Monkey Forest Tales: What happens on the study area in relation to deforestation?

One of the biggest news over the past month (August 2019) was the increase of fires in the Amazon forest. Although not a rare event for people living, researching and interested in this incredible ecosystem, the problem this time was the increase in the amount of fires product of an increase in deforestation for pastures (extensive cattle ranching) and agro-industry products.

Traditionally, Amazon forest, as well as most of the gallery forest common in the Orinoquia, have been deforested following the same pattern, people cut the forest they want to convert to agriculture and/ or cattle ranching, pile the wood, let it dry and then burned, it’s the called slash and burn, a practice used to open land for new land uses. It’s also common in Africa and Asia and has been the traditional way humans had clear land. However, now the dimensions and scale at which this slash and burn land clearing practice is done is higher and motivated by the market demands for commodities.

In Colombia it has been used since pre-colonial times, the scale and the reasons to do it is what has changed over time. It is a practice still used in the deforestation frontiers of the Amazon and it’s also used in the Orinoquia not only to clear land but to open natural savannas for cattle ranching or agriculture. Pastures burning increase nutrients in the soil and natural pastures in the Orinoquian savannas are adapted to a certain amount of fire to produce new buds and regrowth, however, the fire cycle and the replacement of native pastures to introduced ones had change that pattern.

In the study area where this project is based, deforestation hasn’t been too high in the last decade, the last big area (around 25 ha of gallery forest) was cut at the end of 2003 for a new palm oil plantation. Most of the deforestation occurring in this specific area is the reduction of forest areas around the streams (gallery forest), mostly to expand pastures or for small crops of watermelon, pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin. This deforestation mainly affects watercourse that are used for the same landowners that cut the forest, which during the dry season needs to increase their expenses to bring water to those pastures that before used the stream water they reduce by reducing the forest area. This is an illegal practice that is poorly reinforced. According to our laws, the forest around watercourses of any caudal should be of at least 50 meters each side, however, this depends on landowners’ practices.

Additional deforestation had occurred near to secondary or tertiary roads as well as near the town, mostly as a consequence of “improving” infrastructure, causing a reduction of living fences important in the area for wildlife movement between different land uses. Around the town, approximately 10 ha, has been deforested due to road constructions and new house developments. This same situation on a bigger scale occurs in the nearby towns and the bigger city in the area, Villavicencio, where most of the swamp and gallery forest around watercourses are deforested to make new constructions of houses and roads. Most of these constructions had increased the risk of hunting, road kills, and predation of local wildlife that still persist in and around towns and the city in the region. A disorganize development pattern is causing higher pressures on the native wildlife living in forest relicts in and around towns and cities in the region. Although a lot should be done by the local governments, people’s awareness and understanding of the effect that this reduction of forest cover around watercourses can cause in their daily life as well as on water quality is one of the future goals of this project.

Santa Rosa Sept 2011 073

Forest affected by tertiary road improvements causing disruption of wildlife crossing in 2011 in the study area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: About people in the area: how this project has impacted people perceptions over time – Part 2

Figura 1 Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. Decision Point

This post is about the second family and how this project had changed their perceptions of monkeys and fauna in general. This story is about a family that I met when I first arrive at the main farm in which this project has been developed. They were the people in charge of the farm (names had changed to protect people in this story).

Pablo was good at handling cattle and horses, very considered with the people working with them, but he loves to take small parrots to sell and hunt from time to time and armadillo or something else, not because they didn’t get access to a protein source just because it’s part of the tradition in this area of Colombia. Marta his wife, was and still is an amazing cooker and a great person, but she also thought that forest animals were only for food and to get some profits. When I arrived, they have two girls, a teenager Diana and a baby girl Rosa, later a boy join the family. Diana started to visit the forest with me and learn about monkeys and other animals, but she never was too much into animals. Rosa grow up with me close to her, as I was living in the farm at that time. During those years I was collecting information about Colombian squirrel monkeys and spent my days following monkeys and my nights playing with Rosa.

In 2005, we started a small project with the landowners to plant fruit trees in the area next to the stream in front of the farmhouse. During that process and through some visits to the forest to see monkeys and birds Pablo start changing his behavior towards all animals. When Rosa was 3 years old, she also started to want to go with me anytime that I went to the forest. She was too small, but she loves animals, especially horses and started to ride at that time with her dad. Sometimes when I went to the forest for just a couple of hours, I take Rosa to the forest with me, I take notes about plants and insects and see monkeys while Rosa was with me.

Rosa went with her dad and me to plant trees and she grows up seeing the monkeys as some of her backyard neighbors who eat fruits and drops things from the trees from time to time when we were looking at them. They live on that farm for four more years in which we learn from each other’s and they became great support from this project. After they move to different farms over the years, Pablo introduces me to other farm owners and whenever was possible I visit those farms and talk about the importance of monkeys for the forest and farmers.

Rosa is now finishing her high school and one of her career options is related to the environment. Pablo is still managing a farm and on that farm, by his suggestion, the farm owner doesn’t allow hunting and try to preserve the forest and animals that inhabit those forest.

Although this project didn’t have a big component on education or has been focused on changing people’s behavior, it’s though the personal relationships that I and some students had built over the years that these families had changed their perceptions and behavior towards nature. Therefore, if you have a project near people sometimes just talking with them about life can lead to a change in people’s behavior towards nature and the effect our actions have on it.

© Copyright Disclaimer. All pictures used on this web page are protected with copyrights to Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. If you want to use any of these pictures, please leave a message on the website. Thank you.