Conserving the San Bartolo Rainforest in Panama

Conserving the San Bartolo Rainforest in Panama

Central American Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii). Photo credit: ADOPTA Panama

Asociacion Adopta Bosque Panama-ADOPTA (Adopt a Panama Rainforest) is a non-profit, public charity NGO whose mission is to promote conservation and sustainable development of the unique natural ecosystems of the Republic of Panama for the benefit of both people and wildlife. The lowlands along the Pacific coast of western Panama have been historically preferred by settlers who converted most of the ancient primary rainforest to extensive farmland and cattle ranching. The upper watershed of the San Bartolo River constitutes some of the last remnants of lowland Pacific rainforest of western Panama. It is part of an important Key Biodiversity Area (KBA #19269) harboring endemic wildlife otherwise restricted to extreme southeastern Costa Rica. It is home to the Globally Endangered Central American Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii), the Golfito Robber Frog (Craugastor taurus), and many regionally endemic wildlife.

Preliminary biological surveys have revealed several new country records like the Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager and an impressive aroid called Dracontium pittieri (Araceae). The San Bartolo rainforest is possibly the last stronghold in Panama for the Vulnerable (VU) Black-headed Bushmaster (Lachesis melanocephala). San Bartolo has become a haven for many plants and animal species that are considered Critically Endangered at the National level since they do not occur anywhere else in the country. Additionally, many Neotropical migrant bird species such as Swainson's Thrush, Summer and Scarlet Tanager, and many warblers rely on this habitat for their survival.

Rangers on patrol in the San Bartolo Private Nature Reserve. Photo credit: ADOPTA Panama

For over two decades, the San Bartolo Rainforest, 105.51 hectares of old-growth forest, had been spared from deforestation by the previous owners. Unfortunately, they were no longer able to maintain it and had the urgency to sell it. There was a high risk of losing this valuable rainforest to ranchers or farmers and their slash and burn techniques. Although this property is extremely valuable on the real estate market, the owners were willing to sell it at a nominal price to an organization that could continue their conservation legacy.

ADOPTA was urgently seeking funding to purchase the land and secure a unique opportunity to conserve critical habitat for a discounted fee. Thanks to the rapid response and timely process from the Quick Response Fund for Nature, ADOPTA was able to secure the funds to purchase and take on the conservation of this precious rainforest. Additionally, as part of the purchase and demarcation process, ADOPTA conducted a 4-day joint patrol with national security units (National Border Service, Environmental Police, Coast Guard, and President´s Secret Service, and the Civil Protection Service) which has proven very effective at deterring potential poaching in the Reserve.

The San Bartolo Private Nature Reserve strives for its expansion and consolidation. Future plans include the construction of a scientific field station which will facilitate further biological discoveries in this unique ecosystem. We hope to design and build nature trails; as well as develop environmental education and training programs with nearby indigenous and farmer communities to incorporate them as allies for conservation.

Written by Guido Berguido (ADOPTA Panama), edited by Sanjiv Fernando (QRFN).