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.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker