Squirrel monkeys are becoming an important symbol for wildlife in Costa Rica. They delight researchers who study them, and weighing in at just one and a half pounds, with beautiful orange fur and expressive faces, they are irresistible to tourists. Sue Boinski, a professor of anthropology and comparative medicine at the University of Florida, has spent the past 20 years observing squirrel monkeys in Central and South America. Her research has revealed that Costa Rica's squirrel monkeys are among the most egalitarian and least aggressive primates in the world. She describes them as the peaceful primate in the peaceable kingdom. "I think they are like the tourists who love to come here to the tropical beaches," she says with a smile. "They're just looking for good food and sex."
But the future of these winsome primates is in doubt. Their forest habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate by agribusiness, including the raising of crops such as palm oil trees and bananas. The tourist industry is also booming, resulting in new construction and an increasing human population. The second-growth forest that squirrel monkeys prefer for the plentiful soft fruits and insects is rapidly disappearing. If we don't intervene soon to protect Costa Rica's squirrel monkeys, Boinski warns, the survival of these endearing primates cannot be assured.