Endangered Monkey Tied To Saving Brazil Forests
October 20, 2012

Quest To Save Endangered Tamarin Monkey Could Also Save Brazil’s Forests

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

A conservation campaign that helped save an endangered species of monkey in Brazil is now turning its attention towards preserving the forests it calls home.

According to Associated Press (AP) reporter Juliana Barbassa, the efforts that helped save the squirrel-sized golden lion tamarins was "one of the world's most inspired species restoration efforts" that "became a passion for everyone from international animal aid groups to Brazilian conservationists" and went on to become "a model widely cited for saving other animals."

Thanks to the efforts of both residents of Brazil and international community members devoted to helping protect the creatures, the golden lion tamarin population of the Rio de Janeiro region has increased from a couple of hundred to more than 1,700 in roughly four-decades time. Now, the creature, which is also sometimes known as the golden marmoset, is under consideration to become the mascot of the 2016 Olympic Games.

"There is no question in my mind that the golden lion tamarin is one of the best examples of international collaboration anywhere in the world," Russell Mittermeier, the president of the environmental group Conservation International and chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) group on primates, told reporters on Friday. "I cite it every couple of weeks. This is how you do this kind of thing."

In the process of saving the tamarin, the citizens of Brazil also started taking better care of its habitat.

"In fact," Barbassa said, "that campaign has transformed the lush forest where the monkeys live“¦ and the next step to ensuring its survival might be helped along by another Olympic project: the state's promise to plant 24 million trees, enough to absorb the greenhouse gases generated by the vehicle traffic, construction and other activities of the games. That would help further restore the swath of species-rich Atlantic forest that once covered much of Brazil's coast, and ensure the tamarin population has enough room to thrive."

Marcia Hirota, who represents an environmental organization known as the SOS Mata Atlantica Foundation, called that goal "ambitious" and said it would not be easy to meet. However, she told the AP that Rio had "already cut down on deforestation" and their lofty tree-planting goals could become "an example for other states that are in a more critical situation."

The efforts to protect this species of monkey date back to the early 1970s, when one Brazilian researcher discovered the population was declining due to a reduction in forest land, likely caused by the expansion of cities and farms, Barbassa said. That discovery led both Brazilian and non-native researchers to work to protect the remaining tamarins and increase their numbers -- first by encouraging them to mate, then by working to rebuild their habitat, and finally by returning them into the newly-resuscitated forest land.

"Even in the first few years, the effort broke new ground: The Poco das Antas biological reserve in Rio state, set up to preserve the tamarin's habitat, was the first of its kind in the nation," the AP reporter said. "It provides the most stringent form of protection possible, setting aside public land but closing it off to visitors, to be used only for research and education. When the reserve began in 1974, roughly 100 tamarins lived in the area. Now there are 250."

"By 1983, researchers started introducing the golden monkeys into the wild only to watch with heartbreak as the naive zoo-bred animals met tragic deaths because they failed to recognize panthers and other predators or find shelter or food," she added. "Nearly three decades later, the population has multiplied in all of Rio state, with each tamarin an expert in identifying the 150 types of fruits, berries, shoots and insects it can survive on“¦ The next step should be within reach: raising the golden lion tamarin's population to around a sustainable level of 2,000 or more."

Currently, there is not enough forest to sustain that many monkeys. Conservationists told the AP that 2,000 tamarins would need approximately 61,800 acres of secure, interconnected habitat to thrive, but they currently have just 40% of that acreage available. As a result, they are hopeful the country's pledge to plant so many additional trees in advance of the Rio Olympics will help make up the difference.

"Expanding the forest comes with own challenges, first off finding quality seeds from the diversity of plants in the region and then sprouting those seeds into healthy shoots," explained Barbassa. "The rescuers have recruited people living in the forest, many of them former field workers who used to harvest vegetables, and trained them to recognize native trees, select seeds and monitor their growth, creating seven small-scale nurseries set up by locals."