Brazilian wildlife: Catching just a glimpse of the endangered muriqui

August 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Text by Bethanie Walder

Brazilian wildlife: Catching just a glimpse of the endangered muriqui

It’s official… Marcel got his first tick bite. The little critter is now chilling out in our freezer. We’re not particularly concerned, however, since he picked up this tick in the Atlantic rainforest outside of São Francisco Xavier, a small mountain town about halfway between São Paulo and Rio. With no or few capybara, there should be reduced risk of spotted fever there.

 

Image below: Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilAtlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilAtlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

São Francisco Xavier is a touristy, mountain town. Horses seem almost as prevalent as cars for transportation (and it’s understandable given the insane steepness of the roads outside the town – our little car spun out several times). We spent the weekend hiking, biking, and kayaking. Saturday morning we woke early, and dressed in our standard hiking gear (pants, boots, t-shirts covered by long-sleeved sun shirts; I even keep my pants tucked into my socks) and set off to meet our guide, Hamilton. He guides tourists onto private forest land to look for woolly spider monkeys (called muriqui in Portuguese, or Brachyteles arachnoids in “sciencese”).

 

Image below: Our guide Hamilton (he is also a really good trail runner) looking for wooly spider monkeys (Brachyteles arachnoides), near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil Our guide Hamilton (he is also a really good trail runner)  looking for wooly spider monkeys (Brachyteles arachnoides), near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilOur guide Hamilton (he is also a really good trail runner) looking for wooly spider monkeys (Brachyteles arachnoides), near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilOur guide Hamilton (he is also a really good trail runner) looking for wooly spider monkeys (Brachyteles arachnoides), near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

 

Wikipedia describes these animals as the largest of the “new world monkeys,” and as seriously endangered. The area around São Francisco Xavier is one of only three areas where southern muriqui still exist. It’s a similar story for the northern muriqui, which is even more endangered than the southern subspecies. In addition to habitat loss and isolation, poaching is a real problem, as muriqui tail is apparently a delicacy. Poachers come into the forest to illegally collect epiphytes, hearts of palm, and tree ferns, but sometimes they also leave with poached monkeys. 

 

Image below: Atlantic forest with epiphytes, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Atlantic forest with epiphytes, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilAtlantic forest with epiphytes, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilAtlantic forest with epiphytes, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Hamilton doesn’t own the land, but he and others are working to make it into a protected area for the muriqui, which would be incredibly helpful at maintaining this particular isolated population, though it won’t stop the poaching. The landowner wants to sell and the transportation department needs to buy some compensatory lands for impacts from a transportation project elsewhere in the state – Hamilton’s keeping his fingers crossed, and so are we. We also crossed our fingers that we’d see some muriqui on our hike, but we didn’t.

The monkeys sleep during the heat of the day, so we left and tested the limits of our 1 liter engine car among the crazy steep roads to reach a fabulous restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The setting was idyllic, the food divine. We could have stayed the rest of the day.

 

Image below: Fernanda Abra and Bethanie Walder at a trout farm and restaurant, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Fernanda Abra and Bethanie Walder at a trout farm and restaurant, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilFernanda Abra and Bethanie Walder at a trout farm and restaurant, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilFernanda Abra and Bethanie Walder at a trout farm and restaurant, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Instead, we drove back to town to register for Sunday’s “Adventure Camp” race. Fernanda’s boyfriend, Gambá, coordinates adventure and mountain running races for Adventure Camp, a small company (3 fulltime staff) based out of São Paulo. We got to choose from the 25K or 50K option – being novices, we chose the former. The race included a combo of trekking/running, kayaking and biking, along with some orienteering to find the actual course. Adventure camp provided the inflatable kayaks, and we rented bikes from a local shop. The bikes were barely functional, but the owner promised us that the brakes would be working, as well as some of the gears, by the time we picked them up for the race the following morning.

 

Image below: “Gamba” Luiz Antônio prepares for the Adventure Race instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

“Gamba” Luiz Antônio prepares for the Adventure Race instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil“Gamba” Luiz Antônio prepares for the Adventure Race instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil“Gamba” Luiz Antônio prepares for the Adventure Race instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

 

Image below: Participants in the Adventure Race listen to the instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Participants in the Adventure Race listen to the instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilParticipants in the Adventure Race listen to the instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilParticipants in the Adventure Race listen to the instructions the evening before the race, São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

 

Gambá wouldn’t be revealing the actual race courses until 6:30 that evening, so we had just enough time to head back up to look for the muriqui. Hamilton wasn’t available, but said we could return on our own. We were hopeful, especially since Gambá had seen 30 muriqui the weekend before while conducting final scouting for the race. We returned to “muriqui rock” and sat quietly, waiting. Marcel started photographing a beautiful bromeliad flower perched 20 feet above the forest floor when we heard branches breaking. It was nearly dark, and they were far away, but we spotted two muriqui, a mother and youngster in the distant treetops. Marcel’s camera was focused on the bromeliad, but he tried to get a picture anyway. Unfortunately he only ended up with a golden blob in the middle of some green  branches. Fortunately Gambá is hosting a 2-day mountain race here in two weeks (which Hamilton may win, he’s apparently an incredibly strong mountain runner), so we’re hoping to come back and try again.

 

Image below: Waiting on a very large boulder in the Atlantic forest for wooly spider monkeys to show up, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Waiting on a very large boulder in the Atlantic forest for wooly spider monkeys to show up, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilWaiting on a very large boulder in the Atlantic forest for wooly spider monkeys to show up, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilWaiting on a very large boulder in the Atlantic forest for wooly spider monkeys to show up, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

 

Image below: Bromeliad in Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

Bromeliad in Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilBromeliad in Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, BrazilBromeliad in Atlantic forest, near São Francisco Xavier, São Paulo, Brazil

 

 


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