Cotton top Tamarins and Conservation

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1 Cotton top Tamarins and Conservation What is a Cotton-top Tamarin? The Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) is a small species of monkey, recognisable by the white punk hairdo from which it gets its name. This species is endemic to Colombia in South America (it only lives there in the wild), where it is called the Titi Cabeciblanco. Recent research estimates that there are only Cotton top Tamarins (2000 adults) left in the wild, with numbers still decreasing. Scientists cannot be sure of the exact numbers as it is impossible to count each one in the forest. Cotton top Tamarins are classified as Critically Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species TM. Adult Cotton-top tamarins reach an average of 232mm long with tails of 372mm and weigh up to 430g. They are covered with thick fur, with brown backs, white chest and undersides and a chestnut colour to the bottom half of their tails. They have a mane of white hair on top of grey heads.

2 Cotton top Tamarins belong to the Callitrichadae family of primates, which includes 61 different species and makes up around 30% of all New World primates. Callitrichids are thought to have evolved from larger ancestor species. Their specialist adaptations include claw-like nails for clinging to trees and extended lower incisor teeth for eating plant gum. In the wild, Cotton-top Tamarins spend all of their time in trees. They eat fruits, flowers, nectar, plant exudates (gums, saps, latex) and animal prey (including frogs, snails, lizards, spiders and insects). They live in family groups of 3-13 individuals. The dominant female gives birth to either one or two young in a breeding season, which are normally cared for collectively by the group. Young Cotton top Tamarin taking food from an adult

3 Range and habitat In the past Cotton-top Tamarins lived in the Central American countries of Costa Rica and Panama as well as the South American country of Colombia. But now their range only extends to north-west Colombia. The natural habitat of Cotton-top Tamarins is tropical dry and semi-dry forest, which grows in areas where the average annual temperature is more than 17 o C and annual rainfall is between mm, with recognisable wet and dry seasons.

4 The forest has three levels of vegetation - the canopy, understorey and shrub layer - with vines and lianas running down through them, providing good access routes for small animals. Cotton-top Tamarins spend most of their time in the understorey layer. These forests support very high biodiversity relative to other habitats. Diagram showing the different levels of vegetation in a tropical forest Habitat loss The human population in north-west Columbia has grown in recent decades leading to expansion of the urban areas, causing conflicts between humans and the forest and wildlife. It is estimated that 31% of the forest within the Cotton-top Tamarins historic range was destroyed in the period Threats to their forest habitat come from human activity, through the widespread clearance of forest for agriculture (particularly fruit plantations), exploitation for timber and urban expansion.

5 Even though parts of the Cotton-top Tamarins range are within protected parks, over 200,000 hectares of the forested area within the parks boundaries have been lost since their establishment. Their habitat is not only shrinking, but also becoming increasingly fragmented. This prevents the natural movement of animals between social groups which is needed to ensure a healthy population. Cotton top Tamarin walking along a vine in dry tropical forest Conservation status of the Cotton-top Tamarin In the 1960s and early 1970s, 20-30,000 Cotton-top Tamarins were exported to the United States for use in biomedical research. Then they were classified as endangered by the IUCN. Since then, habitat loss and capture for the illegal pet trade has reduced the wild population by 80%. This led to the species being reclassified to Critically Endangered by the IUCN in This is the most serious classification of endangerment before a species is considered to be Extinct in the Wild. The Cotton-top Tamarin has been legally protected in Colombia since 1969 and its export has been banned since 1974.

6 It is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Conservation of Cotton-top Tamarins in Colombia Proyecto Titi was set up in Colombia in 1985 to save the Cotton-top Tamarin from extinction. Proyecto Titi means Project Tamarin in Spanish. The project operates on three fronts: field research, community conservation and political campaigning. Research Field research is important to help understand how to conserve Cotton-top Tamarins. Research undertaken by Proyecto Titi has focussed on the reproductive and behavioural biology of the Cotton-top Tamarin, documenting forest habitat loss, developing techniques to monitor the wild population and identifying factors contributing to their decline. Community conservation Involvement of local people in the conservation programme is vital to its success. Early work by Proyecto Titi found that 90% of local people did not know that Cotton-top Tamarins only live in north-west Colombia and that they are endangered. Many children had never visited the forest despite it being only 4km from their village. So the project started an education programme to teach children and adults about Cotton-top Tamarins and their habitat. Education material has been developed for use in schools to help teach about habitats and science, and school visits to the forest take place to learn about Cotton-top Tamarins and the forest. Older students who show a particular interest can do training in field biology, and local people are employed to work in Proyecto Titi.

7 The CarTiTilla education programme developed by Proyecto Titi to support science and environmental learning in schools Local children learning about Cotton-top Tamarins and survey techniques with Proyecto Titi Many families traditionally depend on the forest for food and fuel. So the project is working with local people to find sustainable economic alternatives which connect them with the environment. Women have set up a business making eco-mochilas (shoulder bags) out of recylced plastic bags for sale over the internet. This helps clean up the environment, by using plastic bags which have been discarded as rubbish, and gives an income to the women involved. It has also generated eco-tourism, bringing wider economic benefits to the community. Many of the artisans have become community leaders and ambassadors for environmental protection.

8 To buy an eco-mochila go to The project has also worked with local people to develop bindes clay cooking stoves to replace the open fires they usually cook on. Bindes reduce the amount of wood needed by two-thirds and are much less smoky so they are beneficial both to the forest and to women s health. Woman using binde cooking stove

9 Campaigning Public awareness of Cotton-top Tamarins has highlighted the issues of habitat loss in the Colombian national and international press. This has already led to the development of a National Conservation Plan for Cotton top Tamarins by the Colombian and designation of an additional 1,321 hectares of protected forest with the Cotton-top Tamarins range, in For more information about Proyecto Titi go to How we can help Kirkley Hall Zoo has joined the Cotton top Tamarin Conservation Club. The club unites European Zoos working to help conserve the Critically Endangered Cotton top Tamarin. We are helping Proyecto Titi by raising awareness of the plight of Cotton top Tamarins and raising funds for local staff, research equipment, land purchase and educational activities. Every year the people in Colombia have a special Cotton top Tamarin Day to celebrate this fantastic little monkey. We will be joining in to support the good work of Proyecto Titi. Throughout the year we will be running special events to celebrate Cotton top Tamarins so keep an eye on our website for updates.

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