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. 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 Proyecto Tití - 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.
Proyecto Tití 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 Proyecto Tití'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.
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.
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
Proyecto Tití 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. Proyecto Tití 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
Mochilas are traditional bags made in Colombia from plant fiber. Proyecto Tití 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.
Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Grant has provided funds for Proyecto Tití, and we have hosted the project as part of our Conservation Speaker Series at the
Quarters for Conservation
Oakland Zoo has selected Proyecto Tití as a 2016-2017 featured project, which will raise funds to benefit their work in the field.
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.