This little monkey seems to have lot going for it, right? It’s adorable, it has great hair and it gets to hang out in a beautiful Colombian forest all day. Unfortunately, the Cotton-Top Tamarin is critically endangered. So what does a conservation minded traveler need to know about the Cotton-Top before travel to Columbia?
Why is the Cotton-Top Tamarin Endangered?
The Cotton-top’s enviable big hair-do gives the false impression of a substantial physical presence. But their tiny bodies typically weigh less than a pound (430 grams). This makes them easy prey for ground predators so their adaptation is to simply stay up in the trees. The Cotton-Top Tamarins dwell in the trees for their entire lives; birth to death. While they are busy living their lives in the trees, we humans are busy clearing the trees in support of agriculture, logging and other industries. Only 2% of their original forest remains. So the Cotton-tops find themselves restricted to ever smaller patches of forest over a highly fragmented geography in Northern Colombia. This fractured habitat limits population growth and reduces their genetic diversity.
And if a shrinking forest weren’t bad enough, there is also an illegal pet trade for the Cotton-Tops. Google it and you can find any number of sites willing to sell you a Cotton-Top Tamarin for $6,000. Second thought, don’t Google it, it will just make you mad. Why anyone would want to purchase a critically endangered species is beyond me. But Colombia is a poor country that was plagued by civil war for half of the 20th century. I am sympathetic enough to understand why a cash-strapped local would consider selling a monkey.
Enter Rosamira Guillen and Proyecto Titi
So these little monkeys need protection and Proyecto (protect) Titi (monkey) does just that. Proyecto Titi’s mission is to save the Cotton-Top forest monkey of northern Colombia through long-term conservation programs and with the engagement of local communities. The organization was founded by Dr. Anne Savage and is currently run by Rosamira Guillen. Rosamira is an architect by trade which makes her seem like an unlikely conservation hero. But even as an architect, she was always interested in environmental design and landscape architecture. This interest and her expertise landed her at the zoo in Barranquilla. Some captured Cotton-top Tamarins had also landed at the Barranquilla zoo. When Rosamira met the monkeys, it set her off on an eight year journey to find conservation solutions for the monkeys.
Rosamira’s combination of passion and business experience have made her a particularly effective conservation entrepreneur and she has been recognized as a recipient of the Whitley Environmental Award for her exceptional work.
Conservation Programs & Community Entrepreneurs
Proyecto Titi offers a series of education programs that target kids from the third through ninth grades. The curriculum uses storytelling, arts & crafts, games and role playing to teach the kids about conservation generally but also how the Cotton-Top Tamarin is special to their home region. Highly motivated kids can graduate up to the “Cartitilla Club” and get involved in more hands-on conservation work. The program also fosters young adult leaders who grew up in the program and who now get support for higher education and careers in conservation.
The education programs work using a similar strategy to Zimbabwe’s African Painted Dog conservation program. Both programs are in this for the long game and understand that kids can be a powerful influence in the home. In fact, both programs are supported by Wildlife Conservation Network which provides financial support and opportunities for conservationists to visit with and learn from one another.
One solution to combat the reduction of forest is….to make more forest. Proyecto Titi is working with land owners adjacent to the Los Colorados National Park. The parcel owners are agreeing to set aside some land and plant trees in order to to create a “connectivity” bridge of forest. These bridges will effectively extend the Cotton-Top Tamarin habitat outside of the borders of the national park. Proyecto Titi also has a number of community-supported economic development projects that serve to limit tree cutting and keep plastic garbage out of the habitat. They do this in two ways. The first is a plastics recycling enterprise that turns garbage into fence posts which are then used within the community. Plastic fence posts = no need to cut down a tree for a fence post. Brilliant! It’s a variation on the bushblok fuel scheme employed by Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia (also part of Wildlife Conservation Network). Are you seeing the pattern?
The second way that Proyecto Titi gets plastic out of the habitat is a creative re-use of plastic shopping bags. The bags are cleaned and sliced. Then the ladies involved in the program crochet them into Eco-mochila tote bags. They are practical and cute– you should buy one. The echo-mochilas bring hard currency into the community, which subsequently reduces their absolute dependence on the type of agriculture that harms the forest. AND, it is a female run enterprise which studies (and my own opinion) have shown are a superior economic development solution.
The Illegal Pet Trade
Both the kids’ education programs and the economic development tend to create an atmosphere that discourages the illegal pet trade. Most people, when given the option, would prefer to make a honest living that doesn’t rely on poaching.
You can get more information on these programs by viewing Rosamira’s presentation given at the Wildlife Conservation Expo
Conservation Minded Travel in Colombia
I asked Rosamira to recommend a few places in northern Colombia for a the nature loving traveler. She encourages you to travel in Colombia and promises that you will find a welcoming and happy people. What follows are some of her recommended locations and some links to travel blogs which can give you more information on how to travel in Colombia.
Travel in Northern Colombia
- Cartagena: Cartagena offers the best incoming hub for travel in northern Colombia. It’s a beautiful, well preserved port city which will offer you insight into the colonial history of Colombia. And the modern side of the city offers nightlife, street art and great food.
- Barranquilla: You can follow in Rosamira’s footsteps and visit the Titis at the Barranquilla Zoo. She also recommends visiting the Parque Salamanca and nearby wetlands.
- Santa Marta & Tayrona: Travel further northeast of Barranquilla and you’ll find Santa Marta and Tayrona. Tayrona is a national park with hiking, rich biodiversity and beautiful Caribbean beaches.
- Los Colorados National Park: An hour and a half drive southeast of Cartagena will land you in Los Colorados. It houses a small intact patch of forest that is prime Cotton-Top Tamarin habitat. Nearby San Juan offers accommodation and San Jacinto has local crafts and hammocks for sale. The area also used to be a site of civil war conflict. But with the peace dialogues between the government and FARC, it has become peaceful—which is why Proyecto Titi has chosen to to operate there.
Travel Resources for Travel in Colombia
- Tip from Rosamira: Don’t rent a car but rather hire a driver, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
- Uncornered Market’s guide to 25 great experiences in Colombia.
- GAdventures offers three tours to Colombia which heavily feature the northern part of the country.
- Get 12 top experiences in Cartagena from Fodors.
- Learn more about Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona on the northern coast.
- As best places to visit in Colombia list from Indiana Jo.
- Get ready with Colombia travel planning tips from Nomadic Matt.
How to Support Proyecto Titi
- Donate to Proyecto Titi and you’ll support both the Cotton-Tops and the local communities
- For $2,500 you can pay for an acre of tree planting and maintenance for two years
- Donate $100 and support the recycling programs that make eco-fenceposts
- Buy a snappy eco-mochila or plush Cotton-Top Tamarin for you and all of your eco-chic friends
- Educate yourself about Cotton-Top Tamarins. There are 1,500 captive Cotton-Tops in zoos in the US and Europe. Go visit them, learn about then, and then come back here and donate
- Follow Proyecto Titi on Facebook and share this blog post with your friends
- Don’t be afraid to travel in Colombia. Read the latest US State Department report and then book a ticket. Keep the money local by hiring a local driver, staying in a smaller hotel and purchasing local goods
Your Parting Shot
Share the word about Cotton-Tops and Pin this Post!
Want more Wayfaring Views? Then subscribe to the newsletter