A strategy to safeguard an essential biological corridor in the Central Andes of Colombia
By Carlos Andrés Salazar Salguero, biologist, birdwatching guide and Director of the Charco del Indio Nature Reserve.
In the municipality of Villahermosa, department of Tolima, Colombia, there is a crucial biological corridor connecting tropical rainforest and moorland ecosystems at 900–4,500 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.). It is the basin of the Azufrado River, whose waters originate from the glacial melting of the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano and join downstream with hundreds of micro-basins, such as the La Esmeralda Stream.
This stream is characterized by its crystalline waters historically frequented by ancestral cultures, dozens of waterfalls, pools and isolated fragments of primary forest. La Esmeralda and its forests are home to considerable biodiversity, including many endemic Colombian species, some threatened with extinction. The lack of connectivity between the forest fragments endangers the functionality of this critical biological corridor.
In response to this challenge, the NGO FUNCOMA supported the creation of the Charco del Indio civil society nature reserve. Located 2.000 m.a.s.l., at a critical point of the biological corridor, this reserve restores five hectares of pastureland with the support of the SELVA Foundation, the Villahermosa town hall and the CELSIA company. The local community accompanied several planting sessions, seeding more than 3,000 trees of 33 native species.
Thanks to this reserve, many species have a home and an assured corridor in their passage to other ecosystems. FUNCOMA’s wildlife monitoring program has shown an increase in the number of endemic birds in Charco del Indio, most of which are vulnerable to extinction. Among them are the yellow-headed brushfinch sparrow (Atlapetes flaviceps), the Tolima blossomcrown hummingbird (Anthocephala berlepshi), the crested ant-tanager (Habia cristata) and the Tolima dove (Leptotila conoveri).
Other species recorded are those that make large boreal migrations, such as the cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulea); local migrants, such as the yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), which is also vulnerable to extinction; and the Ttorrent duck (Merganetta armata), which depends on good water quality to find food. In amphibians, the reserve is home to the glassfrog (Centrolene antioquiense) and the brown salamander (Bolitoglossa ramosi), both endemic to the Central Cordillera of Colombia.
The Charco del Indio reserve also offers quality nature and adventure tourism services. It has thematic trails, fauna monitoring stations, botanical labels, strange rock formations, Indigenous settlements, murals, spots for hiding photography, a restaurant, bird watching services and nature guides. As such, Charco del Indio is seen as a center that promotes conservation and environmental awareness, research and pre-Columbian history and contributes to the development of sustainable and cultural tourism in the north of Tolima, Colombia.