Course:FRST370/Assessment of community conservation strategies for the critically endangered cotton-top tamarin, (Saguinus oedipus) in Atlantico and Bolivar, Colombia

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This case study explores Proyecto Tití’s cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus)  conservation program in Atlantico and Bolivar, Colombia[1]. The cotton-top tamarin’s habitat is threatened by agricultural development, the resource uses of local communities, and resource exploitation[2]. The tamarins have a limited range within Northwestern Colombia and habitat destruction can have devastating impacts. Proyecto Tití works with and educates local communities surrounding the remaining habitat in finding solutions to lessen human dependency on forest products. This includes things like recycling plastic into various items that can be sold for profit and introducing more efficient cookstoves called bindes. The project can be described as a strategic approach to conservation using a combination of science and community integration to try to conserve the small fragments of habitat the tamarin has left. The purpose of this study is to evaluate and discuss the efforts of Proyecto Tití and how their partnership with the affected stakeholders has encouraged improvements in the individual lives of community members and the cotton-top tamarins. Our assessment will explore Proyecto Tití’s successes and failures, we will discuss community conflicts, and offer our suggestions for further positive results.

Cotton Top Tamarin


Cotton-Top Tamarins and Habitat

Cotton-top tamarins are critically endangered primates endemic to Northwest Colombia[2]. They weigh less than a pound, are comparable in size to a squirrel, and only number around 7,000 individuals in the wild[3]. Historically, they have populated the departments of Antioquia, Atlántico, Bolívar, Chocó, Córdoba, and Sucre[4]. These primates are typically found in tropical dry forests[5]. The majority of Colombia's dry forests are fragmented by grasslands or croplands and only three percent of these forests are located within protected areas[5]. This poses a serious threat to the cotton-top tamarin's survival because of their limited, natural range[2]. Threats to their survival include the exploitation and extraction of natural resources, pressure for the development of agriculture and ranching expansions, pressure to build a hydroelectric dam and international airport, the use of forest resources by local communities, and live capture for the illegal wildlife trade[2].

Geographic range of Saguinus oedipus

Protected Areas

There are three protected areas within the cotton-top tamarin's habitat: Parque Nacional Natural Paramillo, Santuario de Flora y Fauna Los Colorados, and Montes de Maria Reserve[4]. Within 10 years (1990-2000), those same protected areas sequentially lost 20%, 15%, and 40% of viable habitat[4]. In 2012, the forest loss in those protected areas had increased, respectively declining by 42%, 71%, and 70%[2]. Such extreme loss of tamarin habitat shows how dire their situation will continue to be without conservation efforts such as those exhibited by Proyecto Tití.

Conservation Efforts

Proyecto Tití was established in 1987 to conduct the first long term study on cotton-top tamarins and they have now studied the same primates for over twenty years[2]. They have worked to develop conservation education programs and community empowerment programs with economic incentives to increase public knowledge and protect the tamarins and their habitat[6].

Departments of Colombia

Environmental History of Colombia

Colombia first started paying attention to its environment in 1952, when it created a division of renewable natural resources within the Ministry of Agriculture. Around the same time, Colombia also established it's first autonomous regional corporation (ARC) to promote integrated economic development[7].

In 1974, the National Code for Renewable Natural Resources and Environmental Protection was established, and it remains to this day the most important regulation for environmental management. The law was one of the first in the world to include pollution fees and environmental impact assessment. The code has around 340 articles and covers water, air, soil, waste, flora, and fauna[7].

With a new constitution in 1991 and Law 99, passed in 1993, the government established the Ministry of Environment, and the National Environmental System (NES), which was composed of 37 organizations (33 of which are ARCs) for research and environmental management. The Ministry of Environment was later merged with the Ministry of Economic Development in 2003 to form the Ministry of Environment, Housing, and Regional Development[7]. The two were separated again in 2011 and the environmental one was renamed the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development[8].

The NES was defined as a “set of orientations, norms, activities, resources, programs, and institutions that allow the implementation of general environmental principles.”[7] This was meant to be a participatory and decentralized system, with the cornerstone being the Ministry of Environment which consolidated key environmental management functions across the country.

Colombia's environmental management system is then composed of individual "corporations", or ARCs (usually there is one for each department), which are part of a larger National Environmental System. These are headed by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. This means that environmental management in the country is largely decentralized, with each ARC acting as they see fit, as long as they adhere to certain standards[7].

Administrative arrangements


Proyecto Tití's mission is to work with the local communities to protect cotton-top tamarins and their habitats through the methods of scientific studies, public education, and economic alternatives[9]. Proyecto Tití is comprised of field staff including Colombian biologists and field assistants and an educational wing run by the Colombian non-profit organization: Fundación Proyecto Tití[1]. The field staff are responsible for conservation research, tamarin research and care[10]. The Fundación is responsible for programs like CARTITILLA, TITI CLUB, TITI KIDS, and TITI LIDERES[10]. They have also helped create economic incentives for local villages through the making of bindes and eco-mochilas[10].

Efforts Within Local Communities

The founders of Proyecto Tití knew that creating a successful conservation program would require much more than scientific information[2]. They knew they needed to develop a program that not only addressed the needs of the tamarins but also the needs of the local people living within the same habitat[2]. They also knew that the local people would have to become educated in the issue and be shown the economic incentives of conserving the cotton-top tamarin and their habitat[2].

In order to reduce firewood use by local villages, Proyecto Tití made a clay Binde. The communities embraced the change because they used less wood, were more durable, and caused fewer health problems[2]. The Binde solution reduced firewood usage by two-thirds[2]. To deal with the issue of wastage dumped in rivers or roadsides, Proyecto Tití established an artisan group to make eco-mochilas[2]. These are tote bags made from recycled plastic. This recycling initiative has resulted in 3 million plastic bags being kept out of cotton-top tamarin habitat.

Cartitilla is an education program designed to increase the environmental literacy of children living in communities near tamarin habitat[11]. One of the learning outcomes is to build an emotional connection and increase the understanding of human impacts on tamarin survival[11]. Tití Kids is another education program. They aim to teach children the differences between domestic and wild animals[11]. Both education programs focus on actions students can take to impact cotton-top tamarin conservation directly[11].


Proyecto Tití receives funding in a variety of different ways. They accept donations on their website, they sell items like eco-mochilas made by locals which in turn helps those locals economically and lessens their dependency on forest resources[12]. They also have numerous partners and sponsors who donate and collaborate with them; two examples would be the Wildlife Conservation Network and Rainforest Trust[12].

Affected Stakeholders

Los Limites and ASOARTESANS

Los Limites is a small village close to cotton-top tamarin habitat[5]. In order for the village to not depend so heavily on forest products, they needed more economic stability[13]. The production of eco-mochilas: woven handbags made from recycled plastic bags, gave women jobs[13]. Los Limites isn't the only village with affected households. The towns of Luruaco and Santa Catalina are affected and so are the villages of Fendales, Colorado, and Hobo but this case study will focus on Los Limites as an affected stakeholder[5]. In addition to eco-mochilas, local village women also help make cotton-top tamarin stuffed toys[5]. These economic incentives have advantages and disadvantages. Since Proyecto Tití does the marketing and commercializing, there is a guaranteed market and a decreased risk to the artisans[5]. But, because they rely on Proyecto Tití, they have less self-sustainability in livelihood terms [5]. The village has become a place for tourists who want to meet the artisans and see how the eco-mochilas are made, so beyond the economic incentives, the village has also received international attention[13].

Asoartesans began as a group of 15 women learning to make eco-mochilas[13]. These women are now skilled teachers who share their knowledge with women from other communities and internationally[13]. These women played a role in engaging the community to participate in the production of eco-mochilas and stuffed toys[10]. They also encouraged their community to collect plastic bags, and they helped to build a cotton-top tamarin conservation center with assistance from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund[10]. Asoartesans bylaws stipulate that all artisans must be paid a fair wage for the products they produce and that 1% of their income is put into a savings account to run their businesses[13].

Objectives and Relative Power

Groups like Asoartesans hold a lot of relative power to influence change. As a community, their objectives are to reduce their impact on cotton-top tamarin conservation and help the efforts as directly as possible. The conversion to clay bindes and the creation of eco-mochilas have already yielded great results and that has been the combination of innovative solutions and the willingness of the community to participate. When Asoartesans was notified of a snare set with the intention to capture wildlife, they sent a party to find the offenders[13]. When the offenders were discovered, they were counselled by their community and eventually invited to join the eco-mochila program[13]. That was the last snare to be observed in the forest since[13]. The actions shown by Asoartesans prove that the change in behaviour through education has given these villagers the power to make a difference within their communities while also contributing to the conservation effort.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Proyecto Tití

Proyecto Tití Logo

Despite their very high level of care, Proyecto Tití is an interested stakeholder. Many of their scientists and social workers are not local members of the communities, and could easily find employment elsewhere. They do, however, help affected stakeholders like members of the 'Los Limites' village reduce their impact on cotton-top tamarin habitat while at the same time creating economic incentives. Currently, Proyecto Tití operates in the Atlantico and Bolivar departments.

Partners & Donors

Proyecto Tití has a rather large network of partners and donors all interested in the well-being of the cotton-top tamarins. These range from large corporations, like the Disney Wildlife Fund, or the Wildlife Conservation Network, to smaller organizations, like the Milwaukee County Zoo[14].

Autonomous Regional Corporations (ARCs)

These corporations are the authorities that Proyecto Tití must negotiate with to accomplish its goals. They operate on a departmental level, each managing land, resources, and regulations separately. Since 1993, ARC's main goal has been environmental protection, however, evidence shows that ARCs do not prioritize environmental risks adequately. Other challenges that this system of environmental management faces is that overall performance is correlated to the age of the ARC, levels of poverty and geographical factors, making some ARCs very effective and others not so much[7].


Proyecto Tití's aims and intentions have been primarily to conserve cotton-top tamarins and their habitats[2]. To accomplish this, they researched factors that would ensure the tamarin's survival and began to implement them[2]. They protected suitable forest area in Northern Colombia, decreased the number of tamarins involved in the wildlife trade, developed sustainable alternatives for local communities, increased the knowledge on conservation issues in the area, and provided opportunities for the local communities to get involved[2]. They also wanted to help the local communities find economic incentives and alternatives. They succeeded in this by creating clay bindes and aiding the emergence of artisan groups such as Asoartesans. In fact, they've been so successful, that a proposed explanation for cotton-top tamarin population stability is the work being done by the conservation organization[15]. It's our opinion that in the future it would be beneficial to the local communities to be more self-sufficient in their artisan groups. It would also be beneficial for Proyecto Tití and the local communities to rally for more protected tamarin habitat.

One of the critical issues surrounding the tamarins is the harm being done to their habitats by local community members. Proyecto Tití has addressed this directly, by implementing education programs like TITI KIDS, which help establish a lacking emotional connection to the tamarins and their forests. They've also developed strategies to reduce human impact on these forests, through economic incentives, like the eco-mochila program, and the bindes.

With infrastructural development in Colombia increasing rapidly, another key issue the project faced was the deforestation of the already limited habitat for the cotton-top tamarins. Proyecto Tití has addressed this issue by buying private land, and turning it into ecological corridors while working with ARCs and the NES to establish protected areas in Atlantico and Bolivar. In total, 5,500 hectares of forest have been protected since 2011[12].

It is unclear how the political situation in Colombia (which unfortunately is turning sour again) will affect the conservation efforts as the situation develops. Since the program is funded mainly by donations it is safe to assume conservation efforts will continue unless donors deem the situation too volatile and hence stop their donations.


Proyecto Tití has been a largely successful venture. They have recently expanded to a new site, effectively doubling their conservation efforts[12]. Although the habitat available to the cotton-top tamarins is on the decline, the program has taken steps to protect land, and connect the very fragmented habitat. Evidence shows that from the early 2000s, tamarin populations have remained relatively stable, while their habitat has shrunk significantly[15]. This can be attributed to the efforts of Proyecto Tití.

The most effective way Proyecto Tití has helped the tamarins is through their efforts with local communities. Education programs like TITI KIDS and CARTITILLA have proved to be effective in changing behaviours and establishing an emotional connection to the tamarins[6]. Through economic incentives like bindes, they encouraged local communities to extract less wood from the forests that are already being chipped away by development. Efforts to increase awareness have also been effective. Due to efforts from Proyecto Tití, the cotton-top tamarin was recently chosen to be the mascot of the 'Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe', which took place in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2018[12].


Despite increasing developmental pressures, cotton-top tamarin populations have remained stable. We recommend that Proyecto Tití continue their current efforts. Purchasing land, using it to connect larger protected areas in ecological corridors and involving the community in the conservation efforts have proven to be effective.

To improve these efforts we recommend that the ARCs relevant to Proyecto Tití greatly reduce deforestation. This remains the biggest threat to cotton-top tamarins. We also recommend that ARCs are re-modeled to be more standardized as some ARCs are very ineffective.

Of course, increasing their worksites and the number of staff would also help the efforts greatly. However, funding may not allow for that. Instead we recommend that the group continues to spread awareness to local communities and educate them on how to take care of the forests the tamarins need to survive. In addition, the group should look to increase awareness (like they did recently in the 'Juegos') to the whole country or even world-wide. With more awareness comes more funding and more funding leads to greater conservation efforts.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Proyecto Titi. "Our Work: Organization Overview". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Savage, A., Guillen, R. (2012). "Conserving cotton-top tamarins Saguinus oedipus through effective captive management, public engagement and in situ conservation efforts". International Zoo Yearbook. 46: 56–70.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Harindranath, Arjun (November 14, 2018). "Colombia's cotton-top tamarin faces grave threat from deforestation". The Bogotá Post. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Miller, L., Savage, A., Giraldo, H. (2004). "Quantifying remaining forested habitat within the historic distribution of the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia: Implications for long-term conservation". American Journal of Primatology. 64: 451–457.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Vargas, A., Díaz, D. (2014). "Community-based conservation programs and local people willingness to pay for wildlife protection: The case of the cotton-top tamarin in the Colombian Caribbean". Lecturas de Economía. 81: 187–206.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Savage, A., Guillen, R., Lamilla, I., Soto, L. (2010). "Developing an effective community conservation program for cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia". American Journal of Primatology. 72: 379–390.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Sánchez-Triana, Ernesto; Ahmed, Kulsum; Awe, Yewande (2007). "Environmental Priorities and Poverty Reduction : A Country Environmental Analysis for Colombia". The World Bank.
  8. Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarollo Sostenible. "Mission and Vision".
  9. Proyecto Titi. "Our Mission". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Proyecto Titi. "Community Education Programs". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Feilen, K.L., Guillen, R.R., Vega, J., Savage, A. (2018). "Developing successful conservation education programs as a means to engage local communities in protecting cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia". Journal for Nature Conservation. 41: 44–50.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Fundación Proyecto Tití. "2018 Annual Report" (PDF). Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 Savage, A., Guillen, R., Lamilla, I., Soto, L. (2010). "Developing an effective community conservation program for cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia". American Journal of Primatology. 72: 379–390.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. Proyecto Titi. "Meet The Partners".
  15. 15.0 15.1 Savage, A., Thomas, L., Feilen, K.L, Kidney, D., Soto, L.H (2016). "An Assessment of the Population of Cotton-Top Tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) and Their Habitat in Colombia". PLoS ONE. 11(12): 1–12.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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This conservation resource was created by Natasha Silva, Mauricio Martinez. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.