- The critically endangered northern muriqui is being protected from probable extinction in the wild. Creation of a private reserve in Caratinga, Brazil, where half of the 300 known remaining monkeys live, will help ensure the survival of the species. Conservation International, the Abdala family, the Pro-Caratinga Biological Station Association and the Brazilian government, announced the new reserve today.
The Feliciano Miguel Abdala Natural Heritage Private Reserve is part of Fazenda Montes Claros, a farm in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. By protecting this tiny area (957 hectares or 2,365 acres), equivalent to three times the size of New York's Central Park, 150 individuals will be saved.
The northern muriqui, or Brachyteles hypoxanthus
, is South America's largest monkey and Brazil's largest endemic mammal. It was also listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates in a report released by CI, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) last year. Most of the remaining 300 muriquies live isolated populations of questionable viability in Brazil's Atlantic Forests. Since half of them occur in the forests of Fazenda Montes Claros, conservationists consider this area the single most important site for their protection.
"At about 150 animals and growing, the northern muriqui population at Montes Claros is by far the largest, the healthiest, and the highest single conservation priority for this critically endangered primate," says CI's Senior Vice President for Science, Gustavo Fonseca, who has conducted several studies of Caratinga's mammals.
CI is providing technical support, financial assistance, training and equipment to strengthen the reserve and Caratinga Biological Station as a regional center for research, education and tourism. CI plans to expand its efforts in the area and will continue to be involved in the maintenance of the reserve to help ensure the future of the largest remaining northern muriqui population.
The muriqui are found only in Brazil's Atlantic forest region, one of the world's 25 most biologically diverse and threatened "hotspots." "Biodiversity hotspots" are defined as highly threatened ecoregions rich in species diversity and endemism. Altogether, the hotspots cover just 1.4 percent of Earth's land surface, yet contain more than 60 percent of terrestrial species diversity. After years of deforestation, the Atlantic Forest is now down to only 7-8 percent of its original extent.
"Primates have long been the most important symbols for the Atlantic Forest, and their situation is indicative of what is happening to the region as a whole. Many of the animals and plants living in Brazil's Atlantic forest region are under heavy pressure, and quite a few are now at risk of extinction," says CI President Russell Mittermeier, a primatologist who serves as chair of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN-the World Conservation Union.
In addition to being the last stronghold of the largest group of northern muriqui, these forests are also home to many other endangered primates and wildlife. The black-capped capuchin, brown howler monkey and buffy-headed marmoset live there, the latter two listed by IUCN as vulnerable and endangered, respectively. Approximately 217 species of birds, 77 species of mammals and 30 species of amphibians have been identified in Montes Claros, many of which have yet to be studied in the same detail as the muriqui and other resident primates.
Eduardo Marcelino Veado, inspired by the vision of the late Feliciano Miguel Abdala, the former owner of the farm, has managed the area for the past 18 years. Veado has been the driving force behind the creation of the reserve, and with CI's help, has introduced a visitor program, encouraged ecotourism, promoted conservation awareness, and established a tree nursery for reforestation. Veado also serves as the director of the Caratinga Biological Station.
The research effort is bolstered by a close collaboration with Dr. Karen Strier of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has directed the field research program at Fazenda Montes Claros since the construction of the Caratinga Biological Station by Abdala in 1983. The research facility, funded by the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, has been the site of more than 50 projects by Brazilian and foreign scientists focused on the muriqui and other fauna.