The charismatic cotton-top tamarin resembles the popular Troll dolls of the 1980s with its puff of wild hair and cute little face. Unfortunately, this tiny one-pound monkey is critically endangered, living only in the heavily fragmented forests of Colombia. With only two percent of the original forests that are home to cotton-tops’ remaining, the monkey is in desperate need of human help.
Because habitat is such an important issue in cotton-top conservation, Proyecto Titi (PT) set out to purchase land that could be set aside for monkeys. PT surveyed a priority area around the city of San Juan Nepomuceno. It held a national park lying in the center, surrounded by fragments of forest that stand separated from each other. Heading out on foot, the team went up and down mountains and covered all types of terrain. They traveled an area roughly the distance of San Francisco to Los Angeles looking for cotton-top populations hiding in the forested pockets that remain. While they found cotton-tops, they also found that cattle ranching had further isolated some forest areas, while slash and burn agriculture cut into others.
Moving quickly, PT was able to secure an area of land around the national park stretching over 172 acres that are absolutely critical to forest connectivity. The plan is to seed the acreage with native plants, thus connecting the national park to the isolated forest stands and allowing formerly insular populations of cotton-tops to intermingle and exchange new genes. While PT will immediately seed 125 acres, it will cost $2,500 for each acre to restore it to its former glory. Larger mammals like jaguars will also be able to travel and interbreed with greater ease. Proyecto Tití is also working with a local, Colombia-based jaguar NGO called Fundación Herencia Ambiental Caribe to help replant the area.
One of Proyecto Titi’s strength is its deep connection to the community. PT will sign conservation agreements with local landowners who will isolate pieces of their land to provide continuous forest strands. In return for taking care of the forests, the landowners will learn key sustainability that will make their land more productive for generations to come.
The land will also need fencing for areas currently being restored. Rather than using wood, which would require precious trees, Proyecto Tití will utilize melted down plastic to create post fencing. This allows re-use of plastic bottles that would otherwise be thrown away improperly, often into the forest itself. The locals who gather the plastic bags will be paid for their work, further benefitting a community that is grappling with socio-economic difficulty. Together, and with help from generous donors, Proyecto Tití will manage to reseed and recreate some of the large stretches of forest that once dominated northern Columbia, helping both tamarins and people in the process.
—Text by Elizabeth Rogers
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