Fundación Atelopus is a Colombian NGO formed in 2018 that works for the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in the Caribbean region. Our work is mainly focused on species of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, also known as “the world’s most irreplaceable spot for biodiversity”. Together with the Universidad del Magdalena, under the supervision of our founding member Luis Alberto Rueda Solano, we are currently developing and consolidating the first monitoring pilot program of Harlequin Toads (Atelopus) in Colombia.

Among other activities, we are currently studying the population dynamics of the last high mountain Harlequin Toads. Using photo-identification techniques, we have already identified 242 individuals of the species A. laetissimus. Our preliminary research efforts have also allowed the reevaluation of the conservation status of two species. Following the IUCN criteria, A. laetissimus and A. nahumae were recategorized from Critically Endangered to Endangered. In addition, our work in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has resulted in the rediscovery of two other species: A. carrikeri, which was considered extinct after 24 years without being seen; and A. arsyecue, which had not been recorded since its original description in 1994. Its rediscovery, published together with ASA partner Global Wildlife Conservation, had a worldwide media coverage.

The results of our work so far allowed us to infer that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has the last stable populations of high mountain Harlequin Toads. However, we still need to implement effective actions to keep them stable in locations with alarming population declines. Therefore, we have mapped the region’s land use from direct observation, interviews, surveys and meetings with community leaders, farmers, indigenous people, and local traders with the aim to identify emerging threats and to develop effective conservation actions. In addition, we have been able to develop environmental education activities with the local community and to implement a community monitoring group to raise awareness about the conservation and biological importance of amphibians.

By Jeferson Villalba Fuentes, Fundación Atelopus

Photo © Fundación Atelopus