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Colombia the number #1 country for birds
Following the end of Colombia’s civil war in 2016, the nation emerged as a top destination for nature-based travel, coming as no surprise as it is the second most biologically diverse country in the world. Even more impressive, the nation hosts a wide range of distinct and unique ecosystems that have led to the evolution of an extraordinary amount of endemic wildlife (species that can be found nowhere else on Earth). Among Colombia’s greatest ecotourism attractions is that the country ranks number one in bird diversity with 1,958 species, and this number grows every year with each new discovery.
At the northern tip of the country lies a supreme hotspot of biodiversity, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This mountain range is home to an unparalleled wealth of endemic and endangered species, leading it to be named one of the most irreplaceable sites in the world. Despite its conservation importance, only 15 percent of the Sierra Nevada’s original habitat remains after decades of brutal deforestation. This widespread destruction has left many of the region’s species hovering on the brink of extinction, including endemic wildlife that can survive nowhere else – from the colorful and raucous Santa Marta Parakeet to the secretive and elusive Santa Marta Sabrewing hummingbird.
Birdwatchers from around the globe travel thousands of miles to sneak a peek at the area’s rare species. Fortunately, the rising demand in nature-based tourism has developed immense potential for local residents to participate as bird guides and to work in the ecotourism industry, which will help to support an environmentally sustainable future for the region.
Training Women as Bird Guides to Foster a Sustainable Future through Ecotourism
As tourism continues growing in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, many women are interested to become bird guides. However, they are being confronted by a series of challenges, including a lack of equipment and an absence of training opportunities. In addition, gender barriers are high as the profession is dominated by men. Working as a bird guide in Colombia is considered a privilege that offers status and a high-paying job, commonly designated to educated and bilingual professionals. But in the rural communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, education is limited.
To help bridge this gap and promote equal opportunities, Women for Conservation commenced instructional classes in November 2019 to empower local women with training as bird guides and to pursue careers in ecotourism. The classes offer lessons in bird identification, focused on bird anatomy, locations, migration, and taxa classification, as well as personalized lessons in conversational English to help future guides communicate with tourists. As part of the program, women also receive first-hand training in the field with local forest guards on how to use binoculars, how to spot birds in trees, and how to differentiate trickier species like warblers and flycatchers.
During the lessons, a noticeable shift in perspective is being noted among participants regarding their rising appreciation for wildlife and the environment. The women now show great interest in the area’s birdlife and become excited when they see the first migratory songbirds of the year.
By unifying women in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and actively involving communities in conservation, a collective consciousness about the importance of nature preservation is being built. In the past, conservation work with these communities consisted of training women how to create and sell artisan jewelry from materials like tagua seeds that were sustainably harvested from the surrounding forests.
Through its training and education programs, Women for Conservation seeks to promote opportunities for environmentally-responsible professions in key biodiversity hotspots while lifting up women, ultimately helping to support gender equality, protect endangered species, and reduce deforestation – all for the good of the planet.