Cotton top tamarin conservation


By Maigan Thompson


In the last month, ZAA has been working with several field conservation partners to strengthen relationships and provide emergency conservation funds.

Cotton top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) are held by many ZAA-accredited zoos under the Australasian Species Management Program (ASMP) and whilst they thrive and breed well in zoos, the species is in serious trouble in the wild with an IUCN status of critically endangered.

Proyecto Tití is the official field conservation partner for the ZAA cotton top tamarin program and work in their small native range state in northern Colombia. While on holiday in South America recently, I spent some time with the Proyecto Tití team.

Aside from the excitement of seeing this tiny and rare monkey in the wild, I also had the chance to learn a lot about the work Proyecto Tití do with the animals, environment and communities. The not-for-profit organisation is working to a newly launched strategic plan incorporating reforestation, field research, education in local schools, alternative avenues of income for communities and awareness of the tamarins and their fragile conservation status.

First, I met Proyecto Titi’s Executive Director, Rosamira Guillen, who came from a career with Barranquilla Zoo to head up the organisation and Johanna Vega, a social scientist leading their advocacy and educational work.

The conversation flowed and it was clear that Rosamira is an extremely smart and capable leader with a team of very passionate people. Her focus on a strategy that tackles threats to the tamarins from multiple angles means that the abundance of passion within the Proyecto Tití team is channelled towards achieving tangible conservation goals. Something that is always an important consideration when zoos and aquariums are thinking about our conservation partnerships!

Day one out in the field I was off to Proyecto Tití’s partner reserve near Santa Catalina to join the biologists tracking the cotton tops in some seriously humid forest. The benefits of the program’s work for many other species was evident as we saw several others that share their homes with the tamarins including macaws, morrocoy tortoises and other primate species. Finally, we spotted a family group we were tracking, and I got my first glimpse of cotton top tamarins in the wild, a rare sight!

Seeing them was likely only possible because the groups in the reserve are tracked and monitored by Proyecto Tití using telemetry. This has helped them to conduct research on everything from their diet to vocalisations to infant survival rates.

Next, I got a great look at some of the work the team do with local communities to engage them in conservation both by teaching sustainable growing techniques to local farmers and working with local women to create alternate avenues of income by weaving beautiful products from collected recycled plastic bags. I was invited along for lunch and a lesson in crocheting plastics – I was pretty slow to pick it up!

Day two I started at a local school where one of Proyecto Tití’s educators delivered a class as part of an educational course in which kids learn about the species, the threats facing them and how to contribute to conservation of this local and critically endangered animal. The course culminates with an excursion to one of Proyecto Tití’s reserves, allowing the kids to see what they’ve learned in the class in action in the field.

I then headed out to a second Proyecto Tití reserve near San Juan Nepomuceno to see firsthand the team’s nursery, established to support their reforestation work in the tamarin’s range state with a focus on creating forest corridors to combat the fracturing of wild populations.

Overall, learning about the people that make up Proyecto Tití and the work that they’re doing for the cotton top tamarin and environment was inspirational. With many of our members caring for cotton top tamarins, supporting an effective conservation organisation like Proyecto Tití is a great way to connect the animals our visitors experience with conservation efforts in the wild and tell our conservation story.

For contacts or information on supporting Proyecto Titi or participating in World Cotton Top Tamarin Day, please contact Maigan Thompson.

Learn more about Proyecto Titi by taking a look at their video and annual report