FES students create a squirrel monkey reserve in Costa Rica

In the spring of 2007, students from York University discovered a small troop of Central American black-crowned squirrel monkeys near York’s Las Nubes Rainforest reserve in Costa Rica. What is amazing about this discovery is that only two other populations of squirrel monkey are known to exist in the country.

The Central American black-crowned squirrel monkey (left) is listed as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Scientists estimate that only 2,000 individuals are left in Costa Rica.

The discovery of this previously unknown population was one of the highlights of a field trip made to Las Nubes last April by a group of undergraduate and graduate students from York’s Faculties of Environmental Studies (FES), Science & Engineering, and Arts.

The students, drawn from environmental studies, biology and political science, were participants in the seventh annual field course in applied tropical ecology and sustainable development led by York environmental studies Professor Howard Daugherty. (See their story in YorkU, December 2007.)

Following the discovery, the group decided to raise money to purchase the land to protect it from deforestation and development. The land, located near Las Nubes, measures approximately one hectare in size. Once the land purchase is completed, the area would then be turned into a dedicated reserve for the tiny primate.

Right: Howard Daugherty

The Central American black-crowned squirrel monkey is among many rainforest animals threatened by deforestation. Since developing the idea to create the reserve, students in FES have been hard at work raising funds for the initiative. Students hosted a bird-a-thon, several sales of Las Nubes coffee and purchased carbon certificates to offset their own carbon footprints.

Finally, after a long and involved negotiation, it seems the student group’s dream of creating a squirrel monkey reserve in Costa Rica is one step closer to becoming reality. "We [the student group] have made a down payment of $5,000 on the one hectare of forested land. The purchase has proved to be a daunting task and much more complicated than I had imagined," said Daugherty. "The land consists of riverine forest, pristine forest, 65-year-old secondary forest and a couple of patches of younger secondary forest. It is part of the lowland rainforest that is prime squirrel monkey habitat.

"The bad news is that the final price was $16,000," said Daugherty. "Land speculation is rampant on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and prices are skyrocketing with each passing day. Nevertheless, we  made a commitment for the remaining funds, which we will raise by July 1, 2008.

"I believe this is the first time that a group of Canadian students has bought land in Costa Rica for the protection of an endangered species," said Daugherty. "We can all be very  proud of the students’ efforts. They are innovators in preservation in a country that already has such a rich conservation history."

With the new goal in mind, the students have now focused their efforts on overcoming the last hurdle in achieving their dream of the reserve. They are hosting a Valentine’s Day Sale of Las Nubes Fair Trade Sustainable coffee. The sale, which will take place Feb. 5 to 7, from 10am to 3:30pm, will be located in the FES lobby in the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building. In addition to fair trade coffee, there will also be fair trade chocolate, Squirrel Monkey tote bags and carbon storage certificates available for sale (offered in association with Zerofootprint). There will also be a free sampling of Las Nubes Coffee on Thursday, Feb. 7, from 9am to noon, at the Las Nubes Café in the Computer Science & Engineering Building, courtesy of Sodexho. 

"Our goals are now to complete the land purchase, expand the property and revitalize and monitor the precarious population of squirrel monkeys," said Daugherty.

For more information on the effort to secure the preserve, visit the Las Nubes Web site or contact Professor Howard Daugherty by e-mail at jaguar@yorku.ca