The signing of the 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla resulted in the disarmament and demobilization of some 7,700 combatants, the majority of whom abandoned camps to begin a reintegration process into civilian life. The clearing of large swathes of remote territories of landmines and lifting of checkpoints to develop post-conflict activities – among them eco-tourism – also offered scientists a unique opportunity to explore regions closed to research and which have revealed a trove of undocumented biodiversity.
From the vast rainforests of the Pacific to the panoramic plateaus of the Guiana Shield, which served FARC’s field commanders as natural fortresses against aerial bombardment, the proliferation of illegal activities as a source of revenue to finance the armed struggle, destroyed the habitats of species endemic to the country’s national parks, among them the jaguar and spectacled bear. Of the many reptiles that faced extinction with slash-and-burn farming and indiscriminate use of pesticides, one amphibian, survived inside a former FARC camp.
During a survey of a forest near the town of Chámeza, in the department of Casanare, and which housed members of the guerrilla, biologists of the Humboldt Institute confirmed the existence of a new species of frog and named it in honor of its unconventional location: Pristimantis chamezensis. “This discovery is very special because of the social context of the area. The frog was found right in a place where former camps belonging to armed groups were, and which now indicate that thanks to the peace processes it is possible to rediscover our natural wealth,” states Andrés Acosta, a researcher at Humboldt and co-author of the research paper.
The Pristimantis chamezensis belongs to the so-called Terrarana family which reproduces without ponds or large bodies of water. Its survival depends on the environmental humidity of forests, which according to Acosta, is also an indicator of the healthy state of the frog’s high-altitude habitat.
There are 268 species of Terrarana in Colombia separated in 13 genera. The genus Pristimantis has the greatest diversity accounting for 83% of all the species. This discovery which took 10 years to describe will also help the local community of Chámeza to appropriate their biodiversity and start initiatives to conserve the wetlands and cloud forests that serve as the watershed for the rivers that flow from Eastern Andes to the Orinoco Basin.