Conservation

and plea for a World Heritage Site

The most natural vegetation is present on the east side of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy and comprises wet páramo with Chusquea bamboos and almost virgin Andean forests. The subandean forests on the lower part of the Llanos slope are in large part influenced by man or replaced for meadows and cultures.

On the dry west slope the superpáramo is most intact. There are remnants of high Andean forest, and the proper Andean forest almost has disappeared since the Conquest. Potato cultivation, here apparently at the highest altitude in Colombia, sheep (in the first part of last century most common), cows, horses and mules have changed the vegetation composition, structure and cover completely of the high Andean forest, the shrub and grass páramo.

Only the uppermost stony bunchgrass páramo is most intact here. Since the National Park has forbidden the presence of cattle and potato cultivation the results can readily be seen in Valle de Lagunillas: there are surprisingly much more shrub and trees than in the seventies.

The present type of management by the Park has its positive consequences for vegetation and ecosystem restoration and must be maintained. It is expected that in 50 years a most natural state of páramo and high Andean forest will be present here again.

The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy supports unique geological, geomorphological and glacial features; it is the main centre of megadiversity centre with many endemic plant and animals of the Eastern Cordillera of Colombia and displays endemic vegetation types in wild landscapes of exceptional beauty. Moreover, the Cocuy area includes the ancestral lands of living of the U’wa or Tunebo indigenous groups. Other cultural diversity is represented by traditional campesinos.

The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy is extremely important as a water source. It is a regional catchment area for water for a number of rivers. Glaciers and snowcap, glacial lakes, bogs and natural vegetation of páramo and Andean forests retain most of the precipitation and release the water gradually.

According to the delimitation of páramos and (high) Andean forest made by the Institute A. Von Humboldt, the lower limit of the buffer zone is at 3000 m on the west slope of the range. On the east slope the National Park reaches much lower altitudes of 1000–1500 m in some places. It would be convenient to have in some places natural pathways for migrating fauna into the savannahs of the Llanos and vice versa in order to maintain a natural corridor. The buffer zone delimitation will require some more time and the Colombian authorities will have the final lead in this issue.

The most important and relevant aspects of earth science, biotic and cultural aspects have been documented in this website. Now looking at the protocols of the government of Colombia and UNESCO, we will have to go into more detail in the near future, hoping to achieve the declaration of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy and its buffer zone as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Humanity as soon as possible.

Signed by Hendrik N. Hoeck, Antoine M. Cleef, Santiago Madriñan, Guido B.A. van Reenen, Rodrigo Cámara Leret, Alfredo Navas, Vinzenz Bickel, René Montero Serrano and Fabio Muñoz.

El Cocuy, 14 February 2012