Rosamira Guillen, voted in high school as most likely to become a designer, studied architecture as an undergraduate. But she always enjoyed environmental planning and, through a master’s degree at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY and a Fulbright scholarship, focused her studies on landscape architecture. This work led her to the Barranquilla Zoo, near where she grew up in Colombia, to redesign one of their exhibits.
There, she first met the Cotton-top Tamarin.
“I was struck to learn that this species was only found in this region of Colombia; the same region I was born and raised, and growing up, I never heard of them,” said Guillen. “That motivated me to do something about it.”
The Cotton-top Tamarin is a squirrel-sized monkey native to the tropical forests of Northern Colombia. Guillen is now the Executive Director of Proyecto Tití, a conservation organization devoted to defending the Cotton-top Tamarin, or Tití.
Cotton-top Tamarins have always been endemic to northern Colombia in a region that used to be entirely dry forest and savannah. But now, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as Critically Endangered due to extensive habitat loss and capture for the illegal pet trade. At last count, there were only 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Enter: Proyecto Tití.
Proyecto Tití has had notable successes in the past decade in the effort to save the Cotton-top Tamarin. For example, at one point, Colombia listed the species as “Vulnerable” despite being listed as “Critically Endangered” worldwide. But the species only lives in Colombia, so this disparity was incongruous. Guillen and Proyecto Tití worked to have the Tití listed as Critically Endangered in Colombia, providing crucial added protections for species.
Titís never descends from the trees they live in and can’t cross rivers, making them especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. In addition, shrinking and separating forest patches relegates tamarins to smaller and smaller habitats. These smaller patches place increased stress on the territorial populations of these forest patches. These idiosyncrasies make the Tití more susceptible to extinction but, when blended with their oddball fluffy heads and small size, they also make the Cotton-top Tamarin endearing.
So Proyecto Tití is banking on tamarin likability as a support for tamarin conservation. Guillen wants to make the Tití a symbol of Colombia’s biodiversity, creating a hometown enthusiasm for the species. Proyecto Tití is preparing to run PSAs in Colombian cinemas to educate the public on the Tití and inspire recognition and affiliation.
But public education is only one of Proyecto Tití’s “four pillars.” The other three are field research, forest protection/restoration and providing income alternatives (alternative to something that might contribute to deforestation) to communities around tamarin habitat.
Guillen acknowledges that, for many landowners, water and food security might be more pressing concerns than biodiversity. She said,
“We help communities understand that the forest that is home to cotton-tops provides many benefits to humans, like protecting water sources and food, so they see a higher value in protecting these forest areas.”
Guillen’s conservation work on behalf of the Cotton-top Tamarin hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community. This summer, she received the prestigious National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation Award for Latin America for her commitment to conserve the species.
James Lewis, Rainforest Trust’s Director of Conservation Programs, said,
“Rosamira is a true conservation hero. The effectiveness of Proyecto Tití and Rosamira is one of the reasons why Rainforest Trust always works with in-country partners to address conservation challenges. Rosamira’s experience and passion will continue to drive forward Tití conservation efforts and I’m sure inspire a generation to come.”
Rainforest Trust is partnering with Proyecto Tití to secure a critical 187.8 acre expansion for the Los Titíes de San Juan Reserve. This property not only doubles the size of the reserve, but also allows for future connections between the reserve and other forest patches in the region.
“Protecting forests is key to the long-term survival of Cotton-top Tamarins,” Guillen said.
“We’re very grateful to Rainforest Trust for providing us with the opportunity to secure more habitat for these cute and charismatic little monkeys!”
For More Information and to Support this Project: Strategic Land Purchase for the Cotton-top Tamarin