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Rebels Seize Research Team in Colombia

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Science  28 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5675, pp. 1223
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1223b

Biologists have launched an international campaign to win the release of two scientists and their guide who were kidnapped last month by Colombian guerrillas. The three men were seized as they conducted an ecological survey in northern Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a violent insurgency group known for ransoming abductees, has claimed responsibility.

The team—ornithologist Diego Calderón of the University of Antioquia in Medellín, botanist Hermes Cuadros of the University of the Atlantic in Barranquilla, and guide José Saurith from Manaure—arrived in the mountains along the Venezuelan border early last month to prepare a biological survey of a potential national park. The researchers had heard rumors of nearby guerrilla activity, says biologist Andrés Cuervo, a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.

Captives.

Supporters hope publicity will help free kidnapped Colombian ornithologist Diego Calderón (left) and botanist Hermes Cuadros (with pole).

CREDITS: (LEFT TO RIGHT) JULIANA CARDONA 2002; DIANA ARZUSA 2000

FARC abducted the men on 17 April, and word of the kidnappings soon spread worldwide. Calderón is a founding member of Colombia's new Ornithological Association and, although still a graduate student, is a rising star in the international bird science community. He is also a diabetic who needs twice-daily shots of insulin. Cuadros is an expert on Colombian flora and a former director of Cartagena's botanical garden.

Institutions and individuals have flooded a FARC Web site with messages condemning the kidnappings (see www.rnoa.org/indexnuevo.html), and last weekend several dozen groups in Colombia and other nations staged “Birding for Freedom” walks and demonstrations. The events “let FARC know what the heck an ornithologist does in the field,” says Cuervo.

Supporters hope that publicizing the abductions will put pressure on FARC to free the men—and dramatize the threat facing all field researchers in Colombia. “Many biologists simply don't go further than city boundaries or a few safe places,” says Cuervo.

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