By Raphael Alves and Carlos Meneses
Manaus, Brazil, Aug 1 (EFE).- The critically endangered pied tamarin is coming under increasing pressure as the expansion of Manaus, the largest city in Amazonia, encroaches on the habitat of this primate known in Portuguese as sauim-de-coleira.
The vast South American nation is home to the world’s largest diversity of primates and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will soon host a conference of leaders of the Amazonian countries to discuss the future of the unique biome.
Scientists estimate that roughly 35,000 pied tamarins remain in their native region, an expanse of 7,500 sq km (2,896 sq mi) that represents just 0.1 percent of the area of Amazonia.
They live in groups of up to 15 members, yet each group includes only one female that breeds and reproduces.
Though Manaus thrived during the rubber boom of the late 19th century, the subsequent bust left the city impoverished and many residents left.
By the late 1960s, when Brazil’s then-military regime set out to encourage development in Amazonia, Manaus had roughly 500,000 inhabitants.
Now, the capital of Amazonas state is a city of more than 2 million people.
And while the growth was the result of deliberate policies, such as the creation of an economic free zone, those policy decisions were not accompanied by any regulations or coordination.
“The city expanded in a disorganized manner, with land invasions that today are big poor neighborhoods. It was done in a disastrous way,” Federal University of Amazonas biology professor Marcelo Gordo tells EFE.
“The highway cuts through rainforest creating forest micro-fragments that end up isolating the populations” of pied tamarins, says biologist Mauricio Noronha, one of the founds of the Sauim-de-coleira Institute.
The isolation leads to a reduction of genetic diversity.
“And that is the beginning of the end of the species,” Noronha warns.
Those pied tamarins that attempt to cross urbanized areas to reach other parts of the rainforest risk getting run over.
Their small size – a typical individual weighs about 0.5 kgs (1.1 lbs) – could lead one to think that pied tamarins are not very important, but Gordo insists their role in the ecosystem is “quite relevant.”
The tamarins are omnivores, consuming not only small creatures and bird’s eggs, but also fruit, flowers, and nectar.
“They end up bringing the seeds to other places. It’s a very important species for the recuperation of the forest,” Gordo says.
The Sauim-de-coleira Institute is trying to educate people about the importance of the species and the risks to its survival.
Even though the pied tamarin is the official mascot of Manaus, it is “little known among the local population,” according to Noronha.
The institute also promotes reforestation to create ecological corridors for the tamarins and other species, but real progress depends on the establish of additional protected areas.
On that front, the institute has encountered resistance from the Amazonas state government and powerful agri-business interests, resistance that has included threats of violence against campaigners. EFE ra-cms/dr