Monkey Bay National Park
Monkey Bay, Belize
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The yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) is a New World monkey endemic to Peru. It is a rare primate species found only in the Peruvian Andes, in the departments of Amazonas and San Martin, as well as bordering areas of La Libertad, Huánuco and Loreto. Traditionally placed in Lagothrix with the rest of the woolly monkeys, this species was moved to the monotypic genus Oreonax in 2001, though a more recent and comprehensive review suggests this was incorrect.
The species was first described by Alexander von Humboldt in 1812 under the name Simia flavicauda, based on a skin found 10 years earlier, used by a local man as a horse saddle. Humboldt had never seen a live animal of this species nor a preserved specimen, and believed it belonged to the genus Alouatta. For over 100 years, the species was reported on only a few isolated occasions, so was thought to be extinct.
In 1974, a group of scientists, led by Russell Mittermeier, and funded by WWF, found a young yellow-tailed woolly monkey which was kept as a pet in the city of Pedro Ruiz Gallo, Amazonas. The rediscovery attracted the attention of national and international press, as well as conservation organizations that saw the need to know quickly the status of this species.
The yellow-tailed woolly monkey is the largest of Peru's endemic mammals; adults can measure up to 54 cm (21 in) (head/body), with tails even longer than the body, up to 63 cm (25 in). The hair of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey is long and thick, an adaptation to its cold montane forest habitat. Its colour is deep mahogany, with yellow on the underside of the rear surface of the tail and a whitish patch on the muzzle. The average weight is 5.7 kg (13 lb) for females and 8.3 kg (18 lb) for males. It has a powerful prehensile tail which is capable of supporting the animal's entire body weight while feeding or just hanging around; it also uses its tail to help locomote through the canopy.
The yellow-tailed woolly monkey lives in the montane cloud forests of the Peruvian Andes at elevations of 1,500–2,700 m (4,900–8,900 ft) above sea level in the departments of Amazonas and San Martin, as well as bordering areas of La Libertad, Huanuco and Loreto. Its habitat is characterized by steep gorges and ravines. The original extent of its habitat is estimated to be around 11,000 km2 (4,200 sq mi), but recent estimates put the remaining habitat at between 6,000 and 7,000 km2 (2,300 and 2,700 sq mi).
Its diet is primarily frugivorous, but leaves, flowers, insects and other invertebrates are also eaten. The yellow-tailed woolly monkey is arboreal and diurnal. It has a multiple-male group social system and a polygamous mating system. The species has a variety of vocalisations, including a loud "puppy-like" bark which it uses as a territorial or alarm call.
The inaccessibility of its habitat protected the species until the 1950s. However, the construction of new roads, habitat loss and fragmentation from agriculture, logging and cattle ranching, and subsistence hunting, together with the monkey's naturally low population densities, slow maturation, low reproductive rate, have led to a predicted decline of at least 80% over the next three generations. This and its restricted geographic distribution have led to this species' current critically endangered status.
Conservation work started soon after the species was rediscovered in the mid-1970s. This pioneering work by the Peruvian NGO APECO led to the creation of three protected areas, Rio Abiseo National Park, Alto Mayo Protected Forest and Cordillera de Colán National Sanctuary. From the mid-1980s until recently, little more conservation or research efforts were made on the species. Starting in 2007, though, British NGO Neotropical Primate Conservation has been running conservation initiatives for the species throughout its range.
The species is considered one of "The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates".
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