BOGOTA — With the expansion of Chiribiquete National Natural Park, Colombia’s National System of Protected Areas has gone a long way to preserve an additional 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of Amazonian jungle.
The importance of this new area is not difficult to measure. In those 27,800 square kilometers of jungle located between Guaviare and Caquetá, there are 41 species of reptiles alone. There are also 49 species of amphibians, 145 different birds, and at least 13 endangered species of mammals.
At the same time, traces of the first inhabitants of the American continent will remain intact. It is believed that there are at least four indigenous groups that coexist in the area. They belong to the linguistic families of Uitoto, Caribe and Arawak, which remain in isolation.
Chiribiquete produces much of the oxygen that South Americans breathe, and its capacity for water regulation will be crucial in adapting to climate change. A handful of protagonists worked for years to achieve this expansion. Here are a few of the protagonists:
Carlos Castaño-Uribe, Heritage Foundation scientific director, former director of National Parks and former environment minister
“Our first explorations to Chiribiquete at the beginning of the 1990s revealed the most emblematic cultural findings in the country,” he says. “The discovery of rock shelters with hyper-realistic cave paintings, which could be the most ancient on the continent, proves that this area requires special protection conditions. This is why we have been studying the need to re-categorize Chiribiquete as a National Natural Reserve rather than a National Park. The second classification is more strict, with a focus on conservation and scientific research. There are also talks with UNESCO to declare it a world cultural and natural heritage. Colombia is willing to consolidate the proposal, but lack of funding and Chiribiquete's isolation pose big obstacles.”
Julio Carrizosa, member of the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences
“There are few Colombians who know of the Chiribiquete National Park since its mountain ranges did not appear on maps until a few years ago,” Carrizosa says. “The Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences pushed for its expansion, given that it is a meeting point for several ecosystems and has been a human habitat for thousands of years. The ancient geological formations found within just add to the strangeness and beauty of its landscapes.”
Another argument for the expansion, Carrizosa argues, “is the threat of increasing proximity by colonization points from San José de Guaviare. Some villages are now less than 100 kilometers from one of the most extraordinary geological formations in the park — the paleozoic ruins surrounding an oasis of rainforest. This is the so-called navel of the park, but might as well be considered the navel of the planet.”
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Petroglyphs in Chiribiquete — Photo: Carlos Castaño Uribe
Patricio von Hildebrand, biologist and scientific director of the Puerto Rastrojo Foundation
“In 2002, the guerrilla presence forced us to stop our research,” von Hildebrand says. “We only went back four years ago to do the biological studies that would justify the expansion. We have described how the lakes system of the Yari river could be the second biggest and most complex in the Colombian Amazon after the Cahuinari lakes. Chiribiquete includes the entire southern basin of the Apaporis River and protects all of the Mesai river basin, as well as a large part of the Yari’s. This makes it an important source of water regulation of climatic change.”
Roberto Franco, Amazon Conservation Team consultant, expert in the studies of indigenous people in isolation
“Although it is believed to be an almost deserted area, we have evidence of the possible existence of three or more isolated indigenous groups in the heart of Chiribiquete,” Franco says. “Once proving their existence, the park expansion would mean special protection for these communities.”
Diana Castellanos, Amazon territory director of the National Parks
“The most difficult part of this journey was the lack of resources to investigate further and the difficult access to certain parts,” Castellanos says. “For example, we had to overfly the Bajo Caguan in the occidental part of the park. What you see from above is a stunning forest savanna in a perfect state of conservation. The decision to expand Chiribiquete has huge national and international importance. Chiribiquete has been a center of Amazonian cultures for millennia, not just from Colombia, but also from Brazil and Peru. Moreover, it is a corridor connecting the Andes to the Amazon.”