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Supersizing conservation in the Chiribiquete National Park

“The enlargement of the park is one of the most impactful conservation results we could help Colombia to achieve."

José Yunis
Country Representative of the Conservancy in Colombia

Home to 13 mammal species under threat and hundreds of other forms of life, Chiribiquete National Park and its surroundings, in Colombia, are a hotspot for biodiversity in the Amazon. They also offer a space in which three of the world’s last Indigenous groups to live in voluntary isolation can continue their chosen way of life, and protect the rivers that supply water and food for indigenous communities across a vast area.

This well preserved area, however, was under growing pressure of deforestation because of the advance of ranching frontier, illegal mining exploitation and cultivation of the coca leaves. The state of Caquetá, where Chiribiquete is located, concentrates one fifth of the total deforestation in Colombia and has had the country’s highest levels of forest degradation for years, according to the Ministry of Environment.

To protect this zone, the Government of Colombia announced in August 2013 a major expansion of Chiribiquete. The area of the park, which was of about 1.3 million hectares  more than doubled to almost 2.8 million hectares, comparable to Hawaii. The lands adjacent to the original limits of the park will be now monitored to prevent their unsustainable economic activities.

A 5-year project

The addition of 1.5 million hectares to Chiribiquete was one of the top items in the Conservancy’s wishlist for Colombia. The organization worked for 5 years with the national government and the government of the state of Caquetá to help design an expansion project that was both environmentally relevant and financially sustainable.

“The enlargement of the park is one of the most impactful conservation results we could help Colombia to achieve, and for sure, one of the biggest conservation initiatives I will ever be involved with. The protection of this area is important by itself, but it’s also vital to slow the advance of deforestation in the entire region and to ensure the survival of native communities in indigenous territories,” said José Yunis, the Conservancy’s country representative in Colombia.

The Conservancy had a particularly important role in promoting and helping to design a financial plan for conservation actions in the area, of which it´s most outstanding result has been the recent announcement by Norway to support a national plan for REDD activities in the country with $50 million. The Conservancy has also been playing an important role in working with local and regional authorities in order to reach a common ground for the upgrade of Chiribiquete. Finally, the Conservancy helped to secure important funds that supported the scientific studies to delimitate the park´s expansion.

People are part of the equation

These joint efforts are not isolated initiatives. In the region of Caquetá, the Conservancy develops, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Net Zero Deforestation project. Its objective is to create and implement pacts for conservation of the forest, with the participation of farmers and ranchers, indigenous groups and local governments. Indigenous families are also the main actors of a Conservancy’s project to strengthen the capacity of seven communities to protect their territories and use their natural resources sustainably. This project has the potential to improve conservation in 100,000 hectares of the Colombian Amazon.

Another Conservancy initiative, supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has been offering to the local governments of small municipalities the technical know-how to monitor and plan the use of lands, which will result in enhanced protection to the natural habitats and more opportunities of economic growth for the communities.

“The indigenous people and the farmers and ranchers of this part of the country are working hard to improve their life conditions, often without much support or orientation. It’s crucial that we work along with them to find sustainable means of life,” said Eduardo Ariza, the Conservancy’s Communal Lands Coordinator in Colombia.

Saving jaguars and endangered animals is just one of the rewards for working in the Chiribiquete National Park zone. Generating a positive impact in the lives of people of the Amazon is certainly a big part of the motivation. A recent grant from Germany will allow the Conservancy to work in the buffer zone of the expanded area to reduce deforestation.   “We are committed to working in the area for the long run. We are committed to Colombia,” says José Yunis.

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