Down World  looks at the horrifying effects of mining on the non-human Colombians.

Colombia Approaches Point of No-Return in Biodiversity

Facing the reality of disappearing ecosystems, decreasing populations and the extinction of species that the country is dealing with, it is time for the Colombian State’s decision-makers to implement actions immediately in order to stop this devastation before it is too late, according to four environmental experts who have given recommendations from their fields in the program Su Madre Naturaleza [Your Mother Nature] by Canal Capital.

One of the organizations that has worked most, and for various years, on plans to conserve Colombia’s ecosystems is World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), especially in coastal territories such as Chocó, explains Luis Germán Naranjo, Director of Conservation in the NGO.

According to Naranjo, “we have lost many things from huge regions of the country that we don’t even have documented: coastal plains of the Caribbean [es], inter-Andean valleys and a large part of the three mountain ranges that form the Andes.”

For this reason, he argues that it is necessary to define the thresholds for species in decline in Colombia, and start to interpret existing data such as the information contained in the red books [es] of different groups of animals and plants in Colombia.

What’s the point? “In order to be able to know how quickly we are arriving at a point of no return. It wouldn’t make sense to invest money, time, effort and establishing networks if this information doesn’t have a use. Ultimately it is for effective conservation management,” explained Naranjo.

Mining: Putting Colombia’s Biodiversity at Risk

Amongst the current challenges that Chocó is facing, is the effects of gold mining in this region of the country, according to works carried out and identified by the WWF, says Luis Germán Naranjo.

With respect to the large presence of Canadian mining companies [es] in the country, Margarita Pacheco [es], International Consultant in Environmental Matters and Presenter of Canal Capital’s Su Madre Naturaleza, interviewed the Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis in her brief visit to Cartagena. Davis has lived in Colombia for many years, notably in Santa Marta’s coastal mountain range (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) when he first arrived in 1974.

Davis comments that, from Africa to Colombia, what the Canadian mining companies are doing is nearly as catastrophic as a tsunami. “We have 4,000 copper and gold mines in the world. How many do we need? It isn’t a question of mines or no mines, but how many mines, where and at what cost to the environment. And most of all, for whom,” the environmentalist remarked.

Regarding the issues of the mines, Davis referred to what the Canadian mining companies are doing with some indigenous towns: they pay them to intercede on behalf [es] of the companies before the Colombian government. “If the Canadian people knew about this they would be furious,” he said.

For this reason he emphasized the need to tell these stories. “We have to write, make documentaries, we have to explain why one’s word is the most powerful thing in the world, we have to present this story to the Canadian people,” he noted.

The Natural Parks [Parques Nacionales Naturales] are a unique richness not found in any other South American country. “Colombia is the country which has the most biodiversity in comparison to any other country in the world,” Davis affirmed.

The fauna should also be protected.

Two non-governmental entities that have worked in the area of conservation of fauna in Colombia are the Panthera Foundation [Fundación Panthera] that works protecting jaguars in the Chiribiquete National Park [Parque Nacional Chiribiquete] [es] and the Forest Foundation [Fundación Selva] [es] that specializes in migratory birds.

Esteban Payán, the Executive Director of Panthera Foundation, recounted that since the discovery [es] of the Chiribiquete National Park a huge breakthrough has been achieved in the Amazon because it allowed the safeguarding of a huge ecosystem, not only environmental but also the main jaguar habitat in the country.

For Payán, also Director of Operations for Panthera in the northern region of South America, “there are many species in danger of extinction, but extinction has an order and the first to die are large carnivores because they require a large area where there must be enough prey for them to survive.”

The benefit of the declaration [es] of the Chiribiquete Park lies in its huge size, which guarantees an area for the conservation of these felines in the long term. “The minimum size of a population that can survive long term is 500 animals. In Chiribiquete there are 800,” explains Payán, who has a PhD in Zoology.

Meanwhile, the Forest Foundation works on two specific projects for the conservation of migratory birds. One is Crossing the Caribbean [Cruzando el Caribe] [es] to understand the birds’ routes leaving and entering the country and identifying their habits. The other project is about agro-ecosystems [es] that investigates the interaction of these species with agricultural ecosystems such as shaded coffee plantations, rice fields or palm oil plantations, explains Nick Bayly [es], the organization’s Coordinator of Migratory Species.

Among the recommendations made by Bayly to assist in the protection of these species, he highlighted the products that are already certified as ‘friendly’ for migratory birds, such as organic coffee, that can be found in some supermarkets.

The WWF, Forest Foundation, and a significant number of other organizations have joined forces with different governments in Colombia through initiatives such as the National Plan for Migratory Species (Plan Nacional para las Especies Migratorias) [es] and the three volumes of records about migratory species in Colombia, of which the birds [es] and fish [es] editions have already been published, explains Luis Germán Naranjo.

Through these projects, explains Naranjo, issues that are only beginning to be understood in Colombia look to be addressed. However, much work is still to be done in order to achieve effective environmental management in the country.