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.
||Colombia Forest Figures
Total 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, 2000-2005
Annual 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%
Social services: 0%
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: 72.2
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 60,728,000 ha
Primary: 53,062,000 ha
Modified natural: 7,337,000 ha
Production plantation: 312,000 ha
Production plantation: 16,000 ha
Plantations, 2005: 328,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.5%
Annual change rate (00-05): 14,880,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 11,945 M t
Below-ground biomass: 4,180 M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 23,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 5,000
Critically endangered: 31
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 3,246,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 7,029,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: n/a
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: n/a
More forest statistics for Colombia
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.
Pictures of Colombia
Recent articles | Colombia news updates | XML
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.
Dams are rapidly damning the Amazon
(12/08/2012) Dam-builders seeking to unlock the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon are putting the world's mightiest river and rainforest at risk, suggests a new assessment that charts the rapid expansion of dams in the region.
108 million ha of Amazon rainforest up for oil and gas exploration, development
(12/08/2012) Concessions for oil and gas exploration and extraction are proliferating across Amazon countries, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region.
Deforestation rate falls across Amazon rainforest countries
(12/06/2012) The average annual rate of deforestation across Amazon rainforest countries dropped sharply in the second half of the 2000s, reports a comprehensive new assessment of the region's forest cover and drivers of deforestation. While the drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been widely reported, several other Amazon countries saw their rates of forest loss drop as well, according to the report, which was published by a coalition of 11 Latin American civil society groups and research institutions that form the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG).
Colombia gets world's first VCS validated and verified REDD project on collective lands
(11/16/2012) A conservation project in Colombia has broken new ground in the world of forest carbon credits. The project, run as partnership between an Afro-indigenous community and a Colombian company, is the first REDD+ project certified under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) in Colombia. More importantly, it is also the first certified REDD+ project on community-owned, collectively-titled land.
New forest map shows 6% of Amazon deforested between 2000 and 2010
(09/21/2012) An update to one of the most comprehensive maps of the Amazon basin shows that forest cover across the world's largest rainforest declined by about six percent between 2000 and 2010. But the map also reveals hopeful signs that recognition of protected areas and native lands across the eight countries and one department that make up the Amazon is improving, with conservation and indigenous territories now covering nearly half of its land mass.
Forest expands 3% in Colombia during 2000s, but loss grows in llanos region
(09/04/2012) Colombia gained nearly 17,000 square kilometers of forest between 2001 and 2010 as forests recovered in mountainous regions in the Andes, reports a new study published in the journal PLoS One.
Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America
(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.
New bird discovered in Colombia imperiled by hydroelectric project
(08/19/2012) In a little-known dry forest in Colombia, scientists have discovered a new species of bird: the Antioquia wren (Thryophilus sernai). First seen in 2010, scientists photographed the new wren and recorded its vocalizations, from which they determined that the wren was brand new to science, according to a new paper in Auk.
Move to regularize mining in Colombia spurs concerns
(08/17/2012) Colombia's move last week to begin granting new mining concessions across 17.6 million hectares has raised concerns about the potential environmental impacts of a new mining boom across the country.
165,000 sq km of Colombian rainforest mapped in stunning detail using lasers, satellites
(07/25/2012) Scientists have created high-resolution carbon maps for 165,000 square kilometers (64,000 square miles) of forest across roughly 40 percent of the Colombian Amazon, greatly boosting the ability of the South American nation to measure emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, reports the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, which led the effort.
Pastures, not forest, are best place for oil palm expansion in Colombia
(07/11/2012) Colombia is targeting a six-fold increase in crude palm-oil production by 2020. Conservationists fear this may compromise the nation’s natural ecosystems, but a new study suggests the impact may be minimized by limiting new oil palm plantations to certain areas of pasture land.
Over 700 people killed defending forest and land rights in past ten years
(06/19/2012) On May 24th, 2011, forest activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, were gunned down in an ambush in the Brazilian state of Pará. A longtime activist, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva had made a name for himself for openly criticizing illegal logging in the state which is rife with deforestation. The killers even cut off the ears of the da Silvas, a common practice of assassins in Brazil to prove to their employers that they had committed the deed. Less than a year before he was murdered, da Silva warned in a TEDx Talk, "I could get a bullet in my head at any moment...because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers."
Jaguars photographed in palm oil plantation
(06/06/2012) As the highly-lucrative palm oil plantation moves from Southeast Asia to Africa and Latin America, it brings with it concerns of deforestation and wildlife loss. But an ongoing study in Colombia is finding that small palm oil plantations may not significantly hurt at least one species: the jaguar. Researchers in Magdalena River Valley have taken the first ever photos of jaguars in a palm plantation, including a mother with two cubs, showing that the America's biggest cat may not avoid palm oil plantations like its Asian relative, the tiger.
Giant prehistoric freshwater turtle discovered
(05/18/2012) Researchers working in Colombia has discovered the fossilized remains of a giant freshwater turtle that lived some 60 million years ago.
Educating the next generation of conservation leaders in Colombia
(05/14/2012) Colombia's northern departments of Cordoba and Bolivar are home to an abundance of coral reefs, estuaries, mangroves forests, and forests. Rich in both marine and terrestrial wildlife, local communities depend on the sea and land for survival, yet these ecosystems are imperiled by booming populations, overexploitation, and unsustainable management. Since 2007, an innovative education program in the region, the Guardians of Nature, has worked to teach local children about the ecology of the region, hoping to instill a conservation ethic that will aid both the present and the future.
Pictures: Jaguar bonanza caught on camera
(05/13/2012) Images of several jaguars, including cubs, have been captured by camera traps on a Colombian ranch that is well known among cat researchers for its diversity of felines.
Photos: Uncontacted Amazon tribes documented for first time in Colombia
(04/19/2012) Aerial surveys of a remote area of rainforest along the Colombia-Brazil border have produced the first photographic evidence of uncontacted tribes, according to a conservation group that works to safeguard indigenous territories and culture. The photos, released by the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), show five long houses or malokas thought to belong to two indigenous groups, the Yuri or Carabayo and Passé, some of the last isolated tribes in the Colombian Amazon. The images provide confirmation that uncontacted communities still exist within the Rio Puré National Park, which protects a million hectares (2.47 million acres) of mostly pristine rainforest between the Caquetá and Putumayo River basins along the Brazilian border.
World's most toxic frog gets new reserve
(03/05/2012) Touching a wild golden poison frog could kill you within minutes: in fact, a single golden poison frog, whose Latin name Phyllobates terribilis is even more evocative than its common one, is capable of killing 10 humans with its one milligram dose of poison. Yet the deadly nature of this tiny frog has not stopped it from nearing extinction. Now, in a bid to save the species, the World Land Trust (WLT) and Colombian NGO ProAves have teamed up to establish a 50 hectare (124 acres) reserve in the Chocó rainforest.
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