WCS works in the Central Western Andes of Colombia because:
- It contains some of the largest blocks of Andean forest in Colombia.
- It is home to important populations of the largest mammals of the tropical Andes, the Andean bear and the Mountain tapir.
- It is home to over ten 10% of the worlds bird diversity.
- It is a major center of endemism for numerous animal and plant groups.
- It provides essential ecosystem services that directly and indirectly support more than half of the population in the country.
This landscape includes two major axes of connectivity between national protected areas, PNN Tatamá and PNN Farallones in the Western mountain range and PNN Selva de Florencia, PNN Los Nevados and PNN Las Hermosas in the Central mountain range.
The main threats to the conservation targets (i.e species and conservation areas) are habitat loss, invasive species, selective extraction of natural resources, hunting (for sport, subsistence and trade), diseases and climate change. In this case, changes in climatic conditions, particularly extreme events and changes in seasonality, are forcing farmers to change to products which are less vulnerable to extreme events and changes in seasonality, but are often less friendly with the environment (i.e. coffee crops to cattle ranching). Another factor that represents a challenge is the economic growth policy of the new government which is based upon five pillars; mining, agriculture, housing, infrastructure and innovation, the first two represent major threats to the landscape.
WCS has been working in this landscape for seventeen years, carrying out activities framed within four different but complimentary strategies: research, capacity building, technical assistance and policy making. Research projects currently focus on a set of priority landscape species (Andean bear, Pacarana, Neotropical otter, Cauca guan, Cinnamon teal, Golden-plummed parakeet and Monkeys), particularly endangered vertebrates (e.g. amphibians) and critically threatened ecosystems (e.g. dry forests, wetlands and Paramo scrublands).
Furthermore, throughout the years the team has conducted research projects on various threatened species (including birds, mammals, frogs and plants), animal and plant communities, forest dynamics and the effects of habitat reduction and fragmentation. Most of these projects are either conducted by graduate and undergraduate students or research associates, who are provided with the opportunity to fully design and implement conservation oriented research projects, thus building capacity among young professionals. Additional capacity building activities are conducted with governmental staff and local communities.
WCS supported the establishment of the Regional System of Protected Areas for the EjeCafetero – SIRAP-EC. More recently, while continuing to support the consolidation of the SIRAP-EC, WCS Colombia has expanded its activities southwards and into the productive matrix surrounding protected areas in the landscape.