1141929632

Photo by: Christopher Cullen / 500px

Christopher Cullen / 500px

Environmental Initiatives Offer Hope for Critically Endangered Spider Monkeys

How one organization’s community-centric approach to conservation created a new generation of environmental activists.

March 07, 2022

The Azuero Peninsula is a square plot of land in Southern Panama that protrudes about 50 miles out into the Pacific Ocean. Known for its cattle ranching, fishing, and beaches, the Azuero Peninsula is home to the nation’s last remaining tropical dry forest. Unlike a rainforest, the ecosystem experiences more dry seasons than wet – with moisture evaporation exceeding rainfall every year.

This unique environment provides a haven for animals that aren’t found anywhere else in the country… including the critically endangered Azuero spider monkey. This subspecies of the spider monkey is one of three types of spider monkeys in Panama.

View at Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis urinator) at the beach El Rompio near Chitre on Azuero peninsula, Panama

1217216472

Brown Pelican at the beach on the Azuero Peninsula in Panama.

Photo by: MarcPo

MarcPo

Brown Pelican at the beach on the Azuero Peninsula in Panama.

In 2013, a population survey estimated there were a mere 145 Azuero spider monkeys left in the wild, making them one of South America’s rarest animals. The animals have suffered from habitat loss– Azuero has been fragmented by deforestation and clearcutting– and hunting. Viewed as pests by local farmers, spider monkeys are often poisoned.

Pro Eco Azuero (P.E.A.), a conservationist group whose goal is to protect the peninsula’s biodiversity, has developed a community-first strategy for conservation. By working alongside local teachers and farmers, P.E.A. replants trees and creates lesson plans rooted in sustainability, conservation, and coexistence between people and nature.

Critically Endangered Azuero Spider Monkey, Azuero Peninsula, Panama

1341434741

Azuero Spider Monkeys eat a diet of mostly fruit.

Photo by: Cavan Images

Cavan Images

Azuero Spider Monkeys eat a diet of mostly fruit.

As the next generation of young environmentalists grows, so does the support for protecting the Azuero Peninsula’s ecosystem. “It is more meaningful when it is our own children who say we must reforest and protect nature,” Ms. Vasquez de Zambrano, P.E.A.’s executive director said. “I think working with kids has made a real difference.”

P.E.A.’s latest project is creating the wildlife corridor. The organization plants trees across deforested landscapes to increase the available habitat for the peninsula’s animals. Upon completion, the conservationists hope the project will allow animal populations– like the spider monkey– to grow.

Panoramic landscape from interior in Azuero peninsula in Panama,

696628072

Panoramic landscape from the Azuero Peninsula, Panama.

Photo by: MarcPo

MarcPo

Panoramic landscape from the Azuero Peninsula, Panama.

Since starting 12 years ago, more than 400 farmers have pledged land to the creation of the wildlife corridor. On this donated land, more than 500 acres of new trees have been planted. And in 2019, with the help of the students and local activists, the coastal Pablo Barrios Refuge gained national protection as an ecological reserve.

“Our greatest impact is the way we have changed people’s minds,” said Ms. Vasquez. “We are creating a culture of conservation — and getting people to become advocates for their own community.”

Next Up

Protecting Pink Dolphins and Piranhas Deep in the Amazon Jungle

Deep in the Amazon jungle, almost a two hour boat ride from the nearest town, lies a complex wetland system where pink dolphins, black caiman, exotic birds, piranhas, and endangered fish live.

Forest Projects Will Help Rebalance Earth’s Climate

Forests might be the best tool humanity has to tackle climate change. Trees give cooling shade, absorb and store carbon dioxide (CO2), recycle water, and provide habitat for other plants and animals. Huge international projects like the Trillion Trees initiative believe planting forests will ultimately help to rebalance Earth’s climate.

The Untold Journey of the African House Gecko's Treck across the Atlantic Ocean

Reptile roadtrip? How the African house gecko traveled from Africa across to the Americas.

It's a Girl! Very Rare Sumatran Rhino Born at Sanctuary

In a triumph for the conservation world, a rare Sumatran rhino calf has been born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia.

It's Baby Season at Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

It’s easy to think of a wildlife photographer on assignment and picture the epic and exotic moments of migrations on the African Serengeti, bison standing tall on the grasslands of Yellowstone National Park or millions of migrating snow geese moving from the arctic to their winter roost thousands of miles south, but there is an equally incredible story taking place right in every backyard.

This Alaska Conservation Center Rescues Orphaned Wildlife

Wolves, bears, and porcupines are just some of the animals that can be found at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Manatee’s Cousins Have Vanished from the Ocean

Dugongs, the peaceful ‘sea cows’ of the ocean have been declared functionally extinct in China. The vegetarian mammal has vanished from the coastlines of Asia and Africa.

Tuna Conservation is Working

Two bluefin, a yellowfin, and an albacore tuna species are no longer critically endangered — surprising scientists.

Climate Strikes: Rapid Action Needed to Stop Environmental Catastrophe

Saving the world is not an easy job, but cutting greenhouse gas emissions and limiting climate change is action the planet urgently needs, say scientists.

There’s a Black Rhino Baby Boom in Zimbabwe

Finally, a success story for the critically endangered animal.