Written by Rebecca Smith.
Deep in the heart of South America is a little known country called Paraguay. Paraguay is a country of spectacular natural habitats. Tragically, these habitats are some of the fastest disappearing in the world. The east of the country was once covered by the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest, an incredibly bio-diverse semi-deciduous forest with astonishing levels of biodiversity. Bordering the Atlantic Forest is the Cerrado; a vast mosaic grassland home to a greater variety of species than the Savannahs of Africa. In the north of the country is the Gran Chaco, a xerophytic deciduous forest that experiences some of the highest temperatures in South America.
In 2010, Fundación Para La Tierra came to a small private nature reserve in eastern Paraguay, Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca (RNLB). RNLB is a unique location as it is located at the confluence of the Cerrado and the Atlantic Forest as well as being situated on Paraguay’s only natural spring fed lake (Laguna Blanca). The organisation is dedicated to the conservation of Paraguay’s natural habitats through scientific research, education and community outreach. I came to Para La Tierra in January 2013 to take over the Primate Project. In late 2011, Capuchins had been discovered living in the fragment of Atlantic Forest that makes up the southern half of the reserve. The hooded Capuchin (Sapajus cay) is the only member of its genus that can be found in Paraguay and it is the only one of Paraguay’s 5 primate species that is restricted to the Atlantic Forest. Though this species is currently classed as Least Concern by the IUCN, due to extensive habitat destruction and the increasing pet trade it is unlikely that populations within Paraguay are stable. Unfortunately, as with the majority of Paraguay’s fauna and flora, very little information is available about the hooded Capuchin.
When I arrived at Laguna Blanca I soon discovered that the Capuchins were completely in-habituated to the presence of humans. Whenever we encountered them, they would react with loud alarm calls before fleeing with a speed no person can match through the dense Atlantic Forest. Over time the monkeys became more used to my presence and I began to see tantalizing glimpses of the fascinating behavior and social lives of these incredible creatures. One of the most exciting moments for me occurred when I witnessed the larger of the two groups smashing the hard-shelled seeds of the Ka’I Ka’gua (monkey’s cup in the Guarani language) tree to access the nutritious center. The younger monkeys were absolutely useless at opening these seeds. The volunteers and I had to smother our giggles at the tantrums of the juvenile Capuchins as they continually dropping the seeds they were trying to smash! Another fantastic moment came while reviewed videos taken by a camera trap set at one of the two feeding platforms in the forest. In one of the videos two adult females came down to feed and on each of their backs was a tiny baby, each most likely less than a month old!
The project took a huge leap forward in 2016 thanks to some of our amazing interns. They had set up a crowd funding campaign in secret that allowed us to purchase equipment to capture one of the largest adult males and fit him with a radio collar. This has made a world of difference in tracking them through the dense forest and gives our volunteers the chance to learn a very important skill for anyone who is interested in working with wild animals in their natural habitats.
The project is evolving every day and the volunteers who visit Para La Tierra make a massive contribution to collecting data on the social, movement and feeding behaviors of these amazing, understudied creatures. There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking through the Atlantic Forest, knowing how precarious its future is, and being privileged to get a glimpse into the lives of these wonderful Capuchin monkeys.
If you’d like to learn more information about Para La Tierra, check us out here.