Women for Conservation seeks to support the monitoring of the Gorgeted Puffleg hummingbird to be carried out by women from the community, who are leaders in conservation, allowing us to contribute to the evaluation of the population status of the species and identify key locations to be protected.
Recently discovered in 2005, the Gorgeted Puffleg hummingbird may be new to science, but it is already critically endangered and hovering on the brink of extinction due to the ongoing devastation of its forest habitat. Occupying an incredibly small range of less than 2,500 acres, this rare species can only be found in the rugged Andean mountains of Colombia where forests are rapidly being cleared for agriculture and illegal coca plantations. To ensure a future for the hummingbird, Women for Conservation is collaborating with local residents to study the species, protect its habitat, and eliminate threats to its survival.
Importance of Colombia’s Serrania del Pinche Mountains
Recognized for its superior natural wealth, the Serrania del Pinche mountains have been designated as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) within the Andes of southwest Colombia. These rugged mountain peaks are the sole location of the Gorgeted Puffleg as well as a newly discovered plant species, Pamianthe ecollis. The area is also home to a multitude of other biodiversity, including 18 percent of Colombia’s bird species (an estimated 350 out of 1,941 species). As a result, the nation’s government has declared the area a “Flora and Fauna Sanctuary.”
These spectacular mountains are unique because they hold isolated patches of paramo grasslands that are considered evolutionary hotspots with some of the fastest evolving regions on the Earth. The majority of paramo ecosystems occur in the Andes of Colombia, and their soil has a very high water-retention rate, which helps to provide water even during droughts. Paramo watersheds in the mountains are vital for farming and communities below.
Threats to Biodiversity
The extraordinary habitat of the Serrania del Pinche is being consumed by forest fires, destroyed by deforestation, and degraded by climate change. In turn, as this habitat dwindles, the Gorgeted Puffleg’s already small population, estimated at just a few hundred remaining mature individuals, continues to decline.
Very little is known about this particular hummingbird. To date, research studies of the species have been hampered by ongoing political instability in the region, which restricts outside observers such as biologists from entering the community. Instead, it is important to train local residents how to monitor and study the species to develop an effective conservation plan that will ensure the hummingbird’s survival.
Empowering Local Women to Save the Species
In the town of Argelia, Women for Conservation is aiding the local community to protect the Gorgeted Puffleg and other endangered wildlife found in the surrounding vicinity. Because information collected to date about the species has been insufficient, the most important conservation actions include studying the species to determine its ecology and population size in addition to expanding its protected habitat.
By empowering local women in the community to lead conservation efforts, Women for Conservation is working to bridge the gender gap while ensuring a future for this critically endangered species. In particular, one female resident received prior training as a field assistant to carry out bird and habitat surveys for the Gorgeted Puffleg. She is now highly knowledgeable about monitoring methods for the hummingbird and will lead efforts to carry out at least three more surveys that will be pivotal to evaluating the range of the species and identifying key habitat in need of protection. She will train a team of seven women and five men from the community as field technicians, who will prioritize research of the species. Results from the study will be used to establish and expand protected areas in partnership with local residents.
The participation of women as conservation leaders in their community combined with investment in the town’s grassroots capacity will aid the success and long-term sustainability of this project. Residents in the town of Argelia already embrace the Gorgeted Puffleg as a flagship species and a symbol of their natural heritage. To help safeguard the hummingbird, a community-protected area has been established, and it will be expanded strategically using research from this project.
In the future, with appropriate resources, local entrepreneurs would like to start developing ecotourism enterprises and activities based on sustainable models of living in harmony with nature and protecting the Gorgeted Puffleg, thus providing employment opportunities that reduce environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. In addition, environmental education programs will be offered to youth and adults while women will be supported to become ecotourism guides and to pursue careers in biology.