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Press release

  • 11 May 2007

Biologist's monkey study saves rainforest from mining company

Top: Brown-headed spider monkey is one of many species threatened by mining activity in Ecuador. Bottom: Dr Mika Peck's study influenced the Ecuadorian government.

Top: Brown-headed spider monkey is one of many species threatened by mining activity in Ecuador.

Bottom: Dr Mika Peck's study influenced the Ecuadorian government.

Scientists involved in saving one of the world's rarest species of monkey have successfully helped to prevent a copper mining company from destroying its rainforest habitat.

Dr Mika Peck, an environmental biologist at the University of Sussex, is coordinating PRIMENET, a project in Ecuador set up two years ago to help save the Brown-headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps).

Working with the local community of Los Cedros Biological Reserve, Dr Peck is collecting data on the endangered species, of which there are only 50 breeding pairs left in the wild. The information gathered by the project helped to convince the Ecuadorian government to reject an assessment put forward by a trans-national mining company on the environmental impact of mining the region.

Dr Peck, who will be talking about his work and the project on May 15 May at Brighton's Jubilee Library, says: "Undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing both conservation interests and local communities is the power, both political and economic, of large corporations with ambitious development plans.

"We have been able to show how a conservation project directly empowered a community and local government to successfully oppose a major threat. Opposition from the local community was partly attributable to PRIMENET being in a position to provide evidence on impacts of mining activity on the spider monkey."

PRIMENET was set up with £230,000 from the Government sponsored Darwin Initiative to aid conservation in bio-diverse regions around the world. The area that Dr Peck and his team of locally trained "parabiologists" have been working in has a rich diversity of plants and is also home to other endangered species, such as the Spectacled Bear and jaguars.

More than 80 per cent of the natural habitat has already been lost through deforestation. Further loss would lead to extinction of many species, as well as affecting water supplies to the local community.

Although the mining company, Ascendant Copper Corporation, has promised its development would create jobs, better health care and education for the area, the local community is keen to find alternative, sustainable livelihoods. Farmers are being helped to grow coffee plants that thrive in the shade, and to encourage eco-tourism.

Dr Peck says: "I have the utmost respect for the community members and local government representatives that have endured real hardship in standing up for a sustainable future."

Notes for editors

Dr Mika Peck's talk 'Counting Monkeys and the Curse of Copper', which includes a documentary by Rainforest Concern, is at The Jubilee Library, 15 May, 6pm-7.30pm. Price £3

University of Sussex press office: Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, tel: 01273 678888, email:

For further information on the PRIMENET Project, please visit:

Information on the Los Cedros Biological Reserve see:

For more information on the Darwin Initiative, see

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