Vanishing Primates

Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey (Oreonax flauvicada) PERU

This is a picture of one of the rarest primates in the world : the Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey. No one knows how many are left, but from what I saw this past week, their days may be numbered. I spent 6 days in the rugged foothills of the Andes, in patches of forest between spreading farms and cow pastures.

Simply said, this was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done. The monkeys are entirely wild, and difficult to approach closely, in part because they live high in the forest canopy, but also because the landscape beneath them is nearly vertical. To get any kind of picture at all meant climbing up and down impossibly steep slopes, pulling myself along with tree roots, often covered with sharp thorns. Did I mentioned it rained most of the time?  My lenses were soaked with water, caked with mud, and snagged with vines: I was sure they were going to pack it in completely before the week was out.

What’s more, some days we never even found the monkeys at all, or were left behind as they dashed through the canopy at speeds we could never match. Frankly, I am amazed that I got any usable images at all: and it is no surprise that there are only a handful of them in existence.  But the effort seemed worth it – these animals need to be better-known and better-protected.

But what I saw on the ground was a species clinging to the last scraps of its never-extensive habitat. Some good news, however : a new reserve has been created in an area with more extensive forests not far from where I worked, and there is hope that this could provide a vital refuge for these animals. But Peru is notorious for creating “paper parks” that never go beyond the announcement stage, with no funds available for management, patrol or wildlife conservation. Let’s hope this is an exception.

Cloud Forest Trees, Peruvian Andes

More to come in the coming days : I am still recovering from this grueling trip.

Nikon D3, 300mm f2.8 lens