Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, home to an astounding 10 percent of all species on the planet. But for decades, scientists couldn’t study much of its environment. Guerrilla fighters belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) occupied huge swaths of the country’s remote regions, including many national parks. Scientists who tried to do fieldwork in FARC territory were threatened and even kidnapped, restricting where researchers could go and what they could study.
On September 26, 2016, Colombia’s government signed a peace accord with the FARC, ending 52 years of war. Colombian scientists are now venturing into former FARC territory. In 2016 alone, they discovered 100 new species. Others, meanwhile, are still struggling to negotiate their return to long abandoned field stations, especially as smaller rebel and narco groups try to fill the void the FARC left behind. And development in the form of oil exploration and agriculture also threatens these newly accessible ecosystems, as Colombia hopes to take advantage of peace to expand its economy.
Journalist Lizzie Wade travels to Colombia to accompany some of these scientists into the field, taking stock of what decades of war protected and what it destroyed. She explores Colombian scientists’ hopes for the post-war era and examines how they stack up against the realities of limited science funding and looming development.