The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM) rises out of the Caribbean ocean to a majestic 5,775 m within 50 km from the coastline, making it the tallest coastal mountain range in the world. The mountains isolation and geographic age (older than the Andes) has made this region a biodiversity hotspot, with high levels of flora and faunal endemism. The SNSM is the second oldest park in Colombia and was designated a Biosphere UNESCO reserve in 1997. More recently the SNSM National Park was deemed the world’s most irreplaceable site for threatened species (Le Saout et al. 2013), and the El Dorado reserve, where the Toro was rediscovered, is an Alliance for Zero Extinction site. While this mountain range has been given many international designations of conservation importance, it remains largely understudied, primarily due to inaccessibility and armed conflict that riddled the region for years.
The El Dorado Reserve is a birders paradise. Primarily functioning as an ecotourism lodge, birders flock here each year to see some of the regions threatened and endemic bird species, including the Santa Marta Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata). The reserve is ~ 1,976 acres ranging from 900 – 2600 m. However, the reserve hosts a suite of other endemic species, and it is here that I will search for the Santa Marta Toro.
After the rediscovery of the Toro in 2011, scientists searched for the species using bait stations and camera traps, as well as Sherman traps, in hopes of luring the Toro out from its secret forest domain. The search was unsuccessful; once again leading scientists to believe this is truly one of the rarest mammals in the world. In fact I received an email from one of the scientists on the initial expedition which stated "great to hear that someone is going back there to look for the bloody thing!" (high level of confidence right there). We will be searching for the Toro conducting nocturnal spotlight surveys throughout the El Dorado reserve and surrounding sites. We will also attempt camera trapping again. We hope to talk with local farmers and indigenous groups about the Toro and gain insight into the region using local ecological knowledge.
You can follow along with the expedition and all things about my experience in the SNSM on this site. As for me, well I’ve worked in wetlands, with water and marsh birds, in the United States for the past four years. Needless to say, I am excited but mostly unprepared for what I may encounter lurking in the depths of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
You can read more about the Toro rediscovery here:
*This research will take place in conjunction with ProAves, Rainforest Trust, and Global Wildlife Conservation, Toro photo credit: Lizzie Noble
Le Saout, Soizic, et al. "Protected areas and effective biodiversity conservation." Science 342.6160 (2013): 803-805.