Environmental education: A teaching tool for the conservation of pygmy marmosets (Cebuella pygmaea) in the Ecuadorian Amazon

  • Published source details de la Torre S. & Yépez P. (2003) Environmental education: A teaching tool for the conservation of pygmy marmosets (Cebuella pygmaea) in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Neotropical Primates, 11, 73-75.


The pygmy marmoset Cebuella pygmaea, which inhabits the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, is the smallest monkey in the world. In Ecuador there is increasing evidence that this species is detrimentally impacted by human activities. Several pygmy marmoset populations studied in northeastern Ecuador have been severely affected by capture, noise pollution and habitat destruction, related to development of the petroleum industry, a continuous increase in human population, and the cultural loss ongoing in native communities due to rapid insertion into Western cultures. Live capture of pygmy marmosets is common; they are also eaten in some areas or even killed for target practice. The authors believed that these problems could be mitigated through an environmental education programme directed at children in communities that lived close to study pygmy marmoset populations. The programme presentation revolved around a game through which children learned about the ecology, behavior and conservation of these tiny primates.

Programme and presentation design: Information from studies of pygmy marmosets in northeastern Ecuador and elsewhere, were used to summarise their ecology, including, habitat preference, feeding behavior, group composition and parental care. This information was recreated in a wooden poster (measuring 120 x 90 cm) which depicted riparian forest, a tree with real holes in the trunk, and the profiles of six marmosets of different ages and sex (one reproductive pair, one subadult, one juvenile and two infants) representing a typical pygmy marmoset group. These formed the basis of a puzzle of six wooden marmoset figures to be attached by children during the game. The poster can be folded and easily carried. Sheets of paper, thin cardboard, colour pencils, scissors, glue and stickers allowed children to recreate, in their own drawings, pygmy marmoset life based on the poster games.

Selected communities: This programme was undertaken in two Ecuadorian Amazonian indigenous communities: the Secoya community of Bellavista on the southern bank of the Río Aguarico (15 children in its school); and the Quichua community of Añango on the southern bank of the Río Napo (20 children in its school). The children ranged from 4 to 14 years old. Audiences also included 2-5 young adults (18-20 years old) and 1-2 older adults (over 30 years old). These communities were chosen for this pilot work because the authors were studying pygmy marmosets living close by, and had evidence that marmosets were subject to capture and target practice.

Presentation: The presentation began by explaining to the children the purpose of the pygmy marmoset studies and then they were shown some of the equipment used (e.g. binoculars and tape recorders) and how it worked. They were then asked questions to determine what they knew about pygmy marmosets, such as where they live, what they eat, how many infants are born and how females care for them, and how humans affected them. After this introduction, the poster games began. First the children were asked to solve the marmoset puzzle, pasting each animal to the corresponding poster profile (the two marmoset infants were not included in this first game) whilst chatting about their riparian habitat. They were then told about the gum-feeding behavior of pygmy marmosets, and allowed to experience how this might feel by licking a vitamin gel poured into the holes of the 'gum tree' on the poster and mimicked insect-feeding by finding and eating sweets hidden in the classroom. Social organization of pygmy marmosets was discussed, explaining how important it is for marmoset infants to be carried and attended by other group members, similar to the way that human infants need their family.

The children then participated in a new poster game in which they were told that the two infants of the group were lost and crying for their family. One child participated at a time, first being blindfolded. Then simulated infant crying was used to guide the blindfolded child to the figures of the two infants. Once the child picked up one of the infants, they had to paste it on the back of a caregiver. After this game, children were divided into small groups, each provided with paper, thin cardboard, scissors, colour pencils and glue, to create their version of a family group of pygmy marmosets in the forest. The presentation ended by explaining the importance of conserving pygmy marmosets, other primates and the rainforest, this reinforced by a happy-face sticker (to help remember the benefits of conserving monkeys) and a sad-face sticker (to remember the negative impacts of disturbing monkeys and their environment) stuck on opposite sides of each child's face.

Programme success: The pygmy marmoset education programme was conducted between June and August 2003. Anecdotal evidence indicates a positive effect on the attitude of children of all ages in relation to pygmy marmosets and associated studies. After presentations, some children began accompanying the researchers during daily observations, helping to carry equipment and observe marmosets. They often said that they would not disturb monkeys again and wanted the presentations continued at their schools. The interactive games with the wooden poster were considered key to maintaining the attention of the children. The interest the children showed in the poster and their willingness to learn more about pygmy marmosets was described as remarkable. During presentations the children and accompanying adults were relaxed and frequently laughing while participating in the games.

The authors are aware of the need to continue the education programme and extend it to other communities. The design of a more systematic evaluation process to better analysize the efficacy of the programme is underway.

Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper. For full text of the original article and photo of the teaching poster featuring pygmy marmosets used in the environmental education programme see: http;//

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