Currency and Wildlife: A valuable insight into Conservation in Colombia

It’s always a good idea to keep a pocket full of small change when you go on a trip to Colombia. It is highly unlikely that a shopkeeper will be able to give you change if you are trying to buy a bottle of water with a large CP$50,000 peso note. Also, if you need to get on a local bus it is best to have the exact change ready for the fare. Plus, there are plenty of buskers performing on local transport or telling a story in exchange for a coin or two. Indeed, whenever possible you should always try to break large notes for smaller change.

In Colombia, there is vast biodiversity, which if you are lucky, you can see on a tour through the country. However, you don’t always have to travel far and wide in order to find rare and obscure wildlife in Colombia. Sometimes you need only reach into your pocket for small change to discover the rich biodiversity found throughout the country. Look closely enough and you will find the new coins can give you a valuable insight into some of Colombia’s key and vulnerable species.

The flora and fauna that can be found of the new set of Colombian coins

The flora and fauna that can be found of the new set of Colombian coins

The new set of Colombian coins that were released in June 2012 has won a prestigious international award. The 2013 Excellence in Currency award – which assesses the historical content, continuity of series, innovation, uniqueness, security and overall coin design – went to the Central Bank of Colombia, for its series celebrating the country’s biodiversity.

The smallest Colombian coin in circulation is the tiny silver-coloured 50 pesos. Worth just £0.01p (c. US$0.02 cents), this coin is almost half the size of a penny piece. Due to the small size and negligible value of the coin, they are a very popular coin to collect for children’s piggy banks. The coin illustrates the elusive “Oso de Anteojos,” or Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the only extant species of bear in South America. Its habitat is the forested Andean foothills, from Bolivia, in the south, to Colombia, in the north. The black bear has semi-circular creamy white markings around the eyes, resembling a pair of spectacles. Based on trends of continuing deforestation and mining exploitation of its habitat, this species will soon slide from vulnerable to endangered status. The bears are also hunted by farmers due to a misplaced belief they will eat crops and livestock (although as little as 5% of its diet is composed of meat). The spectacled Andean bear was the inspiration for Paddington Bear, a fictional character in British children’s literature, most recently seen in Paddington the movie.

The new set of coins in circulation that won the 2013 Excellence in Currency award

The new set of coins in circulation that won the 2013 Excellence in Currency award

The 100 pesos gold-coloured (steel covered in brass) coin (c. £0.03p / US$0.04c) depicts the Frailejon (Espeletia grandiflora), a perennial shrub that lives at high altitudes, above 3000 metres (10,000 ft) in the Paramo ecosystems of Colombia. Its trunk is thick with succulent woolly leaves. The Frailejon plant is useful to preserve humidity of its habitat and is protected by Colombian law. It is an endangered species because it is losing habitat to agricultural expansion of potato and illegal crops. The name Espeletia was given to this plant by the botanist explorers Humboldt and Bonpland, in honour of Viceroy Ezpeleta of Nuevo Reino de Granada (the name given to the land before Colombia became a republic).

The 200 pesos silver-coloured coin (c. £0.06p / US$0.08c) features the Scarlet macaw (Ara macao), a colourful macaw native to the permanent humid lowlands of the new world, from Mexico to mid South America. Scarlet macaws pair for life and can live for up to 50 years in the wild. The sight of two scarlet macaws flying side by side over canopy trees is an unforgettable experience well worth making a trip into the jungle. The number of these birds is perpetually declining due to the destruction of its habitat and the exotic animal trade.

The 500 pesos (c. £0.15p / US$0.20c) bimetallic coin (gold-coloured centre, silver-coloured outer ring) depicts the Glass Frog (Anura centrilonidae), a scarce, delicate and miniature frog that lives in the trees of Andean cloud forests, mainly in the tropical Choco Department. The glass frog lays its eggs on leaves over the water surface and when they hatch, tiny tadpoles drop to the water. Its existence depends on the preservation of this very special rainforest habitat.

The largest coin in circulation is the bimetallic (white centre, yellow periphery) 1000 pesos (c. £0.28p / US$0.47c), which shows the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), a giant of the ocean at one metre long and weighing on average 70kg, this turtle ranges across the oceans of the world. It is an endangered species because the females lay only an average of four eggs every two years (on the same beach where they themselves hatch out) and also because many individuals suffocate when trapped by fishing nets. Loggerhead turtles have nesting sites on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Colombia.

The older set of coins are still in circulation as legal tender

The older set of coins are still in circulation as legal tender

While the old style 1000 peso coin and the 20 peso coin were taken out of circulation a long time ago, the former as it was too easy to counterfeit, and the latter for its insignificant value, the rest of the previous edition of coins continues to serve as legal tender (for the time being). The older coins that persist in circulation alongside the new 2012 series are the 500 pesos bimetallic coin featuring a Saman tree from the town of Guacari, Valle del Cauca; the 200 pesos coin with a distinctive Colombian Quimbaya civilisation artwork; and both the 100 and 50 pesos coins, which have the national shield of Colombia.

Next time you come on a visit to Colombia why not try to find all five of the new coins to take home as a souvenir!

The Uncover Colombia Team,

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