Costa Rica's Monkey Population Decreasing
According to local scientists, Costa Rica has lost up to half of its monkeys over the last 12 years. The growing number of developers are taking over their jungle habitat, isolating them in small communities.
Costa Rica's monkey populations including howler, white face, spider and squirrel monkeys, have declined by the thousands, scientists at a recent seminar estimated.
"The principal factor that reduces the populations is always sooner or later the deterioration of habitat," said University of Costa Rica researcher Gustavo Gutierrez.
The spider monkey, characterized by its lanky limbs, has been the most affected. Their population falling from 26,000 to 7,000 in the last 12 years, said University of Costa Rica ecologist Ronald Sanchez.
Costa Rica protects the environment of about a quarter of its territory to varying degrees, with 12 percent inside national parks. But urban development, including new tourist hotels and condominiums, is making protected areas into virtual islands, fragmenting the monkeys' habitats and inhibiting genetic diversity needed to keep them healthy, Gutierrez said.
"What we have is 25 percent of the country in islands, without genetic contact between one island and another," Gutierrez said.
To restore the populations, scientists want the government to increase protected areas and create corridors to reconnect the isolated patches, Sanchez said.
Scientists say shifts in weather patterns, believed to be caused by global warming, could lead to lower growth of plants eaten by the monkeys, further hurting their population. Costa Rica's increasing tourism, where 1.7 million vacationed last year, also has played a role in the population decline. Junk food, such as processed snacks and chips, offered by well-meaning tourists, is hurting the monkeys' health.
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