Cerro Santiago

Year of compilation: 2003

Site description
This IBA includes the highest peaks in the center of the Tabasará range (Serranía de Tabasará), the eastern extension of the Talamanca massif. As defined, it consists of the area above 1,200 m around Cerro Santiago (2,121 m), Cerro Sagui (Cerro Ratón) to its northwest (2,520 m), and two peaks (2,292 and 1,945 m), unnamed on available maps, to its northeast. The area extends approximately 50 km along the continental divide above the towns of Las Lajas, Remedios and Tolé, and incorporates the upper watersheds of the Fonseca, San Félix and Tabasará Rivers on the Pacific slope, and the Manantí and Cricamola on the Caribbean. The area is almost exclusively populated by Ngöbe and some Buglé, on both the Pacific and Caribbean slope, and is the center of their Comarca (indigenous reserve). Although a road extends into the area near the Cerro Colorado copper mine above Hato Chamí, access to intact forest is difficult.

Key biodiversity
This IBA includes the core of the presumed range of two globally threatened endemic species with extremely limited distributions. Glow-throated Hummingbird is known only from this locality and from above Santa Fe, Veraguas about 70 km to the east. Yellow-green Finch is known from here, the Fortuna Forest Reserve, and from Santa Fe National Park above Chitra, Veraguas, giving the specie a longitudinal range of about 150 km. Both species were collected at Cerro Santiago by Griscom in 1924, and in recent years have been found regularly in emnant patches of forest and scrub on the road above Hato Chamí above 1,500 m, although usually in small numbers. The site contains 29 of 54 species (54%) of the Costa Rica and Panama Highlands EBA, and 29 of 68 species (43%) of biome N06. However, the area is so poorly known ornithologically that many others likely occur. The Tabasará range is also an area of subspecific endemism. Twelve subspecies are apparently restricted to it, five of which are known from Cerro Santiago. The area remains very poorly known ornithologically. The cloud forest in particular is nearly unknown, having only been surveyed for two days in 1924 (Griscom 1924).

Non-bird biodiversity: The fauna in general is very poorly known. Many of the mammals, reptiles and amphibians recorded at Fortuna Forest Reserve and Santa Fé National Park are likely to occur. Long-tailed Rice Rat (Méndez 1993) and the frogs Gastrotheca nicefori, Hyla graceae and H. rivularis (Myers and Duellman 1982) have been recorded.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The area is actively being deforested, even at higher elevations. There is an urgent need to protect the forests of the Tabasará, both to preserve its endemic wildlife and to maintain the watersheds of several important rivers. The proposed mine at Cerro Colorado has been the center of intense controversy between the national government and the Ngöbe, although because of current low copper prices project development has been halted.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
None known.

Protected areas
Part of the area has been designated as a reserve by local Ngöbe communities, and ratification by the Comarca government as a whole is under discussion. The Panama Audubon Society is working with the Comarca government in planning a possible reserve.

Habitat and land use
The natural vegetation consists of submontane and montane forests. Within the IBA as defined, some 20,000 ha, or 31% of the area above 1,200 m, is already deforested, mostly for subsistence agriculture and cattle raising. The concession for the very large Cerro Colorado copper mine lies below Cerro Santiago, but in an area that has been mostly deforested.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cerro Santiago. Downloaded from on 08/08/2022.