The establishment of a baseline of scientific information on primates in Peru, especially in the San Martin region, is essential to improve conservation strategies.
Thanks to funding from other organizations working in the region, we have conducted primate inventories that can facilitate community conservation processes. An example of this is Conservation International Peru, which requested us to conduct baseline studies of the primates living in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest (BPAM).
While conducting studies on titi monkeys, much valuable information was collected on the distribution of other primate species.
The Cacajao Program resulted from interviews with local inhabitants of the Alto Mayo Valley, conducted while studying the distribution of the San Martin titi monkey. The presence of the red uakary (Cacajao calvus ssp.), locally known as “mono cotulo” and easy recognizable by its bald head and short tail, was reported to exist in the northern mountains of the Alto Mayo. Until then, this species was only known from the eastern lowlands of Peru, at a distance of more than 350 kilometers.
Further evidence was a picture provided by an American anthropologist, of an animal that was killed during a hunting party. Additionally we noticed in documents of the FERIAAM (Regional Federation of the Indigenous Awajun people from the Alto Mayo) pictures of indigenous people in traditional outfit, wearing head dresses made out of the skins of red uakaris.
With this evidence the research team of Proyecto Mono Tocón organised several expeditions and observed in 2010 a group of approximately 30 individuals of red uakaris (Cacajao calvus ssp.) in the Cahuapanas mountain range, North of the Alto Mayo Valley.
The discovery of this new population of uakaris, isolated from the eastern population and living in a completely different habitat, shows how little we know about primate distribution and taxonomy. The species is known to have a preference for palm fruits of the aguajales (Mauritia flexuosa). However, these palms grow especially in the lowlands, while we have observed the animals at 1500m altitude. It is possible that their distribution range extended in the past, before the arrival of humans, towards the swamp forests in the lowlands.
There are many gaps on the knowledge of the distribution and taxonomy of Peruvian primates, and little research is being done. Therefore, Proyecto Mono Tocón is sometimes extending its working area to other parts of Peru. In 2013, after much preparations and pre-research, an expedition was executed in central Peru, to investigate the distribution range of titi monkeys and other primate species. This expedition resulted in the resurrection of the forgotten Toppin’s titi monkey (Plecturocebus toppini) and the discovery a new species, the Urubamba Brown titi monkey (Callicebus urubambensis). This study showed how much we still have to learn about the biodiversity of Peru.