PURAGUÁ MANAGEMENT AREA AND BIOLOGICAL STATION
In the southern Andes of Colombia there is a conservation area that connects the biota of two national parks: Puracé and Cueva de los Guácharos. This area is protected under the figure of Regional Natural Park. Mountain tapirs are present along this corridor and show an apparently healthy population, as suggested by the regular recording of different individuals in short periods of time, including newborns.
Our project is located in the middle of the biological corridor, and there we plan to establish a biological station where researchers from Colombia and other countries will have the possibility of developing their research projects focused on mountain tapirs and related species that inhabit the area.
Currently we are working with an association of local conservationists known as Huellas del Macizo. With them we are permanently monitoring the population of mountain tapirs that inhabit three different watersheds, where mountain tapirs have shown to make an intensive use of the territory
We had defined our study site as the Puraguá Management Area, that is mainly focused on mountain tapirs, but we are also contributing to the conservation of other species, like the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and Puma (Puma concolor).
The Puraguá Management Area and Biological Station is also scenario for educación and community development initiatives.
In 2007, the Corporación Autónoma Regional del Alto Magdalena (CAM), declared regional nature reserve the strip of natural ecosystems that structurally showed a connection between Puracé and Cueva de los Guácharos National Parks in the south of Huila department, and which in turn is part of the Colombian Massif .
As one of CAM’s strategies to protect this natural reserve area, a community-based biodiversity monitoring program was implemented. To this end, it began to promote the formation of local environmental organizations, which were provided with camera traps and other equipment, and were given instruction in their use.
The CAM strategy had a twofold objective. On one hand, local communities in different parts of the regional park were involved in biodiversity conservation actions and on the other hand, important databases were generated from the photographic records obtained with infrared cameras.
As of 2018, the Mountain Tapir Project began collaborative work with CAM and community based group Asociación Huellas del Macizo, in which, at the request of these organizations, part of the existing information began to be organized and analyzed, while at the same time a strategy was designed to carry out research using scientific methodologies that would make it possible to respond to various questions about the biology and ecology of the mountain tapir, as well as the role of the biological corridor as a route for the dispersion of biodiversity between the central and eastern Andean mountain ranges of Colombia.
As of August 2019, preliminary field sampling was initiated to test methodologies with local technicians. The first approaches to local communities were made and two permanent photo-trapping stations were established.
During 2020 we keep our monitoring work thanks to the collaboration of members of Huellas del Macizo who kept the monitoring stations running despite the situation generated by the lockdown.
The word Puraguá denotes a natural area that besides being associated with the tapir and other species such as the Andean bear, is associated with the pure and fresh water that is generated in the Colombian Massif and on which a large part of the human population of Colombia depends on, as well as the ecosystems and wild species of fauna and flora. Puraguá also maintains the idea of an area associated to Puracé and Cueva de los Guacharos national parks.
Thousands of pictures from camera traps have been obtained and the sampling continues in the field. An agreement with the oficial environmental agency CAM will permit to analyze additional data collected over a decade by local monitoring groups.
Two monitoring stations are permanently active in two salt licks and we expect to activate eight more before the end of 2020. A community based organization is in charge of the operation of the active monitoring stations and more groups will join the project in the next few months.
A process of education about the species has been initiated with the participation of the environmental authority (CAM) and community environmental organizations. Local schools will take part of the project through a hands-on education strategy once students are allowed to come back to classes.
Given the importance to confer continuity to the Puraguá Management Area Project in the long term, an educational component was incorporated based primarily on the creation of environmental projects within rural schools located in the vicinity of mountain tapir territories.
The students involved on these projects are responsible for disseminating information about the species within communities, while engaging in field data collection and analysis activities, as a hands-on type of education.
In some cases, the students are in charge of analyzing project’s databases, including the analysis of tapir pictures from the infrared cameras, trying to recognize tapirs living near to them. Students also develop activities focused on arts or are trained in topics like bird watching, ecotourism guidance, nature photography and video, etc.
One of the objectives of the Puraguá Management Area is to promote productive initiatives within the rural communities that live close to mountain tapirs. To do so, through a joint work with local environmental leaders, we build projects related to the responsible use of biodiversity, so as to reduce the pressures on the natural habitats of the species.
The goal of this program is to improve living standards of local human populations, so that farmers are motivated to conserve the mountain tapir after finding a relationship between the presence of the species and benefits to their communities.
Some of the initiatives that are starting to be promoted by the project are related to the improvement of food security for vulnerable families living near the tapir’s habitat, who in many occasions must rely on the transformation of natural ecosystems as the only alternative to cover their basic needs.
Our main objective is to preserve and, as far as possible, restore the areas of forest in which the mountain tapir depends along the management area. If we achieve the protection of the habitats, we will be able to gain time to better understand the ecology of the species and implement the actions that best fit the purpose of achieving the maintenance of the ecological processes and natural population dynamics of the species.
The Colombian Massif, where the Puraguá project is located, if one of the most important areas for fresh water conservation in Colombia. Some of the most important rivers that cross the country are born here.