For 70 years, the black-handed spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) was thought extinct in southeastern El Salvador. Then, in 2017, researchers documented a population of at least 20 monkeys! This population is a critically endangered subspecies and might be genetically distinct. Paso Pacifico is beginning conservation efforts to protect these monkeys, thanks to funding from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
These special monkeys are near Olomega Lagoon, a RAMSAR site in southeastern El Salvador. The wider landscape in this area is severely fragmented, although it contains mature secondary dry tropical forest and connects to other forested areas. There has been little effort to protect and manage the privately owned forests surrounding the lagoon, but overall, this setting provides potential for species recovery. In addition, we found fragments of mature endangered trees in the area earlier this year, hinting that this area contains more significant biological discoveries.
Paso Pacifico's long term goal is to aid in the recovery of the endangered spider monkey in eastern El Salvador. Specific goals related to this project are: 1. To habituate the target population for study and collect baseline data on the range, population size, and dispersal behavior of this group of primates. 2. To map the range of the spider monkey group in the forests surrounding Laguna Olomega and to include mapping of land cover, land use, and the major landowners where the spider monkeys spend their time. 3. To establish relationships with landowners of large properties. 4. To develop a relationship with the schools surrounding the forest areas and to carry out initial educational workshops focused on the spider monkey.
After a site visit in early in 2019, Dr. Otterstrom returned the to the project area in August 2019. She and Paso Pacifico's wildlife biologist from Nicaragua, Marlon Sotelo, were led by local hunter don Victor into the steep mountain area near the lagoon. The terrain is extremely difficult, but they were rewarded to find fragments of very mature forest, including fruiting trees for primates. It was exciting to see the quality of the habitat and realize the potential to secure the future of this sub-population of spider monkey into the future. Now, the hard work begins of regularly finding the monkey and following the monkeys in extraordinarily difficult terrain.
We immediately began surveys but did not begin to regularly observe the primates until October. Within a matter of weeks the spider monkeys habituated to the community observers. This will enable future research.
With this project we also aim to implement a community-based primate monitoring and protection program. We will work to support landowners who want to protect their properties by providing technical assistance for establishing private reserves and managing land to protect wildlife. We will also involve over 200 children from local schools in our Junior Ranger environmental education curriculum.
Project 190520854 location - El Salvador, North America