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Building Bridges for the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

By Global Wildlife Conservation on December 12, 2019   duration 3 min read

Starry Night Harlequin Toad habitat. (Photo by Fundación Atelopus)
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Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021

By Kaneymaku Suarez Chaparro, a member of the Sogrome community and a biology student at the Francisco José de Caldas District University; and Sogrome community leader and Amas la Sierra member Ruperto Chaparro Villafaña

In the Arhuaco culture we believe that the world is built of bridges that connect people around their dreams, uniting them and their purposes, whether due to their needs or motivated by their aspirations. Based on this idea, we created Amas la Sierra, an indigenous organization of the traditional community of Sogrome, designed to create bridges between our Arhuaco culture and the culture of the younger brother—or non-indigenous people--allowing us to join different ways of thinking to together manage our potentials in a more evolved and connected way with society and the environment.

That is why, in 2016 we established the first conversations with the biologist and researcher Luis Alberto Rueda Solano from Fundación Atelopus. We talked about the importance of establishing a peer-to-peer relationship, especially a scientific one that reinforces the objectives of preserving the territory and its natural and cultural wealth. Aware that the modern challenges of climate change or the extinction of species affect indigenous and non-indigenous alike, the solution—which is necessary to our own survival—is going to be most effective if we collaborate and work together.

Fundacion Atelopus and Amas la Sierra logos showcasing their partnership (Photo courtesy of Fundación Atelopus)

Our meeting in Sogrome in April of 2019 was a meeting between the traditional indigenous authorities and the scientific authorities, in a kind of learning laboratory to meet and share purposes. The Arhuaco authorities were emphatic in highlighting that we adopt the scientific knowledge of the western world and, in this case, Fundación Atelopus because we are sure that we can make an important contribution while we have to learn a lot from it as well. This is the fundamental reason why we want our young Arhuacos to go to universities to become scientists, and guarantee that  the expansion of knowledge serves both indigenous and non-indigenous people.

In this community we have been working on this initiative for more than four years. We began in the field of economics, where we seek to reconcile ‘the aggressive nature’ of capitalism with our mission of cultural permanence. Now we continue in the field of biology, led by Kaneymako Suarez Chaparro, an Arhuaco student of biology, whose purpose is not only to register endemic species not yet included in the scientific literature, but to teach that the preservation of biodiversity is possible for everyone. This is why we decided to invite Fundación Atelopus, so that as scientists and as an organization they could be our ally in the effort to preserve the species of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, first by working with the Starry Night Harlequin Toad (Atelopus arsyecue).

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the tallest coastal mountain on Earth and home to the Starry Night Harlequin Frog. (Photo by Fundación Atelopus)

It is not a minor detail to begin our mission with Gouna (Atelopus arsyecue) because it is not a new endemic species for us. It is the emblematic authority of thousands of years that has inspired the organization of our cultural practices, helping us recognize that the role of humans is linked, in origin and evolution, to the way nature and the universe have developed. This has allowed us to become an ancient culture and our territory to become an extraordinarily biodiverse cultural space--the same territory the UNESCO declare as Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site in 1979. With this background, we propose this scientific relationship that overcomes the old dilemma of expropriation of local or traditional knowledge by non-indigenous people. What we are looking for is adding the best of each culture, and by working together to create a legacy, a responsible civilization.

About the author

Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation.

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