Forest CoverTotal forest area: 60,728,000 ha % of land area: 58.5%
Primary forest cover: 53,062,000 ha % of land area: 51.1% % total forest area: 87.4%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -47,000 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.1% Change in defor. rate since '90s: -0.5% Total forest loss since 1990: -711,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-1.2%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: -56200 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.1% Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 11.0% Primary forest loss since 1990: -281,000 ha Primary forest loss since 1990:-1.5%
Forest ClassificationPublic: n/a Private: n/a Other: n/a Use Production: 12.7% Protection: 1% Conservation: 14.1% Social services: 0% Multiple purpose: n/a None or unknown: 72.2
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 60,728,000 ha Primary: 53,062,000 ha Modified natural: 7,337,000 ha Semi-natural: n/a Production plantation: 312,000 ha Production plantation: 16,000 ha
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 328,000 ha % of total forest cover: 0.5% Annual change rate (00-05): 14,880,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 11,945 M t Below-ground biomass: 4,180 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 23,000 ha Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 5,000 Critically endangered: 31 Endangered: 50 Vulnerable: 108
Despite its relatively small size, Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth, home to about 10 percent of the world's species. This biodiversity results from Colombia's varied ecosystems—from the rich tropical rainforest to the coastal cloud forests to the open savannas. More than 1,821 species of birds, 623 species of amphibians, 467 species of mammals, 518 species of reptiles, and 3,200 species of fish reside in Colombia. About 18 percent of these are endemic to the country. Colombia has a mind-boggling 51,220 species of plants, of which nearly 30 percent are endemic. While on paper nearly 10 percent of Colombia is under some form of protection, its rich biodiversity is increasingly threatened.
Each year Colombia loses nearly 200,000 hectares of natural forest, according to figures released by the United Nations in 2003—though the true figure may be higher since an estimated 100,000 hectares of native forest are illegally cleared every year. The vast majority of this loss is primary forest, which covers more than 80 percent of the country. Deforestation in Colombia results primarily from small-scale agricultural activities, logging, mining, energy development, infrastructure construction, large-scale agriculture, and the cocaine trade. Animal collection and pollution are also environmental issues in the country.
Colombia's Pacific Coast rainforests are rapidly disappearing due to gold mining and palm-oil plantations. By one estimate, in the mid-1990s, industrial gold mining alone cleared 80,000 hectares of forest per year, while contaminating local rivers with mercury and siltation. Coca production is also expanding in this region (see below)
The coca trade
In the highlands, the ongoing battle over coca cultivation has had a significant impact on forest cover. Colombia is a leading producer of coca, the plant that provides the main ingredient of cocaine. Much of Colombia's coca is grown by poor farmers because it generates more income than any other crop. Typically farmers convert the plant into coca paste and sell it to groups—including paramilitaries and Colombian rebels—who refine it into cocaine and export it to markets like the United States, which is the world's largest consumer of the narcotic.
Drug eradication efforts have focused on aerial fumigation programs where herbicides (a mixture that includes Monsanto Corporation's Roundup and Cosmo-Flux 411F) are dropped by crop-duster planes on suspect vegetation. Since the concoction is a non-selective herbicide, surrounding vegetation—including subsistence crops and native plants—are killed as well. Local reports suggest that farmers often replant coca seedlings soon after spraying, making the whole exercise somewhat futile.
Aerial spraying may also be causing coca cultivation to shift to new regions. In March 2005, the Associated Press reported that large-scale coca production was moving into the extensive rainforests of the Choc— state, a biodiversity hotspot in northwest Colombia. Poor farmers are clearing forest to plant coca seedlings while hunting local wildlife for food.
The ecological impacts of coca production are significant as well. Each acre requires clearing of roughly four acres of forest while the dumping of chemicals used to process coca leaves (including kerosene, sulfuric acid, acetone, and carbide) pollutes local waterways.
Additionally, critics of U.S. efforts in Colombia note that the eradication program has done little to slow the supply of cocaine that enters the United States. Despite increased worldwide demand, prices of cocaine have been steadily dropping over the years on American streets, indicating that availability of the drug has not diminished.
A 2005 report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy shows that a massive U.S.-backed aerial spraying offensive last year failed to reduce the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia. Figures show that 281,694 acres of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2004, an increase from the 281,323 acres remaining after 2003's campaign. Despite billions of dollars in eradication spending, the amount of land under cultivation for coca has more than doubled since the mid-1990s: in 1996 there were 69,100 hectares of the crop, while in 1995, 51,400 hectares of coca were growing.
Drugs are not the only thing trafficked from the forests of Colombia. Endangered wildlife—especially rare birds and reptiles—are smuggled to markets in the United States and Europe. The government estimates that in 1997 more than seven million animals worth $40 million were illegally exported from Colombia.
Logs, too, are an illicit trade in the country—illegal logging is widespread. Forestry enforcement is a low priority given the violence and disarray in much of Colombia.
Colombia has oil and gas deposits but ongoing instability has somewhat limited potential development. Attacks on oil pipelines and installations by guerrillas in Eastern Colombia have resulted in oil spills and pollution.
When peace returns to Colombia, the country could be well-served to emphasis its biological diversity as a draw for eco-tourists; however, it seems likely that stability will bring further exploitation of the country's forest resources.
Rare bird paradise protected in war-torn Colombian mountain range (photos)
(07/22/2014) A coalition of conservation groups have established a new protected area in one of Latin America's most neglected ecosystems: the Colombian-side of the Serranía de Perijá mountain range. Following decades of bloody conflict and rampant deforestation, experts say only five percent of rainforest is left on the Colombian side of this embattled mountain range.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
Bizarre, endangered bird discovered in high densities
(03/24/2014) The turkey-sized, noisy, fruit-feasting guans are arguably one of the strangest wildlife sightings in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Ancient animals, these birds are members of the Cracidae family—which also include equally-odd currasows and chachalacas—and are actually distantly related to megapode, or mound-building, birds of Australiasia. A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science looks at a particularly endangered guan: the Cauca gaun (Penelope perspicax).
From theory to deadly reality: malaria moving upslope due to global warming
(03/06/2014) Malaria is a global scourge: despite centuries of efforts to combat the mosquito-borne disease, it still kills between 660,000 to 1.2 million people a year, according to World Health Organization data from 2010. Astoundingly, experts estimate that around 300 million people are infected with the disease every year or about 4 percent of the world's total population. And these stats may only get worse. For years scientists have vigorously debated whether or not malaria will expand as global warming worsens, but a new study in Science lays down the first hard evidence.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting forest fragments
(01/31/2014) Dr. Stuart Pimm is an expert in extinctions: why they happen, how fast they happen, and how they can be prevented. Reconnecting forest fragments and avoiding fragmentation, according to Pimm, are among the most crucial things we can do to conserve global biodiversity. His organization SavingSpecies identifies areas at-risk for extinctions and helps local organizations fundraise so they can protect and restore habitats and safeguard biodiversity.
Colombia to protect remote region bordering Venezeula
(01/13/2014) The Colombian government plans to declare a remote area bordering Venezuela a new protected area. Colombian Minister of Environment, Luz Helena Sarmiento, told the El Espectador that President Juan Manuel Santos will declare the Estrella Fluvial de Inirida river area a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The designation would give Colombia six Ramsar sites.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century - a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.
Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity
(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'
Featured video: 'this is day one for the olinguito'
(09/04/2013) Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins.
Meet the BABY olinguito
(08/18/2013) Since its announcement on Thursday, the olinguito—the world's newest mammal—has taken the world by storm. Hundreds of articles have been written about the new species, while its cuddly appearance has already been made the subject of cartoons. Now, conservationists have released the first photos of a baby olinguito. The new photos come from La Mesenia Conservation Project in Colombia, an Andean cloud forest reserve that is a project area for the NGO SavingSpecies.
Scientists discover teddy bear-like mammal hiding out in Andean cloud forests (photos)
(08/15/2013) While the olinguito looks like a wild, tree-climbing teddy bear with a cat's tail, it's actually the world's newest mammalian carnivore. The remarkable discovery—the first mammal carnivore uncovered in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s—was found in the lush cloud forests of the Andes, a biodiverse region home to a wide-range of species found no-where else. Dubbed the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), the new mammal is a member of a little-known, elusive group of mammals—olingos—that are related to raccoons, coatis, and kinkajous. However, according to its description in the journal Zookeys, the olinguito is the most distinct member of its group, separated from other olingos by 3-4 million years (or longer than Homo sapiens have walked the Earth).
Colombian mining dispute highlights legislative disarray
(06/27/2013) Colombian authorities have ruled that local environmental officials acted correctly in ordering South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti to halt their work, following demands from the multinational corporation for their disciplining. Cortolima, the environmental authority of the department of Tolima in central Colombia, stopped AngloGold from conducting unsanctioned exploration activities in the Tolima municipality of Piedras in March.
Deforestation rates for Amazon countries outside Brazil
(06/26/2013) Deforestation has sharply increased in Amazon countries outside of Brazil, finds a new analysis based on satellite data. Using data from Terra-i, O-Eco's InfoAmazonia team has developed updated forest cover maps for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The results reveal an increasing trend in forest clearing since 2004.
Indigenous sacred sites now qualify as protected areas in Colombia
(05/28/2013) The first indigenous sacred site set aside under a new category of protected area in Colombia has been established in the northeastern part of the South American country. The development is significant because it could spur other indigenous sacred sites in Colombia to be granted protected status.
For Easter: a baby horned screamer chick (photo)
(03/31/2013) A chick — typically a baby chicken — is a common symbol for Easter. Since we're Mongabay, today we're highlighting another type of chick: a young horned screamer from Eastern Colombia.
Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia
(02/28/2013) Biologists have discovered two new species of salamander in Tamá National Natural Park in Colombia. While the discovery should be cause for celebration, the news was dampened by the fact that both species are already infected with the deadly fungal disease, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has wiped out amphibian populations worldwide. Both of the new salamanders belong to the genus Bolitoglossa, which are web-footed salamanders found in the tropical Americas.
Long lost tribe spotted in the Colombian Amazon
(02/23/2013) The March 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine features an account of the flight that confirmed the presence of an isolated indigenous tribe in a remote part of the Colombian Amazon.
First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
Colombia to double the size of massive Amazon reserve to include uncontacted tribes' land
(01/10/2013) Colombia may more than double the size of the remote and poorly-known Chiribiquete National Park to make it the biggest protected area in the Colombian Amazon, reports El Espectador. Chiribiquete best known for its unusual rock formations, including mesa-like tepuis and dramatic waterfalls, but also features at least 32 cave painting sites with some 250,000 drawings, making it a key center for indigenous culture.
The year in rainforests
(12/31/2012) 2012 was another year of mixed news for the world's tropical forests. This is a look at some of the most significant tropical rainforest-related news stories for 2012. There were many other important stories in 2012 and some were undoubtedly overlooked in this review. If you feel there's something we missed, please feel free to highlight it in the comments section. Also please note that this post focuses only on tropical forests.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.