Alto Calima: Colombia's New Protected Area Benefiting People and Biodiversity

Today, the Cauca Guan (Penelope perspicax), the Olive Finch (Arremon castaneiceps), and the Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima) have a new horizon in Colombia. Hundreds of species of birds, plants, mammals, fish, and butterflies, among many other species native to the Alto Calima region in Valle del Cauca, Colombia now have a protected territory, a territory of life.

After 17 months of work by the rural and ethnic communities of the municipality of Calima El Darién, led by the Trópico Foundation and supported by the Conserva Aves initiative, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Valle del Cauca (CVC) officially announced the declaration of Alto Calima as a Regional Public Protected Area. This gives these communities the responsibility for the present and future of a biodiverse region where the confluence of the Andes and the Pacific results in five different ecosystems covering more than 44,478 acres (18,000 hectares).

For Conserva Aves, this declaration marks a milestone: Alto Calima becomes the first protected area under the Request for Proposal mechanism of this hemispheric initiative led by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), National Audubon Society, Birds Canada, BirdLife International, and Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (RedLAC). Through birds, especially globally threatened migratory and resident species, it seeks to expand or create subnational protected areas that contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, connectivity, and ecological restoration of areas especially affected by or at risk from climate change and human intervention. Alto Calima thus marks the starting point for new declarations both in Colombia and in other countries in the region (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador), a process that initially had the support of the Bezos Earth Fund and aims to achieve more than 4.9 million acres (2 million hectares) of protected critical ecosystems in nine countries by 2028, territories of life necessary to ensure biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Conserva Aves, synonymous with participation and empowerment, has among its main pillars the active involvement of civil, community, public, and private actors to work together in the sustainable management of new protected areas, as is the case with the Alto Calima communities.

Yúber García, representative of the Trópico Foundation, which has been working since 1995 for the benefit of the Pacific region of Valle del Cauca, exclaimed upon hearing the news: "We celebrate the declaration of the Alto Calima Integrated Management Regional District, in the municipality of Calima El Darién, Valle del Cauca, Colombia! This area is a true refuge of biodiversity and is the ecological basis for the sustenance of the municipality's population and the generation of local development. This has been a broad process of community and social participation, made possible by the leading action of the municipality's communities and the Environmental Authority CVC. It has been very gratifying to have been able to support this through a great alliance with Conserva Aves and Rainforest Trust!"

For Jimena Barrios, representative of the bio-enterprises (defined as community-driven enterprises that depend on natural resources) of the 12 de Octubre rural settlement, "The declaration of the protected area means a lot to the community because we know that it is the step we must take to ensure our quality of life, to protect the Páramo del Duende Regional Natural Park, and to enhance the existing biodiversity."

Meanwhile, Natalia Arango, Executive Director of Fondo Acción, a member of RedLAC and the national implementing partner in the process, highlighted that "Conserva Aves will promote the sustainable management of the protected area for the benefit of biodiversity, birds, and communities through financial sustainability plans and support for local bio-enterprises."

In every conservation initiative, one of the challenges is recognizing the ecological value of the area for the balance of local and regional habitats. In Alto Calima, there are more than 500 species of birds, 704 species of plants, 34 species of fish, 71 species of amphibians, 67 species of reptiles, 159 species of diurnal butterflies, 132 species of mammals, 22 species of dung beetles, 33 species of bees, and 22 species of coleoptera (beetles) inhabiting this space, performing vital ecosystemic roles for the country and the region. Additionally, this territory provides safe water for 16,000 inhabitants of the municipality and approximately 500,000 tourists who visit annually.

The newly materialized declaration will not only benefit biodiversity protection but also support economic opportunities and strengthen community organizations and local enterprises. Simultaneously, the implemented community monitoring program contributes to the education and training of children, adolescents, and young people. Right now, 14 ecotourism bio-enterprises are being structured, while five organizations are already improving their administrative, management, and operational capacities for ecotourism with the support of Calidris Association (BirdLife Partner in Colombia).

These sustainable opportunities are especially important for the communities of the different villages that now form Alto Calima. Gerardo Bernal, from the rural settlement of La Cristalina, stated, "The significance of the protected area is of high importance for us. There are four ecosystems in this area, five thermal floors, but it is also a great opportunity to develop nature tourism in a responsible way, not only with the environment but also with the people who will come to know and enjoy the wonders of this area, especially for me, the topic of waterfalls and landscapes."

The Science of Conservation

"Conservation of birds and their habitats is more successful when local and Indigenous communities lead the way. We applaud the participatory process by which Fundación Trópico and the local and Indigenous communities in Calima El Daríen achieved this designation. It was a huge undertaking that involved conducting research, securing funds, and convening many discussions to achieve conservation goals while upholding the rights and traditions of Indigenous and rural communities. We are proud to support these efforts and will continue to support these and other partners along the way,” said Eliana Fierro-Calderón, ABC's International Conservation Project Officer.

Aurelio Ramos, Vice President of International Alliances at Audubon, emphasized, "This declaration comes at a crucial time given the biodiversity crisis. As indicated by the science behind the Conserva Aves initiative and the detailed analysis of key areas for ecosystem conservation, it is urgent to halt the decline in migratory and resident bird populations, which need protected habitats to complete their life cycles. Conserva Aves is the answer to this monumental challenge, where Alto Calima marks a milestone as the first of 100 declarations we will have in the next three years in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, collectively totaling 2 million hectares of protected areas."

Similarly, Alfonso Hernández, representative of BirdLife in the initiative, argues that "The large-scale habitat degradation and alarming biodiversity loss are rapidly advancing throughout Latin America. The creation of subnational terrestrial and marine protected areas is a necessary and relevant strategy to safeguard nature, mitigate climate change, improve water security, and support community adaptation through sustainable and financially productive solutions."


American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter (@ABCbirds).

BirdLife International is the world's largest and oldest international partnership for bird conservation and their habitats. It has 122 partners around the globe and 23 in the Americas who work with passion and commitment to protect birds, biodiversity, their habitats, and people. BirdLife is recognized for its leadership in identifying and formulating Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs and KBAs, respectively). BirdLife's approach enables strategic conservation and restoration actions, based on science and community development that go beyond borders, along and across migratory bird routes. It has six regional offices (Quito, Brussels, Amman, Nairobi, Singapore, and Suva) and a global office in Cambridge, UK. 

Birds Canada is a national charitable organization dedicated to bird conservation since 1960. Our mission is to drive action to increase the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Every day, thousands of caring donors, passionate staff, and more than 70,000 volunteers are taking action to help save wild birds and their habitats. Nearly 80 percent of birds that breed in Canada spend over half their life cycle outside our borders, making international collaborations critical to ensure they are protected. Together, we are Canada's voice for birds. 

Conserva Aves is the result of an innovative hemispheric collaboration that addresses the gap in the protection of Key Biodiversity Areas. Conserva Aves is advancing in catalyzing the expansion and creation of over 100 new protected areas covering 2 million hectares, as well as improving the management of another 2 million hectares in Latin America and the Caribbean, from Mexico to Chile. Alto Calima is the first milestone, with more declarations soon to follow in the initial four countries: Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, all these subnational protected areas located in priority areas for migratory birds, which also coincide with Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and climate strongholds. 

Fondo Acción is a private Colombian fund with 24 years of experience making sustainable investments in the environment and childhood. Its purpose is to connect children and adults with their territory, being transparent and efficient in the administration and execution of resources, working for conservation, sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and building possible territories together with communities and allies. 

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @audubonsociety. 

RedLAC was created to promote interrelations among environmental funds in Latin America and the Caribbean and to provide an effective system for learning, capacity building, training, and cooperation. Currently, RedLAC has 28 member funds distributed in 19 countries in the region. Through this community of environmental funds, members' capacities are strengthened to achieve environmental conservation and sustainable development. RedLAC members are leaders in developing financial mechanisms and generating measurable impacts on local, regional, and global scales.

The TRÓPICO Foundation began working in the Pacific region of Valle del Cauca in 1995, promoting and strengthening conservation and rural development processes with rural, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. Since 1997, actions have been undertaken throughout the rest of Valle del Cauca, with the support of governmental and private entities, individuals, and especially the voluntary service of numerous people.

Media Contact

Jordan Rutter
Director of Communications