ECUADORIAN WHITE-FRONTED CAPUCHIN

Cebus aequatorialis

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The Critically Endangered Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin monkey is found in small areas in northernmost Peru and in western Ecuador, from dry forests near sea level to premontane Andean forests at altitudes of about 6,500 ft (2,000 m). The species’ population density is low and varies geographically. In Ecuador, the species is mostly reported in public and private protected forested areas; in Peru, it is only reported in government protected forests and parks, but there is not much data available.

TAXONOMIC IN TRANSITION

The Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin was formerly classified as a subspecies of the white-fronted capuchin and elevated to a separate species in 2013.

Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin range, IUCN 2020

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
This medium-sized monkey is between 13 and 20 inches (35–51 cm) long and weighs between 5 and 8 pounds (2.5–4 kg). Males are slightly larger than females; however, neither gender reaches their full adult size until they are 15 years old.

Like other capuchin monkeys, their lifespan in the wild is likely 20–30 years. Captive capuchins have been known to live as long as 55 years.

Appearance
Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchins have pink faces with creamy white hair. The chest and belly are also light in color. A darker cap sits atop the head. Cinnamon-brown hair graces their neck, back, and outer limbs. Their nose is flat with large nostrils, and their eyes are large and forward facing. Their tail is almost as long as their body. It is prehensile but only used for balance. Their tail is covered in hair and can only sustain the weight of an adult for a short period of time. Their arms are almost as long as their legs. Their hands and feet have five digits with opposable thumbs and big toes. Like all members of the capuchin family, these monkeys are dexterous.

What Does It Mean?

Premontane forest:
Rainforest that is found along the lower slopes of the mountain at altitudes of 1,640–6,600 ft (500–2,000 m) and where there is a long dry season. 

Rank reversal:
Change in social hierarchy, often by means of agonistic take-over by a previously less-dominant group member.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions

Photo credit: Haplochromis/Creative Commons

​Diet
Ecuadorian capuchin monkeys mostly consume ripe fruit, but they are also opportunistic hunters who enjoy insects, bird eggs, small vertebrates, and tender leaves. In fact, they are known to feed on approximately 30 different plant species.

Behavior and Lifestyle
These monkeys live in multi-male, multi-female groups composed of 5 to 18 individuals, with pretty much the same number of males and females. They are most active during the day and cover a home range that is estimated at about 1200 acres (500 ha). They thrive in mature forested areas at high altitudes with low slopes and nearby streams. They use all strata of the forest, including the forest floor.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics 
Although not much information is available about this species, it is probably safe to assume that, like all other capuchin species, Ecuadorian capuchin males move out of their natal group into a new group when they reach maturity. Capuchin monkey groups are fairly stable because the dominance hierarchy is rather static and rank reversal is rare or non-existent. The highest-ranking female is dominant to all members of the group, except for the highest-ranking male. Adult females nurture close relationships with other females.

The monkeys spread out in the morning to go foraging and regroup at night to sleep.

When they’re not busy looking for food, capuchins play, rest, and groom. Grooming—which helps monkeys’ coats stay clean and parasite-free—is also a way to relax and bond, but dominant individuals get groomed a lot more than other members of the group.

Communication
Capuchin monkeys use their voice and body posture to communicate. Aggressive displays and vocalizations are used when conflicts between groups arise, especially around foraging areas. Capuchins also use calls to alert the group about looming danger, such as a predator.

Reproduction and Family
Males and females become sexually active around the age of 7 but cannot successfully reproduce until they reach their fifteenth birthday. It is likely that the dominant male has more success breeding than other males.

Females give birth to one offspring. The gestation period is about 150 days (5 months), similar to that of other capuchin species. Capuchin mothers have the closest relationship with their youngest offspring. They carry their infants for two months but get plenty of help from adult and subadult male and female members of the group. Interestingly, allonursing (i.e., infants nursing from a lactating female other than his or her own mother) is not uncommon among capuchin monkeys. Infants are able to walk and climb on their own when they are 4 months old, even if they still require some help on difficult travels.

Ecological Role
Capuchin monkeys are good seed dispersers and, as such, contribute to maintaining a healthy forest ecosystem.

Conservation Status and Threats
Eduadorian white-fronted capuchins are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2015), appearing on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. In addition, they appear in the Primates in Peril report: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primate Species, 2018-2020.

In the last few decades, Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchins have lost all but 1% of the original territory they occupied. This is due to massive deforestation to convert land for agriculture and ranching, accompanied by a rapid expansion of the human population in those areas. Pushed to the edges of disrupted forest patches, some Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin monkeys inevitably find themselves near agricultural areas and occasionally raid crops of plantain, bananas, corn, and cocoa. In those areas, the capuchins are harassed by farmers who want to protect their land. These animals also fall prey to hunting for bushmeat and the illegal pet trade.

Conservation Efforts
Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchins are is included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix 2 to prevent trade in species at risk.

Efforts to protect the Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchins have been made and it is illegal to hunt or trade them in both in Ecuador and Peru.

Improving forest corridors in Ecuador and Peru, and at the border between the two countries, is an essential step to protect the species. This is why two organizations, The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and Conservation International, are focusing on the restoration and maintenance of forest corridors in the Chocó-Manabí region.

Because Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchins do best in forested areas with more than 25% tree cover and low human population, forest conservation is essential. So are education of the local populations and mitigating conflicts between monkeys and humans. To address these issues, the Ecuadorian government is providing monetary incentives to farmers and local community members who commit to protecting the forest through Programa Socio Bosque. Other non-governmental organizations are also actively involved in forest conservation—such as Fundación Jatun Sacha, Fundación Pro-Bosque, and Fundación Ceiba.

In 2010, Jacotoco—a partner organization of the Rainforest Trust—initiated a program to re-introduce thirteen previously captive Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin monkeys in the Buenaventura Reserve, where the monkey had not been seen for over 20 years. Last spring, one Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin was spotted, thereby providing some evidence that the reintroduction program worked and that the monkeys were able to learn how to survive in natural surroundings—a glimmer of hope for the survival of this extremely endangered species.

​References:

  • Primates in Peril 2018-2020 – Ecuadorian White-Fronted Capuchin – Cebus aequatorialis J.A. Allen, 1914 – Ecuador, Peru (2018) – Stella de la Torre, Fanny Cornejo, Laura Cerveva & Maria Fernanda Solórzano
  • Tropical Conservation Science vol 5 (2): 173-191, 2012 – Distribution, abundance, and spatial ecology of the critically endangered Ecuadorian capuchin (Cebus albifrons aequatorialis)  – Katharine M. Jack and Fernando A. Campos
  • www.brightfunds.org 
  • Primate Societies – Capuchins, Squirrel Monkeys, and Atelines: Socioecological Convergence with Old World Primates – John G. Robinson and Charles H. Janson

Written by Sylvie Abrams, November 2019