A short drive from the bustling city of Barranquilla, in northern Colombia, lies the Ceibal National forest. Home to a thriving population of endangered monkeys known as cotton-top tamarins, the forest is also an important study area for Francy Forero—a field biologist—and her colleagues at Proyecto Tití, a conservation organization striving to make the world safer for these one-pound primates.
Every few days a week, like today, Francy ventures deep into the forest in search of cotton-tops. Thankfully, the radio transmitters fitted (in backpack harnesses)—by the Proyecto Tití team—on the dominant males of each family group usually made finding them easier. At present, the radio in her hand emits white noise, a sign that there are no cotton-tops in this part of the forest. Francy moves further in, scanning her surroundings for signs of the monkeys. But the trees in this part are thick and prove to be too good a cover.
Suddenly, a faint beep sounds from the radio. Francy quickens her pace, moving in a north-easterly direction. When the signal is strong, she stops. Overhead, the branches of a dozen trees intermingle, forming a canopy of green. She holds still, and then she hears it, a rustling of leaves. Squinting into the dappled green ceiling, she sees a pair of curious black eyes staring back at her. Letting out a slow breath, Francy smiles at the juvenile cotton-top.
Sporting luxurious white manes and leathery black faces, cotton-tops are charismatic and agile monkeys that live in complex family structures rivaling our own. They are also keenly intelligent. All of which make them more endearing to Francy, who has always harbored a soft spot for primates, especially those that live in her home country of Colombia.
Born and raised in central Colombia, Francy discovered her love for primates in college, where she received her degree in biology from the University Francisco José de Caldas in Bogotá. While there, she conducted her thesis on a population of critically endangered brown spider monkeys, in the dry forests of the Guajira department in northern Colombia, that had never previously been studied. Her thesis was awarded with the highest distinction and lauded for generating scientific knowledge about Colombian biodiversity.
Today, she conducts field research and monitors cotton-top tamarins in the tropical forests of northern Colombia, studying their biology and ecology and the structure of their forest home. She also monitors threats and helps to implement projects that contribute to their conservation. In addition, Francy works with Proyecto Tití’s education and community programs, supporting environmental education and community awareness activities.
As one among 14 individuals who’ve recently been awarded 2018 WCN Scholarships to pursue their graduate studies in wildlife conservation, Francy is excited to further her knowledge under the tutelage of scientists who are familiar with the culture and challenges facing conservationists in South America. Upon finishing her degree, she aims to apply these newfound skills to conservation issues impacting local wildlife and communities in the region.