efe-epaSanta Marta, Colombia

Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world's highest coastal mountain range, is home to 28 endemic bird species such as the Santa Marta sabrewing and the blue-bearded helmetcrest that make that massif a paradise for bird-watching and the preservation of threatened species.

Authorities, guides and environmentalists are making efforts to develop that form of tourism, which is growing considerably thanks to the end of the armed conflict and engaging local communities in the process of conserving ecosystems.

Colombia ranks first worldwide in terms of bird diversity with 1,921 different species, 20 percent of which live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the mountain range with the largest number of endemic bird species," biologist Gabriel Utria, who promotes bird-watching among domestic and international tourists, told EFE.

Of Colombia's more than 100 endemic bird species, 28 are located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, many of them listed as vulnerable, in danger of extinction or at critical risk of extinction, as is the case of two hummingbird species - the Santa Marta sabrewing and the blue-bearded helmetcrest.

The Santa Marta sabrewing is very difficult to spot in the wild because there are very few of them and they live within a range of between 1,800-4,800 meters (5,900-15,740 feet) above sea level," Utria said, noting that to date it has only been photographed once.

The biologist leads Birding Santa Marta, an organization that involves peasant and indigenous communities in the business of birdwatching tourism.

That activity provides an economic alternative for communities without harming ecosystems and is sparking interest among authorities seeking to conserve native species of fauna in the Sierra Nevada.

"We're promoting the conservation of protected areas and natural reserves, giving a role to local communities and promoting the sustainability of environmentally friendly productive processes," Utria said, adding that "this is a very specialized kind of tourism."

The biologist said the advantage of the Sierra Nevada was that people can see a wide variety of species in a very small amount of territory and in little time.

For example, he estimated that people could see eight species in a day in the Sierra Nevada, while in the Amazon region it could take up to 15 days to see that same number.

Carlos Hernando Rincon is a Sierra Nevada guide who promotes adventure tourism based on the principles of respect for the environment and the sustainable development of local communities.

"I'm a son of peasants who went to study administration and returned to the region to use my company to promote the idea that instead of cutting down the forest to raise cattle, let's preserve the ecosystems and show them to visitors, and thereby generate income without damaging our environment," Rincon told EFE.

For her part, the tourism secretary of Santa Marta province, Aura Herrera, said the idea was to leverage the support of national entities to support these initiatives and train tourism operators to fully develop an activity that causes no harm to nature while providing better service to visitors.

Hugo Penso Correa