The carayá rojo monkey, an endangered species

By Iguazú Argentina
12 de May 2020 • Por Iguazú Argentina

We spoke with Dr. Ilaria Agostini to know more about the carayá rojo monkey and its current situation as a species. The Carayá Rojo Project and the work she is currently carrying out as a researcher are our focus.

Dr. Ilaria Agostini is a researcher at CONICET (National Research Council Scientific and Technical) and the IBS (Institute of Subtropical Biology). She is a member of the CeIBA civil association (Atlantic Forest Research Center) and a specialist in primates. She worked in the Iguazu Falls National Park with the caí monkeys, and currently works for the conservation of the carayá rojo monkeys. She is the leader of the Carayá Rojo Project.
The carayá rojo monkey or red howler monkey (Alouatta guariba) is a species of primate included among the 25 most threatened in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Primatological Society (IPS). This species is found naturally in only one part of the world: in a region between Argentina and Brazil. Today it´s estimated that around 50 specimens remain in the Argentinian province of Misiones.
The coat color in adult males is red-orange, while adult females have brown-brown coat - as well as infants and juveniles. With daytime habits and inactive behavior they spend most of the day resting and feed mainly on leaves, shoots, fruits and flowers, living in groups of between 5 to 8 individuals.

What is the Carayá Rojo Project?

The Carayá Rojo Project emerged during a workshop we did back in 2013 together with several experts from different areas, with the aim of evaluating the conservation status of the carayá rojo monkey and the greatest threats it faces; to take action and fill knowledge gaps by developing conservation strategies. At the same time, to raise awareness about the situation of the species in Argentina, we use our Facebook channel (, sharing general information and the records of the monitoring that is carried out, especially in the local summer season, from November to March.
Within the Carayá Rojo Project, I was responsible for “recategorizing” the degree of threat of the species, for the list of threatened mammals at the national level (Argentina). The SAREM (Argentine Society for the Study of Mammals) led this mammalian recategorization for Argentina. Within this process, if the species falls into a critically threatened category -as is the case of the carayá rojo monkey, which is in danger of extinction- it somehow gains greater visibility in the international media.

Why is the carayá rojo monkey is in danger of extinction?

There was always a very small population that exists in the central-eastern part of the province of Misiones, but it is the only province in Argentina where we can find the carayá rojo monkey. There are testimonies of various sightings in some specific places -although many times they are solitary individuals who may be looking for a partner. However, lately we had the good surprise with two records of the species in places where it had never been recorded before, a little further north than where its presence was previously known to end. This is good news, but overall the picture is critical, as there must be very few groups and quite scattered.
A major threat to the carayá rojo monkey is habitat loss, which is one of the main danger factors for many species. The carayá rojo in particular, is an endemic species of the Atlantic forest, that is, it lives only in this type of environment. On the other hand, the carayá negro (Alouatta caraya), which also lives in the province of Misiones, is more typical of other regions such as the humid forests of the province of Chaco (Argentina). In the case of the carayá rojo, the loss of forests in Misiones is much more significant, because if it disappears from this province, it would not exist anywhere else in Argentina.
The conservation of species is fundamental to the balance and diversity of ecosystems, essential for life and the health of all living beings, including humans.

What does this species need today?

Back in March 2019, the first workshop was held to prepare the first conservation plan for primates in Argentina. The plan precisely tries to identify important actions that are established based on the greatest threats to each species (in Argentina there are five species of primates: in the provinces of Misiones, Corrientes, Chaco, Formosa, Salta and Jujuy). With respect to the carayá rojo, an identification of the priority areas for the conservation of the species will be made, at the level of all the “remnants” of forest (what remains of the jungle), to help populations stay viable and even grow, especially those that are most threatened. For the carayá rojo monkey, the possibility of bringing specimens from Brazil is also being evaluated, to reinforce the local population.

What can we all contribute to the conservation of the carayá rojo monkey?

I think it is key that we all understand that howler monkeys (as carayá rojo and carayá negro monkeys are called because of their howling) aren´t a threat. People who live in places close to the jungle (in farms or reserves) should know that monkeys aren´t a danger to them, but quite the opposite. In fact, in Brazil a campaign was carried out several years ago that was called "The Guardian Angel” explaining the carayá rojo monkeys are like guardian angels because their presence in a certain place is an indicator of the good health of the environment.
With regard to the carayá rojo monkey in particular, I think it is also very important to become aware that it´s on the verge of extinction. There are other highly threatened species, which perhaps have another charisma or get more attention from the media, such as the yaguareté, an emblematic species in the province of Misiones. The carayá rojo monkey has so far been given little importance, at least not as much as it should be. That´s why we created the Facebook page "Proyecto Carayá Rojo", to publicize the carayá rojo monkey, its status as a species and our work as researchers.
Another project that we are preparing now is Ciencia Ciudadana, which consists of a mobile application that´s used to record an observation event for carayá rojo monkeys -for example, if someone sees a group of monkeys or hears a howl. This application allows people who see carayá rojo monkeys to share their experience and registry. From the IBS (Institute of Subtropical Biology) we have a very large long-term project of an environmental observatory. With this application, we will be able to update the records constantly and this helps in all conservation measures. In fact, in 2015, a carayá rojo monkey appeared in a reserve where it had never been observed before. A family visiting the reserve saw the monkey and took a photo of it. The carayá rojo monkey is very difficult to see, but it happens and it is important that everyone who can see one, can take a photo or make a video and share the record with us. 

Photography: Ilaria Agostini