In the rural outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, a group of youths knelt in the hot sun to plant a green passage that will serve as a protected route for the area’s most iconic and at-risk species, the golden lion tamarin.
This week, they planted 300 tree seedlings that are currently small in size, but will eventually link two forest areas together. This is part of a gradual effort by environmentalists to expand the forest and create a bigger home for the monkey.
The land that was being replanted was previously owned by a rancher who had cleared its trees for use as a pasture for cattle.
The rampant clearing of trees for centuries has greatly reduced the size of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, which is the only location where the small, copper-colored monkey with a silky mane can be found. With a population of less than 5,000, it is classified as an endangered species.
Luís Paulo Ferraz, executive director of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association (AMLD), expressed concern over the fragmentation of the forest, stating it as one of the major issues. He also warned about the negative impact this could have on the monkeys, as it could lead to inbreeding within their own families.
According to Ferraz, monkeys are hesitant to traverse the short distance of exposed land between two patches of greenery because they fear being hunted by bigger predators like felines. This highlights the necessity for creating green corridors.
Sarah Darwin, the great great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, praised their work on Friday. Along with a group of young naturalists, she is following the same route taken by her ancestor on a sailboat expedition almost two centuries ago. This journey, known as Darwin200, was a pivotal event that led to his groundbreaking theory of evolution.
According to Darwin, upon entering the Mata Atlantica forest in Brazil, he had a moment of clarity and a peak experience where he felt connected to nature. The forest is known for its remarkable variety of mosses, ferns, and other plants. In the treetops, small golden monkeys with long tails could be seen leaping from branch to branch. Darwin also mentioned that this was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Atlantic forest biome spanned over 330 million acres (equivalent to more than 500,000 square miles) along the coast of Brazil. However, The Nature Conservancy reports that less than 15% of this original area still exists today.
According to Ferraz, in the particular area of the Atlantic forest where golden lion tamarins inhabit, the forest has decreased to a mere 2% of its original size.
During the early stages of deforestation, sugar cane and coffee plantations were the primary cause. This was followed by the expansion of urban areas and the establishment of cattle pastures. According to AMLD, in the 1970s, only 200 golden lion tamarins remained as scientists began their efforts to preserve the species.
In Brazil, the creature has come to represent the importance of protecting wildlife and is even depicted on the nation’s 20-real currency.
Lately, the nonprofit organization focused on science and preservation has been acquiring land from farmers and ranchers. They proceed to restore the land by planting trees, one section at a time. In 2018, they obtained a plot of land measuring 137 hectares (339 acres), and in November they purchased an additional 180 hectares (445 acres).
The procedure can be time-consuming and costly, as it necessitates frequent and extensive upkeep, particularly during the initial years. However, it ultimately yields worthwhile results.
In 2018, AMLD purchased bare hills and started reforesting them the next year. Now, the hills are once again vibrant and green, with a thriving forest and a variety of animal species that can be observed through night vision cameras.
Despite a severe outbreak of yellow fever in 2018 that resulted in a population decrease of over 30% in just a few months, the number of golden lion tamarins currently exceeds that of any previous conservation effort.
Based on the most recent survey released earlier this year by the association, there are approximately 4,800 people.
The report was aided by Diarlei Rodrigues, a producer for Associated Press.