Threatened Bird is Saved
By: Jeinst Campo Rivera, Unimedios
Not much is known about the elusive Penelope perspicax, commonly known as the pava caucana or pava de monte. This galliform bird, which belongs to the Cracidae family, found in the geographical valley of the Cauca River, is on the list of endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), partly due to loss and fragmentation of its habitat as well as hunting.
The pava’s average size is 76 cm; its feathers are a grayish dun color with a subtle light gray edge that enables it to quickly camouflage itself in the forest, making it more difficult for it to be seen.
Researchers from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Palmira (National University of Colombia) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are tracking it through a meticulous monitoring program in the 559 hectares of the Yotoco National Forestry Reserve (owned by the UN), where one of the last populations, consisting of approximately 100 individuals, is conserved.
Seed dispersal potential
Experts committed to conservation of the pava caucana have carried out studies and monitoring to identify its role in the ecosystem and determine if the population is increasing or decreasing over time.
A study undertaken in 2006 by biologist Gustavo Kattan for the Fundación Ecoandina and the Instituto Humboldt, in the Otún Quimbaya Fauna and Flora sanctuary in the Department of Risaralda (where the greatest number of these birds are found), showed that they eat 91 species of plants with large quantities of seeds that they disperse intact through their fecal material.
"This shows that the pava can be an effective disseminator in transporting and depositing seeds through the forest, because thanks to its flexibility in the use of different habitats, including secondary forests and tree plantations, it helps to regenerate them", says the researcher.
This potential functionality pava caucana in the ecosystem led a group of students from the UN (National University) in Palmira, coordinated by researchers from the WCS and with support from the Fondo Mohamed Bin Zayed, to walk through the rainforest of the Yotoco Reserve for a year to monitor the status of these bird populations.
"Because it is a bird that is unique to Colombia and is found in very few places, we need to constantly watch over its populations to determine if they have increased or decreased, and to identify if they are in good condition", affirms Catalina Gutiérrez, a scientist with the WCS.
Example of conservation
In 2004 researchers from the Universidad del Valle found that in order to locate a group of pavas caucanas they had to walk through 5.3 km of dense forest to find an average of 1.4 individuals. In contrast, the researchers from the UN in Palmira, sampling as many as 92 km, have discovered that this year in order to find a group of those birds they needed to walk approximately 2.3 km, a lower indicator in terms of distance.
According to zootechnician Carlos Jaramillo, director of the reserve, this increase in the frequency of sightings shows that the pava caucana has not been extinguished in the Valle del Cauca and that the Yotoco Reserve is arduously working to acquire knowledge about it and for its conservation, as it is cataloged as being in imminent danger of extinction.