Bogotá unites in solidarity as wildfires ravage unique ecosystem

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Some 600 firefighters, members of the National Police, Army and Civil Defense are working to extinguish the flames in the Cerros Orientales/Photo: Bomberos de Bogotá

In the face of devastating forest fires that have consumed the mountainous Eastern-most ridge of Bogotá, known as Cerros Orientales, residents of the Colombian capital are rallying together in an extraordinary display of support for the approximately 600 emergency responders battling the relentless flames.

Five days since the first outbreak, firefighters, members of the Civil Defense, National Police, and Army are grappling with the challenging and steep terrain to contain three wildfires that have destroyed swathes of the high-altitude Andean forest – a vital component of Bogotá’s distinctive ecosystem. According to the Regional Autonomous Corporation (CAR), the affected area encompasses trees like cedar, pine, and eucalyptus.

The wildfires not only decimate the forest but also induce severe erosion, threatening the topsoil of the encenillal forest and jeopardizing the small vegetation crucial for the sustenance of various bird and animal species.

In an inspiring show of community spirit, Bogotá residents are contributing bottled water, soft drinks, energy-boosting snacks, and other supplies to both the firefighters and numerous civilian volunteers working tirelessly to shield their neighborhoods from the encroaching flames and ash plumes. Some residents are placing bowls of water on window sills and balconies to provide much-needed relief for birds, showcasing the city’s collective efforts to preserve endangered biodiversity.

Members of a Bogotá Firefighting company/Bomberos de Bogotá

The Cerros Orientales is home to 119 bird species, including the scarlet tanager, fluffy sparrow, white-headed montane sparrow, and Andean pygmy owl, among others. Additionally, the forest, situated at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level, is habitat to over 60 documented mammal species, including bats.

The unseasonably hot weather and thick ash and smoke plumes have prompted Bogotá’s Environmental Secretariat to establish a mobile unit near Quebrada La Vieja’s entrance. This unit aims to identify and rescue injured or disoriented wildlife, providing them with immediate care such as hydration, analgesia, and wound management. The rescued animals, including an owl, two nightjars, and a coati, have been attended to by the Environment Secretariat during the five days of relentless fires.

An endangered owls rescued from the flames near Quebrada La Vieja/Photo: Environment Secretariat

The Environment Secretariat is urging citizens to report any wildlife injuries caused by the fires in Bogotá through the provided contact numbers and email. Furthermore, the public is encouraged to follow specific guidelines if encountering wild animals fleeing from the fires, emphasizing minimal interference and responsible actions to support their survival.

As the flames continue to threaten the unique ecosystem of Bogotá, the city’s residents remain steadfast in their commitment to protecting their environment and the diverse wildlife that calls Cerros Orientales home.

Recommendations:

The Environment Secretariat is calling on citizens to report any wildlife injured by the fires in Bogotá by calling the following cellphone numbers:  +57 (318) 827-7733; (317) 427-6828; (318) 712-5560; or contact by email: fauna@ambientebogota.gov.co

What to do if you find wild animals fleeing from the fires?

If you see an animal fleeing but without apparent injuries, let it continue its natural path. Avoid human contact as much as possible. In case of rescuing an injured or burned animal, immediately contact the Secretariat with the provided phone numbers (above).

Provide water sources for the hydration of different types of wild animals, mainly birds, as follows:

Use large plastic containers (not metal or glass), flat, wide-mouthed, tub or tray type.

Place the container in the shade, out of the reach of domestic animals (cats and dogs).

Change clean and fresh water three times a day.

Maintain hygiene by washing every day, without leaving detergent residues to avoid bacterial infections or poisoning.

Do not interact with animals that come to the watering hole (approach, attempt to manipulate, or pet them).

Place the containers in residences, gardens, balconies, and patios where proper management and hygiene can be ensured and later removed.

Do not provide any type of food to avoid diseases from the decomposition of these and prevent overfeeding.