The greatest abundance, variety, and density of plant and animal species in the world is claimed by this northwest South American country on the Panamanian border between Venezuela and Ecuador, roughly equal to the combined area of France, Spain, and Portugal.
Wildlife here has been evolving uninterrupted since before the ice ages, many in isolated biological islands which developed entirely independently while ice eliminated life elsewhere in North America and Eurasia. Unique species and adaptations found nowhere else are here in remote places still not fully explored and catalogued.
Such rich, diverse natural life is possible because literally hundreds of climatic and microclimatic zones are supported in equatorial topography ranging from sea-level marshes to snowcapped Andes, from arid desert to some of the wettest places on earth in drenched coastal rain forests.
An impressive and growing network of reserves has been set aside to protect this natural wealth—49 national parks plus hundreds of smaller sanctuaries covering altogether almost 10 percent of the country’s 440,762 square miles (1,141,573 km2).
The bad news is that almost all of these are seriously underfunded and understaffed, a situation exacerbated by years of political instability, guerrilla warfare, and widespread uncontrolled lawlessness, much of it drug-involved.
Threats also include illegal capture and export of wildlife, especially birds, for pet trade (among them rare macaws, which ironically are easily raised in captivity and often die in transit); proposed roads cutting through national park areas; deforestation at the rate of 1,170–3,125 square miles (3,040–8,100 km2) yearly, which has destroyed over 30 percent of the native forest; and even plans for industrial port complexes within park boundaries.
Habitat destruction is rife both outside and inside reserves, with endemic species increasingly limited to remote forest remnants. More enlightened, productive policies are desperately needed, since no country anywhere has more important natural treasures to protect and preserve.
More than 1,700 bird species have been recorded here, exceeding those of any other country in the world, more than all of Europe and North America combined—from Andean condors soaring on broad 10-foot (3-m) wingspans to over 140 species of tiny hummingbirds flashing like opals around trees of brilliant blooms. There are dazzling scarlet and blue-and-yellow macaws, coral-hued flamingos, toucans with giant rainbow-hued bills, long-wattled umbrella birds, northern screamers, golden-chested and multicolored tanagers, orange-breasted fruiteaters, to mention but a few.
Flora includes 3,000 species of orchids among over 40,000 to 50,000 plants, including Victoria amazonica water lilies with leaves two yards (2 m) across, strong enough to support a child.
Big, shy, water-loving Brazilian, mountain, and Baird’s tapirs with zebra-striped babies, jaguars, ocelots, spectacled bears, giant armadillos, red and gray brocket deer, and a dozen kinds of monkeys inhabit the forests, plus over 550 amphibians—more than any other country in the world—and lists of flora and fauna grow as remote sites are investigated.
Colombian habitat divides roughly into several sections, the western half mostly mountainous with extensions of the Andes running parallel to the Pacific coast and, rising independently on the Caribbean coast, snow-capped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The east is divided between Los Llanos in the north—vast open plains and savannah covering some 96,500 square miles (250,000 km2) in the Orinoco River basin—and the Amazon basin overspreading some 154,400 square miles (400,000 km2) in the south, with anomalies like the Serrania de la Macarena rising in lofty isolation from the eastern plains, La Guajira desert in the northeast tip, and sodden jungles on the Pacific coast.
Equatorial temperatures vary mostly by elevation, falling about 10.8°F (6°C) with every 3,281- foot (1,000-m) rise in altitude, with dry/wet seasons governed by complex geographic and altitudinal relationships—but the main dry season is December–March with a shorter, less dry, July–August. These are reversed in the Andean region. Los Llanos has one dry season December–March; the Amazon moderately dry only in July.
Park system management was taken over from INDERENA in the Department of Agriculture by the fairly new (1994) Ministry of the Environment (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente) through its department for Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Nacionales (UAESPNN), located mostly in old INDERENA offices in Bogota and branch offices at or near various parks. Most parks offer some visitor facilities, and some have excellent visitor accommodations. Several offer camping. Some are or have been, at least until recently, virtually inaccessible, and many are impacted by guerilla activity.
Most air travel goes through Bogota, with a well-developed internal air and bus network and car rentals (not for the fainthearted) and widely distributed simple-to-spartan overnight accommodations. Travel can be difficult late-December–mid-January when many Colombians take holidays.
SANTA MARTA NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Salamanca National Park
Tayrona National Park
SERRANIA DE LA MACARENA NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Tinigua National Park
Cordillera de Los Picachos National Park
La Planada Nature Reserve
Chiribiquete National Park
Puinawai National Park
Farallones de Cali National Park
Orquideas National Park
More about the Reserves in colombia
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