The cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered primates in the world. These tiny monkeys weigh about one pound, are highly social and family-oriented, and are found only in the tropical forests of northern Colombia. The greatest threat to their survival is deforestation, but they are also victims of poaching for the pet trade. Project Tamarin (Proyecto Tití) is a multidisciplinary program that works to study cotton-top tamarins in the wild, educates local communities about the need to protect Colombia’s biodiversity, and finds ways to make conservation empowering and economically feasible for local people.
Deforestation and Habitat Loss: Colombia is losing its forests at an alarming rate, due to increasing demand for agriculture, fuel, and housing. It is now among the top ten countries in the world in terms of deforestation. A further threat comes from the flooding of forests for hydroelectric projects. Even protected reserves and national parks have not been safe from this destruction. Cotton-top tamarins are particularly vulnerable to deforestation, as they occur in only a small region in northwest Colombia; they have no future without their forest home.
Poaching for the Pet Trade: Cotton-top tamarins are also victims of their own charm, as they are frequently sought by poachers for the pet trade. Hunters use slingshots to capture animals that can be sold as pets, often separating baby monkeys from their mothers. Wild animals that are forced to live as pets or performing animals face social deprivation, malnutrition, abuse and exposure to human diseases.
Research and Monitoring: The project’s field staff is actively involved in studying wild cotton-top tamarins, to better understand the behavior, reproductive patterns, and parental care strategies of this fascinating primate. Special techniques developed by Project Tamarin - including marking tamarins with temporary hair dye and using tiny backpack harnesses fitted with radio transmitters - allow field researchers to identify individual animals and locate groups in a challenging forest environment. As habitat for cotton-tops continues to be threatened in Colombia, it is essential to document how this will effect this critically endangered primate for the future.
Habitat Protection: Project Tamarin is working to purchase forested habitat that can remain a protected haven for cotton-top tamarins in Colombia. The project also works with local authorities to promote forest conservation: in 2012-2013, significant areas of forest in Santa Catalina and in the Atlantico region of Colombia were officially declared protected areas for the cotton-top tamarin by regional environmental protection agencies.
Education and Community Conservation: A crucial part of Project Tamarin’s work involves providing education and creating community programs that make forest protection and conservation of natural resources economically viable for local communities. In addition to helping cotton-top tamarins, the benefits from these programs extend to Colombia’s forest environments, and to the local people:
Education: Conservation programs have become a regular part curriculum in the local village schools. Project Tamarin provides training for rural teachers as well as advanced training in Conservation Biology to university students.
Public Awareness: Wildlife conservation posters were distributed in local villages and now decorate the walls of many homes, and children grow up with a sense of pride in protecting the cotton-top tamarin, their unique local animal.
Ending the Pet Trade: Project Tamarin encouraged villagers to trade in their sling-shots, commonly used to hunt and capture cotton-top tamarins, for a stuffed toy (a prized possession for village children). The program was remarkably successful in generating local support, and the hunting of wildlife for the pet trade significantly decreased in the village of Colosó. Project Tamarin also worked with the Barranquilla Zoo to expand their conservation education program, reaching out to an urban audience to discourage the purchase of wild animals as pets.
Saving the Forest: In an effort to decrease forest consumption and improve the health of women in the village, the project works with local people to create bindes (small efficient stoves) to cook their food. This reduces the amount of wood needed for cooking, as well as the harm to women’s lungs from cooking over an open fire.
Eco-Mochilas: Mochilas are traditional bags made in Colombia from plant fiber. Project Tamarin sponsored a program to re-design them so they can be made from discarded plastic bags. There are no formal means to manage waste in small villages, so most trash is thrown to the roadside or burned. As a result, huge quantities of waste plastic ends up littering the forests and villages of Colombia, and harming wildlife. The eco-mochila program turns plastic bags from trash into beautiful reusable bags, a craft that generates direct economic benefits to local communities and helps protect the cotton-top tamarin’s home.
Grants: Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Grant has provided funds for Project Tamarin, and we have hosted the project as part of our Conservation Speaker Series at the Zoo.
Retail Sales: Oakland Zoo’s gift shop sells eco-mochilas, beautiful hand-crafted bags made in Colombia from forest-friendly, recycled materials.
Outreach and Education: Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations, special events and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about cotton-top tamarins and other primates, as well as the challenges of forest conservation and ending the wildlife pet trade.
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