ADOPTA’s story began with a single birder: Guido Berguido. Guido was obsessed with finding new lifers — birds he had not seen before — and he knew that many of the species he wanted preferred the cloud forest habitat in the highlands of the Darién region, near the border of Columbia. At the time, however, this area was quite dangerous because of guerilla fighters crossing the border and hiding in the highlands, so Guido decided to try something else. On a topographical map of the country, he noticed a lone mountain on the western edge of the Darién province that was tall enough to contain the cloud forest habitat he was searching for, so Guido quickly planned a visit.
In 2004, Guido Berguido and biologist Rafael Aizprúa visited Chucantí for the first time on a grant to search for new medicinal plants. They were amazed by the flora and fauna they encountered, including many species that were not known from the area (i.e., the Varied Solitaire, Myadestes coloratus, and Beautiful Treerunner, Margarornis bellulus) and others that were listed by the IUCN as near threatened, vulnerable or endangered (i.e., the Colombian Black Spider Monkey, Ateles fusiceps rufiventris). Sadly, the two biologists also encountered high levels of deforestation due to cattle ranching and logging practices.
After seeing even more deforestation on a second trip a few weeks later Guido knew that something had to be done, yet when his friend suggested simply buying the land to protect it Guido laughed. Land is expensive, after all, and Guido was not a wealthy man. After considering the possibility, however, he began to believe it could be possible. Guido went to talk with the owner of the land he had been exploring, and explained the conservation significance of the area and why it should be protected. Although the owner was sympathetic, he explained that he had to feed his family — and the only way he knew how was through logging and agriculture. Guido was sympathetic himself, so he inquired as to whether there was a price the man could sell the land for that would still allow him to feed his family. The owner thought a moment, and then shocked Guido: he only needed $7,000 for his property of 100 acres!
The two men agreed to finalize the sale in four weeks to give Guido enough time to gather the money. When Guido returned, however, the owner was nowhere to be found. After asking around town, Guido eventually learned that the man had decided not to sell to Guido after all, at least not until he had sold the logging rights. Hearing this, Guido nearly gave up, and took a trip up the mountain for more birdwatching. He did indeed hear a variety of birds, but the sound was overshadowed by the incessant din of chainsaws. The experience convinced him to try once more to buy the land, so he returned to speak with the owner.
This time he was home, but Guido was too late. The owner had already sold the logging rights and spent the money, but Guido did not give up; he went to talk to the logging company. He discovered that they had paid for the rights to 200 individual 300-year-old trees, and had already cut down 30 of them. After a long discussion (at which point the company seemed to simply tire of Guido), they agreed that the company would give up the logging rights if Guido reimbursed them the exact price they had paid for the trees. Again, Guido silently prayed that the cost would not be too high — the wood from each tree is worth thousands — but was again shocked by the price they proposed: only $12 per tree!
After finalizing the deals with both the land owner and the logging company, Guido built the first field station in Cerro Chucantí from some of the trees that had already been toppled by the logging company. He began to take groups of people to the mountain, mostly birdwatchers and researchers, all of whom were blown away by the beautiful location. One Canadian tourist was so enamored with the location that he donated $19,000 to buy another 200 acres of land, an act which, through the donations of others, snowballed into an eventual 750 acres of property. ADOPTA was created to manage these donations and properties, and soon partnered with the Rainforest Trust and International Conservation Fund of Canada to protect a current total of 1500 acres of land in the Chucantí Private Reserve.
The Varied Solitaire, Myadestes coloratus, was one of the birds Guido Berguido hoped to see during his early visits to Cerro Chucantí. Photo: Joel Kutylowski
In the early 2000's, rapid deforestation was taking place around Cerro Chucanti for cattle ranching and logging.
The cloud forest of Cerro Chucantí is a vital piece of habitat that was almost lost to deforestation.
Guido had to buy back the logging rights to 170 old-growth trees.
A field station was built in Cerro Chucantí from precut timber.