Colombia: coca economy threatens new species

A new blue-and-green-throated hummingbird species, dubbed the gorgeted puffleg, has been discovered in a threatened cloud forest of southwest Colombia. The name comes from the iridescent emerald green and electric blue patch on the throat—or gorge—of the males, and from tufts of white feathers at the top of the legs, a characteristic of puffleg hummers. The new species is easily twice as big as the thumb-sized hummingbirds found in the eastern United States.

Ornithologists Alexander Cortés-Diago and Luis Alfonso Ortega made three sightings of the hummingbird in 2005 during surveys of mountain cloud forest in the Serrania del Pinche. After the birds were seen again in 2006, photographs were sent to the Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig in Germany for confirmation.

“We immediately suspected the bird as a new species,” AndrĂ© Weller of the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation/Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig said in a statement. “Further study has shown that this is certainly the most spectacular discovery of a new hummingbird taxon during the last decade or more.”

The bird’s discoverers said they went to the Serrania del Pinche expecting to find new amphibians and possibly new ranges for known birds, but the new hummingbird was “completely unexpected,” CortĂ©s-Diago said in a statement.

But researchers warn the region is threatened by human encroachment. “The isolated nature of the Serrania del Pinche within the biodiverse ChocĂł region makes it likely that further new species await discovery,” said Luis Mazariegos-Hurtado of the Hummingbird Conservancy. “Yet a major threat to these forests exists: the increase in coca fields and slash-and-burn agriculture. It is estimated that 500 hectares are lost each year.”

“Destruction of habitat is the main threat caused by the migration of coca fields from the Caqueta and Putumayo areas to the Pacific,” he added, warning that this farming technique can cause “dangerous fires that can easily burn a whole mountain.”

Ian Davidson of Birdlife International said that the gorgeted puffleg is a “flagship species” for biodiversity in the conflicted region. “To go undiscovered for so long, the bird’s range must be extremely small and fragile—hence conservation action is undoubtedly a priority for the Serrania del Pinche,” Davidson said. (Reuters, Bird Life International, May 14)

These accounts failed to note that peasants are being forced to coastal regions such as ChocĂł by the escalating war and terror in inland regions such as Putumayo.

See our last posts on Colombia and ChocĂł.