COTTON-TOP

We’ve had a couple of cold, rainy days recently- the sort that are most enjoyed from the comfort of a sofa with a steaming hot chocolate and not outside testing the waterproofness of one’s outer layers. So instead of reporting on the goings on around Norfolk, I thought I’d let the blog go travelling again- this time to the last stop on my 2017 mammoth Amazon- Galapagos- Caribbean odyssey (the posts for which start around here).

I actually started writing this way back in July, when I was still in Colombia attending the International Congress for Conservation Biology. I fell head over heels for its location, Cartagena- and managed to get a fair bit of exploring around either side of the conference. So, without further ado, let’s head back to a warm evening on a rooftop terrace in the barrio of Getsemaní.

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I sit here writing this on a roof in Cartagena- looking out over an inlet to the famous fort, watching as the lightning periodically douses it in brilliant white light. It’s hot- walking around here is like walking around in a teacup- but the rain, which will likely follow the lightning, should lighten the air a bit.

Steeped in history and humidity, Cartagena is a wonderful city- and by that, I mean it really is wondrous. Almost every balcony in the astonishingly preserved old town has bougainvillea carpeting its walls and dangling from its balconies. I’ve never been anywhere that has such romance, and I doubt there can be many places in the world like it. Still- this is a wildlife blog- and, rather than the historic centre, I spent the majority of my first morning in what, at first glance, is a little park of no importance by the city gates. You can walk from corner to corner of the Parque Centenario in under 2 minutes- but astonishingly, it’s home to two of the most charismatic mammals found in Colombia.

A series of high pitched squeaks usually tells you they’re there before you see them- a little family of tamarins that have made their home in the sparse canopy of the park. How they got to such a tiny place, which is surrounded on all four sides by heavy traffic, is a mystery- but the most likely scenario is that they’re abandoned pets. As you may have noticed, the photos show two species- the cotton top tamarin (with the punk crest) and white handed tamarin- as well as a juvenile which is a hybrid between the two.

I’m not going to lie- watching them scurry around the trees, tackle enormous coconuts and keep a constant eye out for each other was an absolute delight- but it was a harsh reminder that the primate pet trade here is still a really big issue. Cotton top tamarins, for example, are critically endangered (at the last count, the IUCN estimated there were around 7,000 left). Though habitat loss played a part in their decline, their numbers took a huge initial hit in the 70s when thousands were trapped and exported for zoos, the pet trade, and biomedical research. We now live in more enlightened times where these practices are illegal- but, as was evident in the park, trapping for the pet trade continues. At least these guys had found themselves a little family and a home where they could roam freely.

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