The Plight of the Titi Monkeys

Aug 13, 2010 7:00am

Deep in the Colombian Amazon, near the border with Ecuador and Peru, researchers have found a monkey — a species never identified before — and responded in two ways.  They say (1) they're delighted that even today, in this every-inch-surveyed world, there are new things to find — and (2) they immediately put out a warning that the new monkey species is in danger of extinction.

First, the upbeat part.  Take a look at Callicebus caquetensis, the new type of titi monkey, discovered by Javier Garcia, a student at the National University of Colombia who works with professors Thomas Defler and Marta Bueno.  They published their findings in the journal Primate Conservation (the paper is HERE), and announced them through Washington-based Conservation International (CI), which provided support.

(Photo by Javier Garcia, courtesy CI.)

“This discovery is extremely exciting because we had heard about this animal, but for a long time we could not confirm if it was different from other titis. We now know that this is a unique species, and it shows the rich diversity of life that is still to be discovered in the Amazon,” said Defler in a statement provided by CI. He has a blog post HERE.

Now for the warning part.  Defler et al estimate that there are only 250 of the newly found monkeys, and they may not last. The species "should be classified as Critically Endangered (CR) due to the severe fragmentation of its habitat and very small population," they write in their paper.

The question is how to protect the forests where the monkeys live — on land increasingly used by very poor peasant farmers and fought over by guerrilla groups.  In the past, Conservation International's trademark approach has been to find economic solutions to environmental problems — for instance, to see if there are marketable natural products to be found in the wild — and they've had some success.  In this case, they concede, they may have to ask governments to create protected areas in places where the idea will not be popular.

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