Conservation begins with community. The high elevation cloud forests lining the slopes of the Colombian Andes are bordered by rural mountain villages and farms. The forest and its surrounding land are a part of the heritage of the local people, whose history and livelihoods are intertwined with the trees. By donating to our Colombia’s Forests of Mist appeal, you can help preserve a habitat of vital importance to both people and wildlife.
“Origin, essence, enigma, and home”
The land surrounding the Guanacas Reserve, nestled high the Colombian Andes, is a patchwork of farms and villages. Our partner, Fundación Guanacas Bosques de Niebla, believes that working closely with the people who live among the cloud forest fragments is essential to its future. The name Guanacas, meaning ‘sacred water on stone’, comes from the language of the Nutabe and Tahamí Indigenous people who once populated the area. The mossy stone ruins of their ancient culture can still be found hidden in the forest; a reminder of the stories deeply rooted in the land. The success of Fundación Guanacas represents a life’s work for President and Founder Rodrigo Castaño Díaz, who, after inheriting land historically grazed by livestock from his uncle as a child, always dreamed of turning it into “a sanctuary for life”.
“We are another species that needs to learn how to behave and act with the rest of nature. Because we are a part of nature.”
The area represents generational livelihood for the local people. However, for many, their only knowledge of the cloud forest relates to transforming it into farmland. Unfortunately, water-intensive agriculture, and the accompanying land clearance, livestock overgrazing, and pesticide use are some of the most pressing threats to this diminishing habitat. Fundación Guanacas works continuously on strategies to improve relationships with nature, such as addressing the conflict surrounding Pumas and their possible threat to neighbouring livestock. The Fundación has also created educational outreach programmes for local people to learn more about the land on which they live and the importance of preserving it, for people and wildlife alike. From the older generations to local schoolchildren, community members take part in workshops, tree planting days, environmental talks, and guided visits to the reserve.
With the support of this appeal, the Fundación will engage with these communities even further through ecotourism initiatives. Beginning with the construction of nine two-person cabins to host visitors to the reserve, these initiatives will provide sustainable income sources for the reserve’s long-term independence. In the future, the reserve will feature an environmental interpretation trail, and offer handmade, artisanal food and crafts to celebrate the local culture and provide a range of employment opportunities alternative to agriculture.
“Nature should be a place of joy and so we must reconnect with nature and find its beauty and start caring more.”
An essential part of the Guanacas Reserve management is its team of dedicated rangers. These rangers, once labourers on the surrounding farmland, now spend their days promoting intact landscapes and ensuring that the wildlife within the reserve has a safe haven. The Sustainable Production Zone, where the rangers use organic, sustainable farming practices to grow food for themselves and their families, stands as an example of how agriculture and conservation can work hand in hand. Their stories and insights show us how their efforts make their reserve a success each and every day. With donations from our autumn appeal, three new rangers and a head ranger will join the team in their invaluable work.
“For the children and those who join us and see the forest as a stage of life and inspiration”
Founder and President Rodrigo has also shared his passion and reverence for the cloud forest in an illustrated children’s book ‘Cuento: Bears in the Mist’. The book tells the story of the mystical Spectacled Bears (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as Andean Bears, who once roamed the forest. While still found in some areas of the Andes Mountain Range, they have vanished from the Antioquia region, as their home in the cloud forest was lost to logging and farming. The Bears are joined, within the pages, by the spectacular animals of the cloud forest, such as the enigmatic Antioquia Brushfinch (Atlapetes blancae), the elusive Antioquia Chocolate Frog (Hyloscirtus antioquia) and the stealthy Pumas (Puma concolor). Through the colourful characters, the story tells of hopes that one day, with the land safe from destruction, the Spectacled Bears will return to their home in the cloud forests.
The beautiful illustrations by Sara Isabel Gómez Aristizábal are available as line drawings to download here, for you to colour and bring to life yourself.
Through our Colombia’s Forests of Mist appeal, you can help Fundación Guanacas support the local people and preserve this irreplaceable ecosystem.