There are 24 species in the family Atelidae, including 10 species of howler monkeys (Alouatta), 7 spider monkeys (Ateles), 2 muriquis (Brachyteles), 4 woolly monkeys (Lagothrix), and 1 yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax). All atelids have prehensile tails that are sensitive and used for grasping objects. Brachyteles are the largest New World primates. Morphological and genetic differences between southern populations from Sa˜o Paulo state and northern populations from the states of Minas Gerais and Espı´rito Santo, have led to taxonomic revisions that recognize separate species, B. arachnoides and B. hypoxanthus, for the southern and northern varieties, respectively.
The northern muriqui was once widespread in the Atlantic Forest region, but today there are only a handful of sub-populations in nine or more protected areas, including Rio Doce State Park, Caparaó National Park, Serra do Brigadeiro State Park, and Augusto Ruschi Biological Reserve.
A Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) was held for both species of Brachyteles in 1998. This has now resulted in a series of surveys in Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and Bahia. The use of population viability modelling has been continued since then as a tool for conservation planning for muriquis.
From 2001 to 2003 the Project for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Brazilian Biological Diversity (PROBIO), of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), approved financing for three projects for the conservation and management of the northern muriqui. They provided the information and directives for the elaboration of a management plan for the species.
Currently there are research programmes on, and conservation initiatives for, muriquis being carried out in six locations, four in Minas Gerais (RPPN Feliciano Miguel Abdala, RPPN Mata do Sossego, and Serra do Brigadeiro and Rio Doce state parks) and two in Espírito Santo (Caparaó National Park and Santa Maria de Jetibá). These studies and initiatives cover about 90% of the entire population of B. hypoxanthus. Besides population monitoring and ecological/behavioural studies, research is being carried on population genetics and captive breeding. There is also a small but promising captive breeding programme for the species.
The muriqui has been a flagship species for the conservation of Brazil’s fragile Atlantic Forest region. In 2002, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment (IBAMA) set up the Committee for the Conservation and Management of the Muriqui. However, information on these critically endangered primates is still lacking and data on population distribution and status is urgently required. Programme Muriqui has been undertaking research on populations within the Serra dos Organos National Park; the possibility of reintroductions is being investigated and an ongoing education programme has been established.
This species is additionally receiving conservation attention through two national action plans formulated in Brazil. The ‘National Action Plan for the Conservation of Muriquis’, which was developed between 2005 and 2010, aims to increase both awareness and protection of muriqui populations and in the process reduce each species' IUCN threat category by 2020. As of 2012 new protected areas will have been created, existing fragmented habitats re-connected and a fund to research and conserve Muriqui species initiated. By 2015 the aim is to have quantified remaining populations, implemented a long term species research programme and to have effectively increased measures to prevent hunting in protected areas.
The northern muriqui is also one of 27 species included in the ‘National Action Plan for the conservation of Central Atlantic Forest Mammals’. This conservation plan was instigated via an exhaustive compilation of biological and species threat data from which six main goals and 100 specific actions were formulated. These goals will aim to both reverse population declines of target species and improve connectivity within fragmented habitats. Costing US$32 million, this action plan is in effect for 5 years, expiring in 2015.
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