Photograph by Becky Hale
Over the past 30 years, Dr. Jorge Orejuela has been an educator and conservationist in Colombia. He is currently the director of the Cali Botanical Garden and a professor in the environmental sciences department at the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, but his work extends throughout the neo-tropics. Trained as an ornithologist, his research includes species as varied as orchids, spectacled bears, and bats.
Orejuela’s early work led him to the cloud forests between Colombia and Ecuador. This area is home to one of the most important endemic bird areas of northern South America. Recognizing the need for its conservation, he undertook the establishment of the La Planada Nature Reserve. Now in its 18th year of operation, La Planada continues to be a research site with an established community development program in place.
While remaining involved with the education community and working to teach the next generation of environmentalists, Orejuela has been a driving force in the conservation movement for his country and region. His accomplishments include the creation of the Environmental Area of the Fundación para la Educación Superior and numerous protected places. Two national parks that Orejuela’s research helped establish are Utría in the Chocó region and Gorgona Island in the Pacific Ocean. Besides La Planada, two more nature reserves have resulted from his work: Acaime in the Central Andes and the Calima River basin. In 2000 Orejuela realized a dream and established the Cali Botanical Garden, which is recognized as a leading research center.