Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 45 – The Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey

Peruvian Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey

Photo: Stephen D. Nash – Conservation International

This gorgeous little woolly monkey is so critically endangered, it has been removed from the World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012–2014, to make way for others, as there is very little hope left for it as a species.  This situation is deeply sad, and, yet again, man has a great deal to answer for.

The species was first described in 1812 by Alexander von Humboldt.  Humboldt never actually saw a live specimen.  His findings were based solely on some flat, trimmed skins he had found ten years earlier (the skins were being used as saddle covers by Peruvian muleteers at the time).  Apart from a few isolated sightings, nothing much else was seen of the monkey over the next century;  so it was thought to have become extinct.  Then, in 1974, it was rediscovered by a team of WWF funded scientists.  One was found being kept as a pet.  Scientists rejoiced and great media attention followed.

The Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey has a long, thick, woolly pelage  – perfect for cold winters in the high Andes.  Its coat is a rich, dark mahogany colour with a yellow band on the underside of the prehensile tail  (hence its name).  Their faces are hairless save a pale patch of fur on the muzzle.  Their powerful, prehensile tails are used as a fifth limb when swinging through the trees.  When stationary, their whole body can be supported by the tail whilst hanging upside down from the branches.  The inside of the tip of the tail is hairless for maximum grip.

Typically, these arboreal and diurnal primates live high in the forest canopy, and can leap distances of up to fifteen metres at a time to get there.  They live in mixed groups of five to eighteen and are thought to be polygamous.  Each group contains one dominant male. Females will mate with any male in the group.  If successful, gestation will last two hundred and twenty-three days.  Birth rates are low amongst the species, and babies are only born every two to three years.  Normally, only a single infant will be produced.

Unfortunately, yellow-tailed woolly monkeys are naturally curious and trusting – something which is not helping their cause at all.  They are attracted to the sound of gunfire.  If one of them is shot, the others stay looking on, like sitting ducks, increasing their vulnerability.  Mothers are shot and their infants prized away from their bodies and sold as pets.  The soft, silky, warm coat of the adult is still highly sought after, and the meat still prized.  Other parts are valued as trophies.  There is profit in every piece of the monkey.

Perhaps it’s time for these beautiful primates to review this passive attitude and head straight back up into the highest part of the canopy whenever they see a human being approaching.

Montane cloud forests; on steep gorges and ravines up to two to three thousand feet above sea level.
The Peruvian Andes
What they eat
As with all Atelids,  the Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey is a frugivore, but will also feast on leaves, flowers (including buds, roots and stems) and insects.
Prior to the 1970s, the habitat of the Peruvian woolly monkey was inaccessible; protecting it from harm.  Since then, new roads have been built causing habitat fragmentation by way of commercial logging, land clearance for cattle farming and deforestation.  Subsistence hunting is still a threat to the species, within its restricted range.  Naturally low population densities along with slow development, a low reproductive rate, and a highly restricted and fragmented habitat, are hindering increase in numbers.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) is listed the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  Due to the plight of this species worsening, it has been removed from the The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012–2014, in order to highlight other species whose situation is also very bleak.
Russ Mittermeier, the primatologist heading Conservation International,  and the person responsible for the rediscovery of the species in 1974,  predicts it may not survive more than another two decades.
“I’m not entirely convinced that we can pull these guys back from the brink based on 250+ individuals alone, but the closer we get to 500, the better the chances are.”

“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril. Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen.”
Alice Walker


10 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 45 – The Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey

  1. So sad. Many humans seem incapable of thinking beyond themselves. The balance of Nature is completely thrown out because of human greed.

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