Tuesday, September 1, 2009


It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular monkey than this one, with its startling red face and bald pate. Not only does it look exotic, it actually is. Uakaris live in a small area in a remote part of the Amazon Basin. They are endangered owing to habitat destruction and hunting for bush meat. In many ways, this stunning creature symbolizes the need for our help in order to prevent further loss of diversity in the world's greatest wilderness. There are four species of Uakaris. They are medium-sized and lack a prehensile tail. The diet consists primarily of fruits and seeds. One species, Cacajao calvus, the Bald Uakari, as its name implies, is largely lacking hair on top of the head. The face has little pigment and as a result is usually pink to brilliant red in color. Bald Uakaris vary in overall color from white to yellow to buff or reddish, and four races are recognized. These monkeys are found only in a region shared by Brazil and Peru, and all of them are considered vulnerable, but it is difficult to provide protection owing to the remoteness of their habitat.

Because Uakaris lack prehensile tails, they must scramble from tree to tree, but if logging removes part of the continuous canopy then these monkeys are effectively cut off from important food sites. What's more, Uakaris spend a great deal of time in flooded forest, so moving across the forest floor is not an option during much of the year. In recent years, the proliferation of largely illegal timbering operations in the Amazon has been alarming. Brazil and Peru are aware of the problem, but curbing such activities is not an easy task. In areas where Uakaris are hunted for bush meat their offspring are raised as pets. Uakaris are known to live up to thirty years in captivity.

We see Red Uakaris (Cacajao calvus ucayalii) along the southern extreme of their range during our Rio Tapiche expeditions. Pressures there have been mounting steadily during the past ten years and the population is shaky. However, along the lower Yavari River, between Peru and Colombia, a reserve has been established, and work with local people as well as observational studies of the 500 or more Uakaris in the area is ongoing. Here the monkeys are easily observed. The film "Uakari-Secrets of the English Monkey" aired on Animal Planet.



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