Colombian Botanist Preserves Plants
A Colombian botanist- Julio Betancur has braved minefields & penetrated deep into jungle territory infested with drug traffickers as well as armed gangs in a bid to document Colombia’s rich biodiversity.
Colombia ranks second only to Brazil for its incredible range of fauna and flora. Betancur carries a notebook and gardening shears along with him in his expeditions.
Julio Betancur has contributed approximately 4% of the 600,000 samples at the University of Colombia’s herbarium. During his work, Betancur has faced “a slightly violent” encounter with a group of drug runners in the jungle. Fortunately, the drug traffickers accepted their explanations and left them alone.
Colombian Botanist Preserves Plants- Risk For His Country
The 59-year-old, a biologist, university professor, and collector of bromeliads, which include the pineapple, Spanish moss, and queen of the Andes—says it’s worth taking risks so his country can “know about” its biodiversity.
Deforestation, mainly from livestock farming but also illegal mining and coca plantations—has done untold damage to Colombia’s jungles.
Almost 5% of the 169,000 hectares (650 square miles) of illegal coca plantations are in protected areas. Illicit gold mining, using techniques that are harmful to the environment, covers 98,000 hectares—an area greater than Berlin.
According to the official report, since 2010, more than a million hectares of Colombian jungle has been cut down.
Colombian Botanist Preserves Plants- Threat To Forests
Back in the university herbarium, where Betancur works as a curator, he jots down in his notebook the color, size, smell, coordinates as well as the sample number. In his early expeditions, Betancur traversed Amazonian forests studying species that have since disappeared.
The Alexander von Humbolt Biological Resources Research Institute in Bogota estimates that approximately 2,100 plant species are in danger of extinction due to deforestation.
Of the 30,000 plants the institute has documented in Colombia, 26 percent are endemic. Betancur’s work is displayed on rickety shelving at Colombia’s national university.
The botanist compares the herbarium to the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the most significant libraries of the ancient world.
Colombian Botanist Preserves Plants- A Significant Achievement
At Betancur’s apartment in Bogota, he has a large terrace where he looks after his collection of bromeliads.
These plants, with their colorful flowers ranging from red to green, provide a water source for animals during times of drought. Some of the plants, Betancur says, had never been documented before.
Due to his work, Betancur has become one of the Colombians to have named the most significant number of plants.