Seeing a family of golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) in the mystical Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil is quite an experience. These diminutive orange primates, with their shaggy manes, intense stares, and bird-like vocalizations, live in only one small region of Brazil, where they face seemingly insurmountable odds. Habitat destruction (about 87% of the Atlantic Rainforest has been cleared) and severe forest fragmentation almost wiped them out. By 1969, fewer than 200 individuals remained in the wild, basically one catastrophe short of extinction. The details of their recovery and the continued fight for their future is, for now, one of the world’s most hopeful conservation stories.
While the wild population was declining, zoos carefully managed the captive population around the globe, ecologists studied habitat and population requirements, and educators worked with local schools and communities to increase knowledge of tamarins and their forest. Government and non-governmental organizations worked together to reintroduce golden lion tamarins to the wild and to begin a large-scale reforestation effort to increase the area and connectivity of tamarin habitat. Since 1969, the number of wild golden lion tamarins has increased nearly tenfold, and there is a much more credible path for their long-term survival. Golden lion tamarins went from a little-known and under-studied primate to a national symbol in Brazil, featured on a postage stamp and on the R$20 bill.
This course focuses on multi-faceted species conservation, including biological issues relevant to species reintroductions and translocations, management of wild and zoo-based populations, community-based habitat restoration, and participatory conservation education. We are particularly interested in the next generation of learning programs and public engagement campaigns through zoos and schools in Brazil, the U.S., and other countries. There may also be the opportunity to support the development of a golden lion tamarin park and educational facility in the heart of their range. We will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the “flagship species” approach so well represented by the golden lion tamarins and explore next steps.
We are delighted to be working with primary course partner Associação Mico-Leão Dourado (AMLD), a Brazilian non-profit organization that has played a central role in golden lion tamarin conservation. Associação Mico-Leão Dourado is supported in the U.S. by the non-profit organization Save the Golden Lion Tamarin. This course is also designed to strengthen relationships among zoos in Brazil, the U.S., and other countries.
- Behavioral and spatial ecology of golden lion tamarins
- Role of zoos in global conservation
- Population management of rare and endangered species
- Landscape ecology
- Agroforestry and ecological restoration
- Inquiry and participatory education
- Community-based conservation
A typical Earth Expeditions day in Brazil is likely to include:
- Study at field conservation sites
- Open inquiries
- Interactions with Brazilian scientists, educators, and community members
- Student-led discussions of key course topics
- Journal writing
Planned Sites in Brazil
Cited as one of the top five “hottest hotspots” for conservation, the Atlantic Forest is older than forests of the Amazon basin. The isolation of this ancient forest has contributed to the evolution of species found nowhere else. About half of the roughly 2,000 Atlantic Forest plant species are endemic. Roughly 90% of the Atlantic Forest amphibians are endemic.
The Atlantic Forest has suffered greatly since Europeans arrived, mainly due to (in rough and overlapping historical order) sugarcane, coffee, cattle ranching, cocoa, Eucalyptus forest, and urbanization. Two of the three largest cities in South America were built on and are growing at the expense of the Atlantic Forest. Only about 12.5% of the Atlantic Forest remains, and only about half of that occurs in protected areas. There is an urgent need to build on the success of the golden lion tamarin and other conservation initiatives in this region to reverse the decline. We will study at Poço das Antas and União, two federal biological reserves in golden lion tamarin territory and critical to their conservation, as well as in private lands that have been voluntarily contributed to conservation.
Rio de Janeiro
The course will depart from and end in Rio de Janeiro, known as the “Cidade Maravilhosa” and home of the 2016 Olympics. Students wishing to visit this world-class city should plan to arrive before the course start date or plan to stay after.
Student Reflection from Brazil
"Regrowth. This term is so simple and straightforward; however it completely encompasses my entire experience in Brazil," said John Scott. "While my time spent in the Atlantic Forest focused on a plethora of experiences and feelings, the concept of regrowth was so central and poignant that almost six months later, it is the central concept of my memories of that place." Read more here.
Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community
Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit dragonflyworkshops.org.