How does Jose Vicente Rodriguez Mahecha, Scientific Director of CI-Colombia and President of the Zoological Colombian Association, link the Scytalopus rodriguezi
, or Upper Magdalena tapaculo, to the fight to mitigate climate change
In this way: The small, buff-colored bird is threatened due to loss of forested habitat, and deforestation is a major cause of climate change.
As one of Colombia’s leading scientific voices, Rodriguez is constantly drawing the connection between healthy forests, the viability of species like the tapaculo, healthy people and a liveable atmosphere.
From a Young Age, A Natural Biologist
Rodriguez Mahecha, a 59-year-old biologist with the soul of explorer, knows some of the most beautiful and pristine forests in the world. He grew up surrounded by nature on his family farm near Bogota and knows almost every corner of his country’s most vital landscapes. He’s also been fighting tirelessly to protect them for over 20 years.
After Rodriguez Mahecha received his degree, he began evaluating biological diversity in the heavily forested Los Katios National Park in northwestern Colombia.
A Traveled Road
One of Rodriguez’s tasks in the park was to collect serum samples from different species and to travel the forest’s dirt roads by mule to store the samples in the park's biological station each night.
One such night, as Rodriguez Mahecha returned to the station with his mule – nicknamed "the biologist” – it was so dark that Rodriguez Mahecha was effectively blind and totally dependent on the animal.
Eventually, the mule simply stopped walking, and despite Rodriguez Mahecha’s best efforts, wouldn’t budge. Eventually, he gave up and decided to sleep in the road by her side. The next morning he woke up to discover feline tracks meandering down the path they had meant to follow.
“The biologist” had known better than he did that night, and Rodriguez Mahecha had almost met his first jaguar (Panthera onca). Around the same time, he also wrote his first book, about the status of the birds of Los Katios Park.
In 1991, Rodriguez Mahecha and Rod Mast, now Vice President of CI’s Sea Turtle Flagship Program, founded CI-Colombia out of Rodriguez Mahecha’s home. Today CI-Colombia supports projects all across the country.
Rodriguez Mahecha’s role continues to grow as well. He coordinated projects across Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as Director of CI’s Species Unit for the Andes. Rodriguez Mahecha has also supported numerous campaigns to raise awareness about the problems affecting ecosystems and biological diversity in Colombia
WATCH VIDEOS: Check out an awareness campaign about marine conservation.
Rodriguez Mahecha’s devotion to biodiversity conservation and furthering the understanding that everything is connected – forests, clean water, diverse species and human livelihoods – even brings him from turtles to frogs to illustrate this idea.
Amphibians are extremely susceptible to unusual weather variations, and many species have been greatly impacted by climate change.
But what many people don’t realize is that in addition to serving as climate “thermometers,” amphibians also help control the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Amphibians eat the insects that deliver these diseases, and as amphibians die off due to a warming climate, the limiting factors on the diseases disappear.
“Everything is connected,” Rodriguez Mahecha confirms, before getting back to work.
Rodriguez Mahecha’s work has earned many rewards – in addition to protecting forests, species and people through his work, he also has another honor. The Upper Magdalena tapaculo was named after Rodriguez Mahecha to honor his expertise and good deeds.