Mystical clouds surround the forests of the Tropical Andes, adding a sense of mystery and otherness when hiking through them. The unique ecosystems within this hotspot allow for an enormous amount of unique flora and fauna in each crevice and valley of the mountains that traverse it, but sadly, it is as biodiverse as it is endangered. Many scientists and conservation practitioners have been moved by the urgent need to study and understand its biodiversity. Even still, this area is in need of more time, energy, and funding from the conservation community to fully appreciate its importance and take the necessary steps to preserve it.

Endangered Monkeys Found Far From Home

Looking for proof? Rainforest Partnership scientists recently documented a significant population of the critically endangered Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey hundreds of miles away from its previously known range. This discovery shocked the scientific and conservation communities. I am shocked that it wasn’t discovered sooner. We found these beautiful animals on just a 15–minute (~1 mile) hike off a major roadway, 2 hours by car from the large Amazonian city of Satipo in the Junin region. It was the easiest population of Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey I have ever found. To put this in perspective: I usually hike for days, over many miles, to get a glimpse of these mysterious—and rare—monkeys. We find them in very remote, difficult-to-access areas where forests remain largely undisturbed by humans. The population recently discovered in Junin is surprisingly close to and co-existing with a population of humans that mostly let them mind their own businesses.

Map of previously known monkey location 200 Kilometers from where they were recently discovered.

The Promise of Rainforest Conservation

This discovery makes me wonder about what other plants and animals are hiding in the clouds of the Tropical Andes. They may be equally, or more, at risk of disappearing due to forest loss before we ever have a chance to know them. If this monkey—a nationally loved animal that’s displayed on the 1-sol coin in Peru (equivalent to the U.S. quarter)—could remain undiscovered for so long, what else are we missing?

A monkey hanging in the canopy. Preventing forest loss requires investment and action from partnering groups to create lasting success.

Investments to Save a Species 

I am hopeful that this discovery will highlight the need for investment in both scientific research and conservation actions. The fact that such a critically endangered species still coexist so close to an established human population means the local communities can become conservation allies. These communities often turn to small-scale agriculture to build their economy, a practice that can cause deforestation of rainforest habitats found nowhere else in the world. We have seen true success in partnering with communities like these to help them establish sustainable economic alternatives to the agriculture economy that promotes deforestation. 

Local Communities Play a Critical Role 

Tropical Andes communities are the first to acknowledge the importance of forests in their everyday lives and are eager for an opportunity to improve their quality of life in harmony with nature conservation, rather than at the expense of it. Communities like Corosha are a perfect example of what can be achieved through long-term and continuous investment. For the past decade, they have voluntarily chosen not to expand their agricultural practices in favor of conserving 20% of their territory for the Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey through their work with the Peruvian NGO and RP partner Yunkawasi.

Local communities know the importance of these habitats as a natural resource.

The Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey was thought to be extinct in the scientific community for decades until rediscovered by Russ Mittermeier, Hernando de Macedo, and Anthony Luscombe in the mid-1970s. The initial discovery attracted a lot of attention and investment and, despite this, we are still making surprising new discoveries about this monkey and the habitat it calls home, proof that there is still much to be understood about the forests of the Tropical Andes.

Partnerships For the Forest

At Rainforest Partnership, we have learned through years of experience and local activism that the key to success in conservation lies in the partnership between motivated groups with shared goals: scientists, NGOs, governments, and locals. I believe we are all part of a greater global community that, banded together, can do amazing things to preserve the remarkable creatures, habitats, and communities that call this planet home.
If you agree and would like to support this cause, consider donating to rainforest partnership to support partnership development that protects critical habitats of the Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey. Donations to Rainforest Partnership support projects like this one to work with local communities and governments, creating plans and policies that leave a lasting impact.

Check out Christopher’s Schmitt’s post for another look at the Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, or dig into the full discovery publication on Oryx.

A monkey sitting on a limb—rainforest conservation protects their natural habitats.