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Leyda Rimarachín: The biologist who shelters an endangered ape in her garden | What moves … | Future Planet

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When she was a child, the biologist Leyda Rimarachín (Cajamarca, Peru, 1983) saw the yellow-tailed woolly monkey for the first time in her garden (Lagothrix flavicauda), a species that would later be in danger. His garden is the cloud forests on the heights of Bagua Grande, in the Peruvian Amazon, where his parents arrived more than 35 years ago. “My toys were leaves, flowers and roots, and my entertainment was seeing species that I didn’t even know existed,” he recalls. “In those days they abounded. When we heard them, we automatically knew it was them, so with my sisters we followed them through the forest to eat the quijos [fruta similar a la granadilla] that fell from their hands ”.

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This original and exclusive monkey from the north of Peru differs from others by its tail with golden hairs and its 54 centimeters, which also makes it the largest in the country. Despite this, poaching and deforestation of its habitat in the jungle at 1,500 and 2,700 meters above sea level, have made it one of the most threatened primates in the world. “Our forest became an island surrounded by destruction and they remained isolated somewhere, vulnerable to human hunting and other animals simply attacking them,” he laments.

According to Rimarachín, for almost 20 years it was impossible to see families of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys roaming their home. It is suspected that its population has even been reduced by 80% in the country, which places it in critical danger of extinction within the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “We wanted to save them, but they were nowhere to be found,” he says. “When we happily found two tiny groups of apes, we got on our feet and decided to do something.”

The yellow-tailed woolly monkey is native and exclusive to the north of Peru, it differs from others because of its tail with golden hairs and its 54 centimeters, which also makes it the largest in the country.
The yellow-tailed woolly monkey is native and exclusive to the north of Peru, it differs from others because of its tail with golden hairs and its 54 centimeters, which also makes it the largest in the country.Andrew Walmsley

There began a journey of more than a decade to save the habitat of this species from the 59 hectares of forest that belong to the Rimarachín family. While Leyda was in his second year at university, in 2001 the Peruvian State created the regulation that allows citizens to dedicate part of their property to conservation. “I spoke with my family and they immediately said yes,” he enthuses. Together with his colleagues and university professors, he dedicated himself to investigating what species of flora and fauna is home to his property, from which the Berlin gorge is born, in order to justify its protection. Among them they found a great variety of birds, such as the cock of the rocks (Rupicola peruvianus), like night monkeys (Aotus miconax) and even tree ferns of more than centuries of life, according to the technical file prepared with the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law (SPDA).

Our forest became an island surrounded by destruction and the monkeys were isolated, vulnerable to human hunting and other animals simply attacking them.

After going back and forth in paperwork, in 2013 the Bosque Berlin was recognized as a Private Conservation Area. That same year, Leyda Rimarachín was awarded the Carlos Ponce del Prado award in the category of outstanding youth when conserving and researching biodiversity. “It was something historic because my family suffered enough things to obtain this forest,” he asserts. When his parents began life there, the internal armed conflict (1980-2000) raged in the Peruvian Amazon. Thus, his property was attacked by terrorists and the army itself. For defending her, her father, Ricardo Rimarachín, was imprisoned.

But that violence also came in the form of ax blows from the neighbors who wanted to take over the land. “They did not know that the forests were the source of water. They have only understood it when the waters have been diminishing. So they would look where there was and it was in the forest that we have protected, ”says the researcher. “That could be seen coming, but before it was not in his conscience.”

In order not to repeat that story, Leyda Rimarachín has trained the youngest in the area in environmental education. “We have reconnected with that sensitivity that we have as children and that sometimes we lose by thinking that the human being is the only one who should exist, that other forms of life do not matter,” he remarks.

In parallel, he has led campaigns with We conserve by Nature from SPDA and Neotropical Primate Conservation to raise funds to create a biological corridor through which yellow-tailed woolly monkeys can move more easily to the conservation area. The first time raised $ 10,500 (8,929 euros) to rent five hectares of land from a neighbor where a family of these primates lived. After seeing this effort, the owner decided to lend them the space for 10 years, and that the money be used for control and surveillance activities, research and reforestation. “Thus, little by little, we have been adding up to 100 hectares thanks to those who are committed to conservation. What is missing now is to empower the populations that live within the forest, where resources abound, because it is these that are going to lift us out of our economic poverty, “he says.

A group does ecotourism in the Berlin Forest, in the Peruvian Amazon.
A group does ecotourism in the Berlin Forest, in the Peruvian Amazon.Provided by Conservamos la Naturaleza

By protecting monkeys and other species, the Berlin Forest has become an attractive destination for scientists and also for ecotourism. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it received at least 300 visits a year. “Before, we only talked about cultural tourism in my region, but now we are developing, for example, the route of endemic primates to give value to nature tourism that differentiates our conservation areas,” says who also founded the Amazon Voluntary Conservation Network which protects 126,732 hectares.

We have a book at hand that is the forests, one that we need to read and decipher

In addition to tourism, the Rimarachín sell what they produce with the biodiversity there: panela, honey from different types of native bees, the natural medicine made from the sap of the Grado tree (Croton lechleri) and guayusa-based drinks (Ilex guayusa loes), a relative plant of yerba mate. “It is a way of showing that we can make a living from conservation,” he explains. “It is not something we only say, but it is part of our lifestyle,” he clarifies.

This way of living has made Leyda Rimarachín, despite having had to go to other places to study or work, to always return to her territory and want to be buried there. “We have a book at hand which are the forests, a book that we need to read and decipher. And I think that in life I will not be able to read and understand everything that is here. “

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