Crisis in the cloudforest for woolly wonders

The yellow-tailed woolly monkey has long been hunted for its meat and fur, but now local attitudes are changing, as Simeon Tegel reports from Corosha, Peru

A A A

Homero Francisco Lopéz grimaces as he recalls how his wife prepared the carcass of the monkey he had shot, serving him a bowl of thick stew, complete with chunks of cassava and a tiny hand for him to gnaw on. "It was normal here," he says. "Everyone did it. We didn't realise how few there were."

Now Mr Lopéz, a 58-year-old subsistence farmer, has become one of the strongest voices in his village of Corosha, in the heart of the precipitous cloudforests of northern Peru, in defence of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, Oreonax flavicauda, one of the world's most threatened primates.

"This monkey is the only one of its kind," he says with the zeal of a convert. "It is a beautiful animal and thinking about the future without it is just too sad."

No one knows for sure but there are now thought to be fewer than 1,000 yellow-tailed woolly monkeys in the wild, all living in a thin band of chilly, damp forest in this corner of Peru, between 5,000ft and 9,000ft above sea level as the Andes sweep down into the Amazon. Yet many of those individuals live in small, increasingly inbred groups of a dozen or fewer, stranded in shrinking patches of forest as peasant farmers clear the improbably steep slopes to plant coffee, beans and other crops. According to Fanny Cornejo, one of a tiny handful of local primatologists, that lack of genetic variety is now a major threat to the species, leaving it more vulnerable to disease.

Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of Mr Lopéz and Ms Cornejo, many impoverished locals continue to hunt the monkey, prized for its meat and its thick, unusually soft fur. Poachers prefer to target nursing mothers as they can also sell the babies as pets.

The monkey's long breeding cycle and inquisitive nature have added to its vulnerability. They are drawn to the sound of gunfire and often stay around to see what is happening when one of their group has been shot.

The species is classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the most threatened category for species that still exist in the wild. It is also listed as among the 25 most threatened of the nearly 670 primate species.

"It should be OK for the next two decades but after that it is impossible to say," says Russ Mittermeier, who has chaired the IUCN's primate specialist group for more than 30 years. "We have a serious challenge ahead of us."

The yellow-tailed woolly monkey has always been extremely rare. It was first recorded in 1812 by the great German explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Yet he never actually witnessed a live animal. Instead, he saw a saddlecloth made from a fine, mahogany-coloured fur.

Despite the name, the monkey's tail is the same colour as the rest of its body. What is yellow is a large tuft of fur that adults of both sexes have covering their genitals. The species was actually thought to have been extinct for most of the 20th century until an expedition led by Mr Mittermeier, now the head of Conservation International, rediscovered it in 1974.

The fact that the species even survives at all may be thanks to its difficult natural habitat, which could hardly be less accessible to its only predator, humans. Reaching the group Ms Cornejo studies involves a three-hour uphill scramble in deep mud through thick, sodden forest. Even indigenous peoples rarely stray here.

But that is changing rapidly. A massive influx of migrants from the nearby mountain region of Cajamarca, fuelled in part by mining companies buying up peasants' land there, is putting an unprecedented strain on the area around Corosha.

"There were just 20 families here when I was growing up," says Mr Lopéz. "Now there are 200 and many of them don't respect the community's decision to conserve our natural resources."

With the support of Conservation International, Corosha has now established the 5,600-acre Hierba Buena-Allpayacu Community Conservation Area, with the twin goals of protecting the forest's headwaters and the yellow-tailed woolly monkey's habitat. The village is also building a lodge to cater for a growing stream of Peruvian and international tourists.

Yet conflicts within the community, between the newcomers and families who have lived here for many generations, are becoming increasingly common. The new migrants, unfamiliar with the traditional, sustainable horticultural techniques, tend to clear forest to make way for their crops and livestock whereas the locals rotate their subsistence plots between existing gaps in the forest.

The destruction is at its most intense in a supposed nature reserve, the Alto Mayo Protected Forest, which straddles a low-lying stretch of the Andes southwest of Corosha. The regional government has put a road through the park, while poachers and land-squatters even live in the heart of the reserve.

"The solution is not more and more park guards but education, so that the local population realises how important the forest is, that it provides them with water, and houses so many different species," insists Gustavo Montoya, the reserve director.

Mr Mittermeier is now calling for a concerted effort to educate locals about the monkey and even encourage them to identify with it. "You have to get the communities excited about this magnificent species," he said. "It is the only way. They must find a way to coexist with it and become invested in its survival."

Endangered Primates

Although no primates became extinct in the 20th century, many of the order's nearly 700 species face urgent threats today. The IUCN's primate specialist group say that more than 70 per cent of Asian primates are threatened with extinction, as are all gibbon species and the four great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, orang utans and bonobos. The total global budget dedicated to primate conservation is about $10m (£6.25m). About 90 per cent of that is dedicated to the great apes, leaving just $1m worldwide for other species. The IUCN estimates that a budget of just $100m could save 98 per cent of all primate species.

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit