Animal Conservation

Colombian farmers bet on birdwatching lodges to conserve forests

It is early in the morning and tourists are looking over a wooden balcony to observe a small bird.

The crescent-headed antpitta, a tennis ball-sized bird with large eyes and a small beak, hops among the ferns and leaves of the forest floor.

Bird watchers love this species because it is very difficult to spot, said Juan Lopez, a nature guide who travels with two British tourists.

“Before this place existed, the only option to see this antpitta was in Ecuador. But you had to walk two days and go camping there to see it.

Juan Lopez, nature guide

“Before this place existed, the only option to see this antpitta was in Ecuador,” he explained. “But you had to walk two days and go camping there to see it.”

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Now tourists can admire the antpitta – and other unique species – at a birding lodge at Hacienda El Bosque, a large dairy farm near the Colombian town of Manizales.

Hacienda El Bosque is one of dozens of Colombian farms trying to get into nature tourism and trying to turn conservation into a profitable business as a way to avoid deforestation.

Deforestation increased by 8% in Colombia last year, with the South American country losing an estimated 170,000 hectares of its forests to industries such as cattle ranching and illegal mining.

Hacienda el Bosque is located in the Andes mountains at 10,000 feet above sea level. It has an area of ​​1,000 hectares, almost half of which is covered with cloud forest.

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The ranch made all of its income from the sale of milk. But it opened its doors to bird watchers three years ago in order to generate new sources of income.

Its owners have realized that the Andean cloud forests that surround the farm attract dozens of migrating birds and are also home to endemic species. So instead of clearing the forest to make more space for the livestock, they decided to protect it.

“Thirty years ago, my father started protecting part of the forest because he wanted to keep our water sources safe,” said Juan Martin Perez, one of the owners.

“Now we are using these forests to create a great experience for tourists, especially those interested in bird watching and photography.”

Juan Martin Perez, owner of Hacienda El Bosque

“Now we are using these forests to create a great experience for tourists, especially those interested in bird watching and photography.”

Three cabins have been built for visitors who wish to sleep. As well as observation decks and a path through the wooded area of ​​the estate.

Perez hopes that next year the farm will derive 50% of its income from tourism. Milk sales have fallen recently, he said, due to international trade agreements.

“For us, it’s important to diversify and look for alternatives,” said Perez. “And there are a lot of people from China, the United States and Europe who want to come here to watch the birds.”

He is not the only one to think in this direction.

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Within an hour’s drive from Hacienda El Bosque, there are two coffee plantations and a few smaller farms that also offer bird watching tours.

At El Color de Mis Reves, or the Color of My Dreams, one of the main attractions is the black-billed mountain toucan.

There, a guide hangs grapes from a branch and attracts the toucan with a call that comes from a loudspeaker. In 20 minutes, the colorful bird lands on the branch, eats a grape and begins to crackle.

The farm is owned by Andres Giraldo, a retired businessman who moved there to get away from the city.

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It is located next to a nature reserve. And Giraldo lets the forest grow back all around his property to give more space to the wildlife. The forest cover here is only interrupted by four log cabins and two yurts where tourists can spend the night.

“It’s not a business that generates profits overnight, it takes time,” Giraldo said. “But we do it because we are passionate about conservation. We want people to learn more about birds, the forest and the value it has in our lives.

So far, around 1,900 species of birds have been spotted in Colombia, more than in any other country. So there is a lot to show tourists. As long as bird habitats are preserved.

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