Yesterday, Conservation International announced the discovery of a new species of titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis) on a scientific expedition in the Colombian Amazon. Research team leader Dr. Thomas Defler blogs about the discovery and the challenges of working in regions of armed conflict.
Studying Colombian primates has always been difficult, as they tend to live as far from human beings as possible. But after many years of learning about these primates, I have a long list of places I would go if didn't have to worry about death or capture by revolutionary guerillas in Colombia.
In recent years, one of my biggest priorities was to follow up on Martin Moynihan's 1976 sighting of a seemingly new species of titi monkey in southern Caqueta province. Since the 1970s, the area has been under the dominion of these guerillas, who have made a great part of Colombia off-limits to foreigners. An impossible situation for a lowly foreign primatologist, no matter how many years I've been here! This situation has also been true in many other corners of the country where real conservation work is desperately needed.
During the last eight years, President Uribe has made an effort to fulfill campaign promises to improve security for all Colombians -- an especially important goal for people in the countryside. Still, southern Caqueta seemed a bit risky for me.
Then one day, three years ago, I met a biology student named Javier Garcia who was searching for a meaningful conservation project. He was from Florencia, the capital of Caqueta, and -- very important as well -- his father was a veterinarian well-known in southern Caqueta where the monkey was said to live. Javier had no idea that I had been waiting for someone like him for years. I proposed the project, and he was immediately interested. He only needed direction, and I was ready to direct.
This discovery was made possible by an international network of interested and supportive people. The folks at CI had also heard about this possible new species of monkey, and, together with a small grant from the Primate Action Fund, they were willing to give us the basic support we needed to make the expedition a success.
Using local transportation and geo-referencing observations with GPS, the monkey was spotted just a few days after Javier's arrival in Caqueta.
SEE photos of the titi monkey:
This blog was originally published on Conservation International.