Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ranching Traditions

How important is cattle ranching in the Llanos?
The Llanos occupies four departments (the equivalent of states) in Colombia. In Casanare, the department we visited, there are 12,500 ranches and 1.6 million cows. Ranching isn't part of the culture, it is the culture.
Round-up at La Esperanza. The ranches are big, but the cows are frequently brought into corrals to be treated for insects.
Talk about being born into ranching. Four-year-old Chucho rides in the round-up. When he needs a nap, he just sleeps in the saddle.
Ranches are remote, and there are few roads, so all meat is local. Chickens and pigs--in various degrees of wildness--roam all around the ranch.
A couple of cows are kept for milk; whole milk mixed with various fruit juices is a favored Colombian treat.
The Nature Conservancy is exploring the use of minerals and forage banks to raise more cows on less acres, allowing for some areas--such as river corridors--to be kept out of grazing.
How will this ranching tradition fare with increased energy development? Here, an oil well looms behind grazing cattle.
Working with ranchers, The Nature Conservancy hopes to preserve both their traditions and the wildlife that still roam these wild lands.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wildlife Destination: Colombia

Strangely, many people don't consider Colombia to be a nature or wildlife destination. But the country has amazing natural landscapes, ranging from coast to high Andean peaks, from grassy plains to Amazon rainforest. And there's amazing wildlife, like this tamandua (collared anteater). Ecotourism, if done correctly, could help protect this bounty of life.
Colombia has more bird species than any other country on earth. Almost one out of every five bird species on Earth can be found in Colombia.
Some will look quite familiar to Idaho residents, like this burrowing owl. They're incredibly common on the Llanos grasslands.
Others are very different, like this jabiru stork--another common Llanos resident.
Colombia also has more amphibians than any other country. Watch out for them in the shower.
And also, more butterflies.

Herds of capybaras--the world's largest rodent--roam the grasslands. In other parts of the country, you can see a giant anteater or a puma or even an anaconda.
And then there's the coast: beautiful white sand beaches, blue Caribbean waters, interesting mangrove bays. More people are starting to explore Colombia for birding, snorkeling, wildlife viewing and outdoor sports. The Conservancy believes this can be an opportunity to preserve Colombia's wildlife and wild places. But it can also be a threat. Tourists can harm animals, damage coral reefs, create demand for over-development. That's why the Conservancy is working to develop sustainable tourism standards that benefit both local communities and wildlife.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Puchis and the Armadillo

Riding along on the Llanos grasslands, our horses suddenly stop. Puchis--the 14-year-old son of the ranchers on La Finca Esperanza, the ranch we were visiting--is off his horse in the flash. Armadillo!
Puchis has an almost supernatural ability to catch armadillos. He stalks quietly or chases them rapidly, as the situation dictates. Unless, there's a hole nearby, he'll soon be showing off the armadillo to us.
This armadillo species--the Llanos long-nosed armadillo--is found only here. It's much smaller than the more common nine-banded armadillo. We encountered several more on our horseback ride, all chased with great enthusiasm by Puchis.
Puchis has stopped school so he can devote all his time to the ranch. He'll take it over someday, and is already making decisions. And what a great conservationist he already is. He is raising native turtles to release on the ranch, and knows where to find the unusual creatures that roam the Llanos.
He enjoys finding and identifying birds. In the forested areas, birds are everywhere, but he can quickly point out the more unusual species.
One morning he found us a caiman nest. After checking to make sure the mother wasn't around, he showed us the eggs, then covered them back up.
Whether it's rounding up cattle or raising turtles or catching armadillos, Puchis is focused on life on the ranch. How fortunate for conservation that this young man will be making decisions that impact one of the great wild areas left on earth.