Why focus on woolly monkeys?
There are two major reasons to consider woolly monkeys as indices of overall ecological integrity of the lowland tropical rainforests where it occurs. The first is the species’ vulnerability to humans; it is the first species to disappear around a human settlement due to its need for undisturbed forest and its sensitivity to overhunting. The second is its strategic role in maintaining ecosystem functions. These large primates eat huge quantities of many kinds of fruits, swallowing but not digesting the seeds, and dispersing them far from their parent trees, where their probability of survival is much higher than if they were simply to fall to the ground. These trees depend on the monkeys’ dispersal services to reproduce – when the woollies become locally extinct, so do many tree species. 1 Moreover, these tree species generally are characterized by denser wood than species with other seed dispersal mechanisms. The system consequence is that the forest’s ability to store carbon from the atmosphere diminishes, thus decreasing the ability of the Amazon region to buffer the global climate from greenhouse gas effects. 2
1 Stevenson, PR. 2010. The abundance of large Ateline monkeys is positively associated with the diversity of plants regenerating in neotropical forests. Biotropica 11 (11): 1-8.
2 Peres, CA et al. 2016. Dispersal limitation induces longterm biomass collapse in overhunted Amazonian forests. PNAS 113 No. 4: 892-897. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1516525113
The hunters in Mocagua reached a decision in 2003-4 to stop hunting endangered species of animals in their traditional territory, with a special emphasis on woolly monkeys (Lagothrix lagotricha, locally known as churucos). This agreement remains in place and upheld. Amacayacu National Park designated the species as a conservation priority in its updated management plan in 2012 as an indicator of ecosystem integrity in the protected area. The existence and persistence of the hunting ban on the species in Mocagua was an additional tactical element of this selection because it represents “natural resource management” that was not imposed by the park, a unique opportunity to reinforce positively a community initiative.
Our goal is to consolidate this local model for community economic development that depends on and maintains ecosystem integrity and cultural traditions. Bottom-line for regional replication: WIN-WIN.