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Alto Calima: Colombia’s New Protected Area Benefiting People and Biodiversity

The Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC) has officially announced the designation of Alto Calima as a Regional Public Protected Area. This area, comprised of five ecosystems, covers 18,114.68 hectares, which accounts for 15.75% of the total area of the Calima El Darién municipality in Valle del Cauca.

Bravo River Canyon, Calima Darién, Valle del Cauca

Alto Calima: Colombia's New Protected Area Benefiting People and Biodiversity

– The Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC) has officially announced the designation of Alto Calima as a Regional Public Protected Area. This area, comprised of five ecosystems, covers 18,114.68 hectares, which accounts for 15.75% of the total area of the Calima El Darién municipality in Valle del Cauca.

– There are over 500 species of birds, 704 species of plants, 34 species of fish, 71 species of amphibians, 67 species of reptiles, 159 species of diurnal butterflies, and 132 species of mammals, among others, that inhabit this area, fulfilling a critical ecosystemic role for the country. Additionally, this territory provides safe water for 16,000 inhabitants of the municipality and for the approximately 500,000 tourists who visit annually.

– The declaration is the result of a bold and visionary conservation initiative by the communities of Ríobravo, La Cerbatana, and Madroñal, who united under the name Alto Calima. The process was supported by the Trópico Foundation, the CVC, and Conserva Aves, a hemispheric initiative led by the American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, BirdLife International, Birds Canada, and the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (RedLAC).

– Conserva Aves also celebrates the designation of 1,320 hectares of tropical dry forest in the Enclave Subxerophytic Regional Integrated Management District of Atuncela, increasing the protected area to 2,333 hectares.


Cali, May 27, 2024. -Today, the Cauca Guan (Penelope perspicax), the Olive Finch (Arremon castaneiceps), and the Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima) have a new horizon in Colombia. Today, hundreds of species of birds, plants, mammals, fish, and butterflies, among many other species native to the Alto Calima region in Valle del Cauca, have a protected territory, a territory of life.

After 17 months of work by the rural and ethnic communities of the municipality of Calima El Darién, led by the Trópico Foundation and supported by the Conserva Aves initiative, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca officially announced the declaration of Alto Calima as a Regional Public Protected Area. This gives these communities the responsibility for the present and future of a biodiverse region where the confluence of the Andes and the Pacific results in five different ecosystems covering more than 18,000 hectares.

For Conserva Aves, this declaration marks a milestone: Alto Calima becomes the first protected area under the Request for Proposal mechanism of this hemispheric initiative led by the American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, Birds Canada, BirdLife International, and RedLAC. Through birds, especially globally threatened migratory and resident species, it seeks to expand or create subnational protected areas that contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, connectivity, and ecological restoration of areas especially affected or at risk from climate change and human intervention. Alto Calima thus marks the starting point for new declarations both in Colombia and in other countries in the region (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador), a process that initially had the support of the Bezos Earth Fund and aims to achieve two million hectares of protected critical ecosystems in nine countries by 2028, territories of life necessary to ensure biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Conserva Aves, synonymous with participation and empowerment, has among its main pillars the active involvement of civil, community, public, and private actors to work together in the sustainable management of new protected areas, as is the case with the Alto Calima communities.

Yúber García, representative of the Trópico Foundation, which has been working since 1995 for the benefit of the Pacific region of Valle del Cauca, exclaimed upon hearing the news: “We celebrate the declaration of the Alto Calima Integrated Management Regional District, in the municipality of Calima El Darién, Valle del Cauca, Colombia! This area is a true refuge of biodiversity and is the ecological basis for the sustenance of the municipality’s population and the generation of local development. This has been a broad process of community and social participation, made possible by the leading action of the municipality’s communities and the Environmental Authority CVC. It has been very gratifying to have been able to support this through a great alliance with Conserva Aves and Rainforest Trust!”

For Jimena Barrios, representative of the bio-enterprises of the 12 de Octubre rural settlement, “the declaration of the protected area means a lot to the community because we know that it is the step we must take to ensure our quality of life, to protect the Páramo del Duende Regional Natural Park, and to enhance the existing biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Natalia Arango, executive director of Fondo Acción, a member of RedLAC and the national implementing partner in the process, highlighted that “Conserva Aves will promote the sustainable management of the protected area for the benefit of biodiversity, birds, and communities through financial sustainability plans and support for local bio-enterprises.”

In every conservation initiative, one of the challenges is recognizing the ecological value of the area for the balance of local and regional habitats. In Alto Calima, there are more than 500 species of birds, 704 species of plants, 34 species of fish, 71 species of amphibians, 67 species of reptiles, 159 species of diurnal butterflies, 132 species of mammals, 22 species of dung beetles, 33 species of bees, and 22 species of coleoptera inhabiting this space, performing a vital ecosystemic role for the country and the region. Additionally, this territory provides safe water for 16,000 inhabitants of the municipality and approximately 500,000 tourists who visit annually.

The newly materialized declaration will not only benefit biodiversity protection but also support economic opportunities and strengthen community organizations and local enterprises. Simultaneously, the implemented community monitoring program contributes to the education and training of children, adolescents, and young people. Right now, 14 nature tourism bio-enterprises are being structured, while five organizations are already improving their administrative, management, and operational capacities for nature tourism with the support of Calidris Association (BirdLife Partner in Colombia).

These sustainable opportunities are especially important for the communities of the different villages that now form Alto Calima. Gerardo Bernal, from the rural settlement of La Cristalina, stated that “the significance of the protected area is of high importace for us. There are four ecosystems in this area, five thermal floors, but it is also a great opportunity to develop nature tourism in a responsible way, not only with the environment but also with the people who will come to know and enjoy the wonders of this area, especially for me, the topic of waterfalls and landscapes.

The Science of Conservation

Aurelio Ramos, Vice President of International Alliances at Audubon, emphasized that “this declaration comes at a crucial time given the biodiversity crisis. As indicated by the science behind the Conserva Aves initiative and the detailed analysis of key areas for ecosystem conservation, it is urgent to halt the decline in migratory and resident bird populations, which need protected habitats to complete their life cycles. Conserva Aves is the answer to this monumental challenge, where Alto Calima marks a milestone as the first of 100 declarations we will have in the next three years in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, collectively totaling two million hectares of protected areas.

Similarly, Alfonso Hernández, representative of BirdLife in the initiative, argues that “the large-scale habitat degradation and alarming biodiversity loss are rapidly advancing throughout Latin America. The creation of subnational terrestrial and marine protected areas is a necessary and relevant strategy to safeguard nature, mitigate climate change, improve water security, and support community adaptation through sustainable and financially productive solutions.

Conserva Aves also Celebrates the Expansion of Atuncela 

Conserva Aves also celebrates the additional 3,261 acres (1,320 hectares) of tropical forest habitat that are now under protection following a recent designation by the Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC), a regional Colombian environmental authority. This brings the total area protected in the Distrito Regional de Manejo Integrado (DRMI) Enclave Subxerofítico de Atuncela to 5,766 acres, nearly seven times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

The Corporación Ambiental y Forestal del Pacífico (CORFOPAL), with direct investment from Conserva Aves and support from Rainforest Trust, has been working to expand this protected area in the western Colombian Andes since 2022. expansion of this protected area in the western Colombian Andes since 2022.

Atuncela’s original 2,505 acres (1,013 hectares) of dry shrubland first received protected status in 2007. The additional acreage included in the expansion creates a gradient of protected habitat, with shrubland transitioning to humid tropical forest as the elevation climbs. The variety of habitats at this site protects not only a few globally threatened birds but also other endangered species including the Pacific Giant Glass Frog and a cactus (Stenocereus humilis) found nowhere else on Earth. For this reason, this site has been identified as an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site, a high priority for conservation.

“Thanks to this designation, more than 3,200 acres of tropical forest habitat in Colombia will now be protected. We congratulate our partners at CORFOPAL on this great achievement,” said Eliana Fierro-Calderón, International Conservation Project Officer for ABC. “The expansion at Atuncela brings vital habitat across multiple ecosystems under protection, contributing to a brighter future for a number of threatened species like the Endangered Purple Quail-Dove and Banded Ground-Cuckoo.”


National and Local Organizations

About Fondo Acción

Fondo Acción is a private Colombian fund with 24 years of experience making sustainable investments in the environment and childhood. Its purpose is to connect children and adults with their territory, being transparent and efficient in the administration and execution of resources, working for conservation, sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and building possible territories together with communities and allies. (https://fondoaccion.org/)

About Tropico Foundation

The TROPICO Foundation began working in the Pacific region of Valle del Cauca in 1995, promoting and strengthening conservation and rural development processes with rural, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. Since 1997, actions have been undertaken throughout the rest of Valle del Cauca, with the support of governmental and private entities, individuals, and especially the voluntary service of numerous people. (https://www.fundaciontropico.org/)

Hemispheric Organizations

About Conserva Aves

Conserva Aves is the result of an innovative hemispheric collaboration that addresses the gap in the protection of Key Biodiversity Areas. Conserva Aves is advancing in catalyzing the expansion and creation of over 100 new protected areas covering 2 million hectares, as well as improving the management of another 2 million hectares in Latin America and the Caribbean, from Mexico to Chile. Alto Calima is the first milestone, with more declarations soon to follow in the initial four countries: Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, all these subnational protected areas located in priority areas for migratory birds, which also coincide with Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and climate strongholds. (https://conservaves.redlac.org)

About American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It addresses the biggest issues facing birds today, innovating and leveraging scientific advancements to prevent species extinction, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build conservation capacity. It is a BirdLife International partner in the United States. (https://abcbirds.org/)

About Audubon

As a leader in bird conservation in the Americas for 120 years, Audubon offers cutting-edge science to promote high-impact conservation actions across the hemisphere. Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and Earth’s biodiversity. With 1.8 million members and a staff of over 700, Audubon has a proven track record of developing and managing large-scale projects locally, nationally, regionally, and hemispherically. (https://www.audubon.org/es/conservaci%C3%B3n/americas)

About BirdLife International

BirdLife International is the world’s largest and oldest international partnership for bird conservation and their habitats. It has 122 partners around the globe and 23 in the Americas who work with passion and commitment to protect birds, biodiversity, their habitats, and people. BirdLife is recognized for its leadership in identifying and formulating Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs and KBAs, respectively). BirdLife’s approach enables strategic conservation and restoration actions, based on science and community development that go beyond borders, along and across migratory bird routes. It has six regional offices (Quito, Brussels, Amman, Nairobi, Singapore, and Suva) and a global office in Cambridge, UK. (http://www.birdlife.org)

About Birds Canada

Birds Canada is a national charitable organization dedicated to bird conservation since 1960. Our mission is to drive action to increase the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Every day, thousands of caring donors, passionate staff, and more than 70,000 volunteers are taking action to help save wild birds and their habitats. Nearly, 80% of birds that breed in Canada spend over half their lifecycle outside our borders, making international collaborations critical to ensure they are protected. Together, we are Canada’s voice for birds. (https://www.birdscanada.org/)

About RedLAC

RedLAC was created to promote interrelations among environmental funds in Latin America and the Caribbean and to provide an effective system for learning, capacity building, training, and cooperation. Currently, RedLAC has 28 member funds distributed in 19 countries in the region. Through this community of environmental funds, members’ capacities are strengthened to achieve environmental conservation and sustainable development. RedLAC members are leaders in developing financial mechanisms and generating measurable impacts on local, regional, and global scales. (http://www.redlac.org)