A regional system of Protected Areas for the Central Andes, Colombia

The Andes of Colombia are a globally important centre of biodiversity and rare species. Wide and deep valleys framed by snow-capped mountains peaking above 5,000m provide a varied landscape that is home to an extraordinary variety of plants and wildlife, with many unique species.

The region is also heavily populated, and this brings with it deforestation and habitat degradation. Fertile soils and benign mountain climates have attracted human settlement since pre-Colombian times, and presently the Andean region of Colombia supports 70% of the country’s human population.

Gustavo Kattan has been studying the consequences of human-changed landscapes and forest fragmentation on wildlife in the Cauca valley and slopes of the Western and Central Cordilleras. Man’s impact in this region has been heavy, and only small patches of natural vegetation remain. People and agriculture depend on water, whose regulation and supply depend on intact montane forest and grassland ecosystems. Landscape conservation is therefore a necessity, not a luxury.

In 1994, Fundación EcoAndina was set up with Gustavo as its director. Three years ago the National Parks Unit, Colombia’s biodiversity institute and five regional autonomous corporations started a process to create a regional system of protected areas centered in the main coffee growing region of the Central Andes. EcoAndina was asked to lead this process and work is progressing.

Gustavo’s key goal is to design a regional system of protected areas for the Central Andes of Colombia. The proposed project is the second phase of a multi-institutional effort to integrate the various protected areas of the Central Andes and design a system that will ensure conservation biodiversity in the region. The project has great potential to move the area one very important step further to develop a scientifically sound reserve system. If accomplished Colombia will provide a model for other countries to follow.

Gustavo’s work will provide the essential information needed for making decisions about just how these areas can be linked together so as to ensure the long-term viability of wildlife and their ecosystems. He is also committed to building the foundations for the future by training young biologists and scientists committed to conservation and sustainable resource management. Gustavo is a formidable scientist and an eloquent and impassioned spokesperson on behalf of conservation, and the scientific basis of conservation.

Full winners list