Colombia makes history with huge expansion of largest national park

25 September 2013 | Article

The Ministry of the Environment and Development of Colombia has made history with the announcement of an expansion of the country’s largest national park, Serranía de Chiribiquete. The park, which is located in the heart of Colombian Amazonia, will be expanded to over twice its original size, from 1,298,954 hectares to 2,782,353 hectares, marking the first time in Colombia’s history a protected area has been enlarged by over 1.5 million hectares.

During the ceremony announcing the enlargement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, “the enlargement we declared today of National Natural Park Serranía de Chiribiquete, which will go from a million three hundred thousand hectares to nearly two million eight hundred thousand, is our bet for life, sustainability and the wellbeing of Colombian people, and of humankind altogether”.

Chiribiquete is considered a world biodiversity hotspot. Its richness includes 41 species of reptiles and 49 species of amphibians. A total of 145 species of birds and 209 species of butterflies have been identified, and the area will contribute to the conservation of at least 13 threatened species of mammals, 6 possible new species, and 7 new registries for the country. In the lower basins of Yarí and Yavilla rivers and the mid-basin of Mesay River, a total of 133 species of fish have been reported, all of which are used by indigenous communities of the middle basin of the Caquetá River.

Chiribiquete is also an important site for Colombia’s heritage and local communities. Its hills include important rock paintings and carvings. Other zones which have been transformed by ancient indigenous dwellers, such as the Terras pretas, are especially significant to the indigenous groups currently occupying nearby reservations, as well as those close to the new boundaries of the protected area.

With the enlargement, Colombia’s government will contribute to the conservation of 9,500,000 hectares in Colombian Amazonia through the 18 protected areas it operates there. The region is important for climate regulation in Colombia and worldwide. It holds 72 percent of the seven billion tons of carbon contained in the country’s natural forests. These forests also help enrich the water supply of the Andean and Caribbean regions of country, where most Colombians live.

“Two thirds of the country’s natural forests reside in Amazonia. With the enlargement of Chiribiquete, we are contributing to the stability of climate in Colombia and the world. It is an important investment against climate change that the international community is willing to acknowledge”, stated the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Juan Gabriel Uribe, when signing the enlargement resolution.

The Chiribiquete declaration was the result of a true collaborative process, relying on the valuable project management of National Natural Parks of Colombia and its staff, as well as on the support of several government agencies, universities, and NGOs, including the national Hydrocarbon Agency (ANH), the National Planning Department (DNP), the Academy of Sciences, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and Puerto Rastrojo Foundation.

The Ministry of the Environment and Development has embarked on an ambitious strategy for sustainability of Colombia’s Amazonia. Deforestation in the region is mainly caused by the expansion of intensive cattle farming, unlawful tree cutting and mining, and the growing of illegal crops, such as coca. The expansion of Chiribiquete is a key activity in the new strategy, which combines conservation and sustainable development. The management plan of the expanded national park will receive full support, including monitoring and supervision. Projects which discourage the causes of deforestation and generate development options for local communities will also be launched.

If the two-pronged strategy succeeds, it will curb deforestation, and in turn the emission of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to water and climate regulation, and helping to preserve a rich and essential biological corridor between the Amazonia and Andean regions of the country.