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Sustainable alternatives help protect the Critically Endangered cotton-top tamarin in Colombia

28 September 2020

The cotton-top tamarin, a squirrel sized monkey that occurs only in the tropical forests of northern Colombia, is one of the most endangered primate species in the world. Our local partner NGO Fundación Proyecto Tití works with local communities and partners to protect the cotton-top tamarin and its habitat.

The cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) is Critically Endangered, mostly because of deforestation of its natural habitat, poaching and wildlife trafficking for the illegal pet trade. Habitat fragmentation is one of the major issues for the conservation of the cotton-top tamarin.

Sustainable income alternatives

The most important remaining forest fragments are isolated and surrounded by communities and economic activities such as farming and cattle ranching. Families in the surrounding rural communities live in poverty and depend on the forests to sustain their livelihoods. Our local partner Fundación Proyecto Tití started including local communities in their conservation plan which enabled them to develop an alternative sustainable income.

In 1985, Dr. Anne Savage founded the Proyecto Tití, a local initiative establishing field research and community projects around knowledge gathering and conservation of the cotton-top tamarin. Since 2004, the Proyecto Tití has been managed by the Colombian NGO Fundación Proyecto Tití, which works with local communities and partners to protect the cotton-top tamarin and its habitat. The organisation has a leading role in protecting and restoring the forest habitat, conducting field research, engaging in public education and youth leadership and creating community empowerment programs.

One of the initiatives is their art craft project. Through the creation and sale of eco-bags made from recycled plastic bags, the organisation aimed at empowering women and creating a sufficient income for their families.

Women achieved financial stability for their families and they developed self-confidence.

Handcrafted toys

Additionally, as part of the awareness campaign against the illegal wildlife trade and the domestication of the tamarins, the artisan women handcraft small cotton-top tamarin soft toys, so that kids can play with these toys instead of desiring exotic pets to play with. These initiatives created an outstanding result: women achieved financial stability for their families and they developed self-confidence about themselves and their skills.

New alternatives needed

However, as the organisation evaluated the impact of its community programs over time, the team realised that market shifts for art crafts were affecting the ability to get more artisans involved in the eco-bags and soft toys projects. Therefore, new alternatives were needed. This came with a further realisation: the importance of also targeting men in these community programs, as they were key figures engaging with extractive activities in the forest, which continued to be an issue in the area.

In 2015, the IUCN NL Land Acquisition Fund supported Fundación Proyecto Tití in the acquisition of an important 70 ha forest fragment for the conservation of the cotton-top tamarins, an area surrounded by small farmers’ lands. This led to a further idea: engaging with male farmers in the production of sustainable products.

90 percent of the local farmers complied with a conservation agreement for sustainable forest use and environmentally friendly practices.

Combining forest conservation with sustainable farming

This strategy allows forest conservation to combine with sustainable farming thereby ensuring farmers’ income. Since food products are items of first need and farmers already have their own networks, this initiative has gained great success. Fundación Proyecto Tití has been able to encourage 90 percent of the local farmers to participate in this initiative and comply with a conservation agreement for sustainable forest use and environmentally friendly practices.

Apart from building trust between farmers and the organisation, this agreement has taught people that their collaboration is not only about income and conservation: it is about creating strong values and vision to build a harmonious community.

Since 2001, with its land acquisition fund, IUCN NL provides funds for local NGOs, like Fundación Proyecto Tití, to acquire threatened patches of wilderness to protect and connect the – often fragmented – habitats of endangered species. The land acquisition fund is made possible through the generous support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Logo world's second largest charity donor


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More articles by: Marc Hoogeslag