Participatory conservation to address the illegal trade of night monkeys for biomedical research, Colombia

Angela Maldonado (Associate Award Winner 2008) is Project Director of Fundacion Entropika, an NGO working for the long-term conservation of the Colombian Amazon through community led education and research.

The Colombia-Peru-Brazil tri-border area is one of the most culturally diverse areas in Amazonia and makes up part of the largest continuous tropical forest on Earth.  However, illegal trade in wildlife and timber occurs here on an alarming scale, posing a real threat to biodiversity and impacting the communities who rely on the forests to survive.

Night monkeys are Amazonia’s only nocturnal primates. Traditionally captured and eaten by local communities, these monkeys are also sold to the pet trade. Today, however, the majority of those captured are illegally traded to Colombian laboratories for biomedical research.  As well as decimating wild night monkey populations, the trade occurs across borders and provides significant income to only a small number of people.  During 2007-2008, some 4,000 night monkeys were traded, generating a value of over US$100,000.  However, indigenous collectors receive less than 10% of these revenues and the new trade demands also disrupt traditional resource use in a way that is drastically affecting people’s livelihoods.

Working in the region since 1998, Angela has already successfully engaged indigenous communities in Colombia to significantly reduce the hunting of other primate species.  She is now seeking to adapt her previous success to target the drivers of the illegal trade in night monkeys.

Recognising that progress can only be achieved if stakeholders receive a benefit from conservation, Angela is working alongside local collectors to identify alternative, sustainable activities to substitute income from wildlife trade.

Combining science with traditional ecological knowledge, monitoring methods already implemented by indigenous Colombian communities are now being transferred to neighbouring Peruvian communities where primate extraction is most intensive.

Angela says,  “Currently, we have the only data available about the night monkey populations in the tri-border area.  Local traders and collectors from four Peruvian indigenous communities have been doing census field work with the Entropika team since 2009.  As a result, now they have decided to stop the capture of night monkeys.

Angela’s project is single handedly raising awareness of the need to reinforce international wildlife trade regulations in Colombia, using these charismatic monkeys as a flagship species for wider habitat conservation.  Simultaneously her team is empowering local communities to protect their natural resources, and their traditional way of life.

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