Baby olinguito in degraded, human-encroached area of the western Andes of Colombia. Copyright SavingSpecies (2013) by SavingSpecies/Gustavo Suarez.
We’ve shown you lots of photos from the field of the olinguito. Apart from helping to introduce the world to this creature and its habitat, we know how darling it really is.
We love this new photo from our conservation partners in Colombia for so many reasons. Beyond being adorable, we also get to see a good side view of most of this baby olinguito’s body. But the photo is also instructive ecologically and scientifically–and even morally.
As cute as this new photo is, it also points to a very sad reality–and it shows why the western Andes of Colombia are truly at the top of the world’s most at-risk biodiversity hotspots.
Please avert your eyes from our furry friend for just a moment and note the vegetation surrounding the baby olinguito: it is mostly ferns–not thick cloud forest of ancient trees bearing the fruit the olinguito depends on in its diet, but ferns.
Conservation science tells us that we are looking at formerly cleared forest and early-stage second-growth forest. The abundance of ferns are usually the first signs of a return. In its current state, this is not good news: this is evidence of a relatively-recently human-cleared forest, and obviously one depended upon by the rare and once elusive olinguito.
“This is a sure indicator that man has encroached on the olinguito’s territory and a sign that these amazing creatures need more forested areas, especially as the region faces more threats from human development, mining, and logging, as well as from climate change,” says Dr. Luis Mazariegos, who heads up The Hummingbird Conservancy in Colombia. SavingSpecies funds the Conservancy and Dr. Mazariegos is working with us to protect nearly 300 acres–including restoring deforested agriculture land–for the olinguito and hundreds of other species.
We’re proud of our project to purchase and restore other degraded land for the olinguito–land that will be restored and then connected to a huge swath of protected cloud forest. As this photo illustrates, the world needs to act quickly to restore and protect cloud forest habitat for the olinguito and all the other unusual and rare wildlife–discovered and undiscovered–in the western Andes.