A bright future for the Starry Night Harlequin Toad

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Fundación Atelopus’s mission is to protect and conserve the amphibians and reptiles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM). Guided by our instinct and passion for biology, we develop research and conservation initiatives. Our interest and passion for amphibians has taken us to inhospitable and wonderful places in the SNSM, where every day we learn the importance of indigenous peoples in conserving this place and its biodiversity.

This is how our team embarked on a new adventure toward the magical and unpredictable SNSM, and we set out on this journey full of expectations and curiosity. The process began in 2016 when Luis Alberto Rueda Solano “Beto” had the opportunity to meet Ruperto Chaparro Villafaña, an indigenous leader of the Arhuaco people of Sogrome, and started establishing a relationship of friendship and trust that over the years strengthened with the alliance between Fundación Atelopus, Amas la Sierra, and the traditional indigenous authorities of the town of Sogrome.

Fundacion Atelopus and members of the Songrome community in Colombia
The Fundación Atelopus team with members of the Sogrome community in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. (Photo courtesy of Fundación Atelopus)

In this expedition four members of the Fundación Atelopus (Jeferson Villalba Fuentes, Jose Luis Perez, Luis A. Rueda Solano and Sintana Rojas) traveled to Sogrome, where we had the opportunity to get to know and immerse ourselves in the Arhuaco culture, and their vision and ancestral thinking of conservation and preservation as an ancient culture of the SNSM. For this, we had to adapt to the way of life of the community, sleep in their homes, share cooking styles, and exchange thoughts to find the purpose that led us to that beautiful town in the heart of the mountains of the SNSM. In this first trip, we established with the Arhuaco a friendship, commitment, and trust that led to the creation of strategies and processes between this indigenous community and our group, or as they called us the “younger brothers,” to join ancestral and scientific knowledge in order to preserve, conserve, and protect the SNSM.

Having developed these processes and strategies to work with amphibians and the communities in the town of Sogrome, we met Kaneymaku Suarez Chaparro (Kaney), an indigenous Arhuaco biology student appointed by the traditional indigenous authorities as the guardian of the Starry Night Harlequin Toad (Atelopus arsyecue), the species for which this whole journey began and that is known to the Arhuaco people as ‘gouna’. Our main objective was to be able to register and highlight how the Arhuaco people, through their culture, and traditional management and use of the territory, have conserved this harlequin toad species, which had not been scientifically documented in more 25 years. With Kaney as a local guide, we started our journey to search for this lost species we had longed to see for so many years.

Our journey started when the traditional authorities gave us an article made from sheep’s wool where, according to local beliefs, our thoughts and knowledge would rest during the exploration, which was set to start at noon and finish at the end of the afternoon, when we would have to share our experiences. After three hours of hiking under a bright sun, we arrived at a town called Tromba, where we saw in the rocks next to a small creek what we were looking for: some bright and small spots resting under the sun and shade. We were incredibly lucky to find 34 individuals of the harlequin toad in approximately 30 meters of creek. Although the afternoon was fleeting, we were overwhelmed with joy to confirm that the Starry Night Harlequin Toad still existed in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Fundacion Atelopus and member of the Sogrome community
From left to right: Jeferson Villalba Fuentes, Ruperto Chaparro Villafaña, José Luis Pérez-González. (Photo by Fundación Atelopus)

With the friendship and trust we have established with the community and traditional indigenous authorities of the town of Sogrome, specially with Ruperto Chaparro Villafaña and Kaneymaku Suarez Chaparro, we aim to combine traditional and scientific knowledge to find collaborative strategies that will allow us to continue working for the conservation and preservation of one of the most irreplaceable places in the world: the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Article Source: Global Wildlife Coalition