Proyecto Titi | Conserving Colombia's Wildlife
Proyecto Tití:
Conserving the
Cotton-top Tamarin
in Colombia
Cotton-top Tamarin

Education & Public Awareness


For conservation education efforts to be effective in Colombia, support and interest must be forthcoming from the local population. In 1988, we conducted a survey of the local school children near the Colosó study site to assess the communities' perception of the conservation needs of the area (Savage et al. 1989). We found that many students had a variety of myths and misconceptions about the forest and the wildlife of the area. Approximately 70% of the high school students had never visited the forest and it is only 4 km away from their village. Another disturbing fact was that over 90% of the students had no idea that the cotton-top tamarin was endemic to Colombia and not found in other countries in South America.

To increase public awareness and create an interest in our program we developed several community programs for the local villages. We distributed t-shirts produced by Conservation International and posters of cotton-top tamarins created and produced by Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (currently Durrell Wildlife Trust) and Penscynor Wildlife Park. These posters showed cotton-top tamarins living in their natural environment surrounded by the plants and animals found in the forest. The posters have had a remarkable effect in bringing cotton-top tamarins into the lives of the local people, particularly the children. Since most of the villagers have humble dwellings, they are quite eager to hang this poster in their homes. Young children will often question their parents about the poster, and now most children grow up with a keen sense of pride and enthusiasm in protecting this critically endangered species and its habitat.

As support for our program grew, we were able to obtain a small grant from the Captive Breeding Specialist Group and matching funds from a local paint supplier in Colombia, so that the children of the village could "advertise" conservation to all that passed by. Two of the elementary schools are located on the main street in the village. Each of the schools have cement walls or sheet metal walls facing the street. These walls were divided into sections so that each school in the village worked on a group project depicting scenes from the forest, the future of the forest, and the new logo for Colosó that discourages using sling shots to capture or hunt animals. The project used older students as "mentors" to assist in the actual drawing of the scenes and the younger children to "paint" the scenes. The entire village became involved and a final celebration including the high school marching band came out for the award ceremony. Each student who participated in this activity received a poster and judges (the mayor, 2 teachers, and 3 unbiased adults were chosen) awarded a prize to the best scenes.

To expand our growing education program, we have focused on assessing the quality of the natural resources in Colombia. In 1992, northern Colombia experienced a severe drought. Water was scarce and a dramatic increase in mortality of both domestic and wild animals was observed. Channeling community concern, we developed a program to monitor the long-term health of the watersheds in the village of Colosó. Students in Colosó adopted a monitoring site near their school. Each month, students conducted standardized tests (nitrates, dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, fecal coliform, chloride, total solids, hardness, turbidity) to examine the quality of the water consumed by the communities. Using the data they collected, they began to consider ways to improve the quality of the water they consumed. Students learned that protecting watersheds helps to improve the long-term health and survival of the plant and animal populations, and ultimately human communities.

Using middle school students and teachers we developed a collaborative program that monitored the quality of our water in Rhode Island and Colosó, Colombia. Students and teachers had the opportunity to investigate what was happening in their "own backyards" as well as address some of the growing concerns of the long-term conservation of our natural resources.

April 6, 1996 was an exciting day for the participants of our international exchange program, as the Roger Williams Park Zoo hosted the first annual "Waters of Our World" conference. Students from the U.S. and representatives from our program in Colombia shared their results and action plans and also examined water conservation issues from a global resource perspective. Participants examined the factors critical to preserving watersheds, as well as practical solutions for saving forest habitats. Issues relating to growing human populations and deforestation were also highlighted as students participated in an Oxfam lunch, cooked using bindes.

In an effort to direct public attention to illegal capture of wildlife for the pet trade, we developed a program modeled after the successful trading of guns for money, toys, etc. in the U.S. We encouraged villagers to trade in their sling shots, commonly used to hunt and capture animals for the pet trade, for stuffed cotton-top tamarin toys. Since toys were a prized possession for young people in the village, we were remarkably successful in generating support for this program. But most important, the hunting of wildlife for the pet trade had significantly decreased in the village of Colosó.

Conservation education is key to the ongoing success of Proyecto Tití, and we have worked with Barranquilla Zoo to expand their education program. Reinaldo Niebles, Education Curator at the zoo, attended the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Conservation Education Training Program and Rosamira Guillen, director of the zoo, attended the World Wildlife Fund Biodiversity Training Institute. The zoo reaches more of an urban audience, so the education programs focus on the cotton-top tamarin in the pet trade. People in urban centers are more likely to be the buyers of pets, rather than those who capture cotton-tops. We have produced a brochure (pictured below) for dissemination, and have also expanded the Zoo Club. Children in the club regularly visit our field site. One of the activities we have created is a puzzle which illustrates all the aspects of conserving cotton-top tamarins.

The program's focus has shifted at the current site of Santa Catalina due to the composition of the community, its economic status and the future economic potential of the participants. Individuals in the community are likely to pursue work in local subsistence agriculture.

The rural education program is aimed at the communities of Santa Catalina, Los Limites and Colorados, which are within 5 miles of the forest of El Ceibel. After completing a survey of current knowledge and practices (10% of the population), we have initiated programs for the schools and the greater communities, as well as offer training to teachers. The components of the local high school curriculum include:

Phase I:

  1. Conserving biodiversity and the benefits to local communities

  2. Training in basic agricultural practices that promote sustainable use

  3. Training in alternative agricultural practices

  4. Developing economic alternatives that impact habitat preservation

Phase II: Students received classroom training and were asked to apply their knowledge using a small parcel of land designated by the community as an agricultural teaching center. This has been remarkably successful in helping students learn organic farming practices as well as increasing yield in their crops. The school has a small experimental center that continues to be the focus of their agricultural training center and the school has now been deemed a magnet school in agricultural technology.

CarTITIlla – This interactive workbook was designed by Reinaldo Neibles, Director of Education at the Barranquilla Zoo. It is a wonderful guide for elementary school students to learn about cotton-top tamarins and the relationship they have with other animals that are found in the tropical forests of Colombia. There is also a teacher’s guide that provides information to assist teachers in creative use of this workbook with their students. For additional information about the use of the CarTITIlla please contact Reinaldo Neibles (

Moving beyond community rural education, we offer Advanced Training in Conservation Biology to university students. Additionally, thesis students have completed projects at our field site. Thesis topics have ranged from the feeding ecology of the cotton-top tamarin to understanding the herpetofauna at Hacienda El Ceibal. Our efforts focus on providing a safe, field study site for students to begin their studies in tropical ecology.

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