Flamingos fly the nest in Colombia's Guajira
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Flamingos fly the nest in Colombia's Guajira

Camarones, in Colombia’s Guajira region, was once famed for its extensive flamingo population. In two years, the once 12,000 birds who lived from the river Camarones and lagoon in the Los Flamencos National Park, dropped to 800 birds in two years. Now even fewer remain.

But why have the birds gone?

“The birds began to fly away two years ago, victimes of the stupidity, development, politics and drought in La Guajira,” an indigenous Wayúu tribe member told El Espectador.

Yet this more recent phenomenon is a result of local infrastructure changes and poor planning choices by politicians in the region.

A history of human error

During the 1970s, the region experienced the so called “Bonanza Marimbera”, as local drug lords and smugglers would use the river and lagoon as a dumping ground for whisky bottles, sowing their marijuana crops inside the reserve. Not to mention using the odd flamingo for target practise.

Skip forward to the 1990s and Colombia is looking to progress, constructing the “Via de Integración” linking the Guajira department with neighboring Cesar. As workers use dynamite to blow up the Sierra Nevada mountain range during road construction, rubble and debris ends up in the river.

In 2013, Lorenzo Encho Duarte, whose wife is mayor in one of the region’s few towns, decided to build a dyke in the river, diverting water away from the lagoon to his neighboring finca.

This final twist in the tale seems to have discouraged flamingos returning to the reserve for good.

“Over two years ago we realized that water wasn’t reaching the Camarones river, and when we carried out and inspection we saw that Mr Duarte had built a wall which stopped the river’s natural flow,” Luz Elvira Angarita, Territorial Director for Colombia’s National Parks commented.

“The wall was knocked down but water now no longer reaches the lagoon as it hasn’t rained.” she added.

Responsible tourism?

Yet the flamingos aren’t the only ones to suffer as a result of careless management along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, as the country’s Tayrona National Park could also soon be swept up in new government  investment schemes.

Colombia’s Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras sparked outrage following his tweet to boost “private high level tourism projects in National Parks.”

Of the country’s 59 National Parks, only 29 currently have ecotourism training and facilities, Semana magazine reported.

The controversial two billion peso scheme will rehaul facilities in Tayrona. If a success, the initiative will also be rolled out in Los Flamencos and Gorgona National Park on the Pacific coast.

Of Tayrona’s 15,117 hectares, approximately 80 percent is privately owned despite being protected under Colombia’s National Parks scheme.

If tourism measures aren’t responsibly managed, Colombia could also soon lose its Kogui and Arhuaco indigenous tribes, who also share the park with the thousands of tourists it attracts each year.

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