Silva Jardim: An environmental reserve in Brazil that four decades ago began gathering the surviving Golden Lion Tamarins has prevented the extinction of one of the most endangered species of primates in the world.
The programme extends now across eight municipalities in Rio de Janeiro state and has increased the number of these monkeys (Leontopithecus rosalia) from 200 in the 1980s to 3,200 now, the Mico Leon Dorado Association (AMLD) which coordinates preservation efforts, said.
Despite the AMLD's efforts to protect the Atlantic Forest, the monkey's habitat, extinction still threatens the animals, one of the symbols of Brazil included on the country's 20-reais bills.
The association's efforts started in the 1970s with the first studies of the species, AMLD executive secretary Luis Paulo Ferraz said, adding that the monkeys' prospects began to change with the creation of the Poço das Antas Biological Reserve in 1974.
"Since then, the situation has improved a lot," assistant researcher Jaldir Hilario Ramos, who has worked on the conservation program for 27 years, told Efe news agency.
"The monkey was on the brink of extinction and now, thanks to this effort, the situation has changed," Ramos said.
"One of our teams focuses on environmental education and the training of teachers, another works on restoring forest areas and yet another works with small-scale farmers in the region so they help protect the vegetation," Ramos said.
The Golden Lion Tamarin has bright, long reddish-orange hair and a mane, and it typically grows to about 260 mm and weighs around 630 gm.
The latest report on the preserve estimates there are some 3,200 monkeys living there, but Ferraz warned that the area was not enough for them.
"The goal was to reach a population of some 2,000 monkeys on 25,000 hectares of protected and interconnected forests," Ferraz said. "But now, with more than 3,200 monkeys, we have only 12,500 hectares of forest. And the tree-covered areas are small and fragmented, like islands of forest."
The monkeys do not cross areas of low vegetation and, as a survival strategy, they only move through high-hanging branches, making forested corridors important for their survival.
AMLD has launched an effort to persuade the organisers of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to adopt the Golden Lion Tamarin as the event's mascot to call world attention to the survival of the animal.