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Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2005

Program Name

Panama: Development and Conservation


The conservation status of Central American Squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedi) on the far southern coast of Peninsula Burica in Panama was assessed over the course of a 13 day study period. Four troops of squirrel monkeys (67 individuals) were located on the southern coast of Peninsula Burica. Using information from local sources it can be estimated that up to 7 troops (157 individuals) live in the 7-8 km2 study site. These troops are sharing an estimated 80 ha of habitat which compared to past studies is a fairly low amount of habitat.

One troop of squirrel monkeys which is fed at an eco-lodge (Mono Feliz), was assessed in depth for behavioral characteristics, habitat-use, and membership distribution. The Mono Feliz troop had 32 members the preponderance of which appeared to be males. During the study period, no females were conclusively identified during monitoring or feeding times. The troop had similar behavioral characteristics to other troops studied in the past (lack of play behavior, urine washing, chasing, genital sniffing etc…) except demonstrated intense resource-based aggression, unusual in Saimiri oersted, in response to being fed bananas. Because the study occurred in the late wet season and fruit and arthrpod abundance were at their minimum, the rest of the troop´s diet consisted of Huevo de Mono and insects. The monkeys were seen eating ants, katydids, moths, and spiders during the study period.

The troop spent 8% of its time exclusively traveling and 29% of its time juggling travel and forage. Stationary rest and forging took up the majority of the troop’s time (43%) while stationary foraging consumed only 19% of the day. The troop almost never exclusively rested during the day (1%). In these activities the troop utilized a total of 28.9 ha of habitat during the study period and spent 29% of their time within 1 ha of Mono Feliz which the troop returned to multiple times per day. The daily feeding of the monkeys was therefore found to constrict foraging circuits to the area around the central location of Mono Feliz.

The forests that the monkeys utilized contained large patches of early secondary growth forest, corridors of exclusively cultivated trees, an older secondary growth ridge (crowns 30-35 m), and mixed forests containing scattered larger trees as well as dense undergrowth. The average tree height of the areas sampled was 10.6 m high. There were several places within the troops normal routes were habitat bottle-necked and the monkeys had to run along the ground or make a very difficult arboreal crossing one by one.

The largest conservation challenges in the areas go hand in hand. Hunting presents a genuine threat to the populations of squirrel monkeys around Punta Burica due to good prices (5-25 dollars) and the ease of catching one. The reason the babies can be caught by hand is because the monkeys must descend to the ground to connect together their habitat due to their fragmented foraging areas. Hunting is probably at least contributing to the lack of female monkeys in the area and could possibly be much of the reason for their decline. There are two contrastingly different eco-tourism/ private reserve projects developed and in development in the area. This projects have the potential to substantially help the monkeys of the area by creating habitat, educating visitors and locals, and connecting together isolated fragments of land, but much care must be taken with projects especially large-scale ones because unintended consequences can easily render the projects harmful rather than helpful.


Animal Sciences | Environmental Sciences


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