Primate Conservation Limelight



Title: Scientific Illustrator

Country of origin: England

Proudest moment: Having a species named in his honor. Stephen Nash’s titi (Callicebus stephennashi) is a New World monkey found in Brazil.

First non-human primate witnessed in the wild: Muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides), also known as the woolly spider monkey

​One might say that it was love at first sight. As an art student, scientific illustrator Stephen Nash remembers being awed by his first encounter with a cotton-top tamarin at the London Zoo—and in that moment, the course of his professional life was forever changed.

It wasn’t long after that his calling in wildlife illustration would take him deep into the forests of eastern Brazil, where he saw his first primate in the wild, the muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides). Driven initially by a passion to document the world’s marmosets and tamarins with drawings, Nash is now world-renowned for his illustrations of both primates and reptiles. He worked as the scientific illustrator for Conservation International for more than 30 years and continues to contribute as a freelancer to the IUCN’s SSC Primate Specialist Group, which considers Nash’s work as “the international standard for the illustration of the world’s primate taxa.”  His illustrations are included in some of the most thorough and comprehensive works documenting what the world currently understands about primates and how we can take steps to protect them.

But the work is not yet nearly done. In fact, the ever-inquisitive Nash notes that there’s “something fascinating going on all the time” in primate research and conservation. What we know today about primates is just the beginning. Working hand in hand with primatologists, Nash is asked nearly every week to create images of newly discovered species or update his existing illustrations of primates based on the latest data coming from the field.

Nash believes we can all play a role in primate conservation and is a proponent of citizen science. “You don’t have to have scientific qualifications to contribute,” he says, noting that ecotourism-led “primate watching,” much like birdwatching, is one way people can see and record their own observations of primates, and, by subsequently contacting scientists, contribute to the body of knowledge concerning these animals.

The more we understand, Nash adds, the more clearly we can see humans as primates, all part of the same zoological family. “I’ve always had this feeling that we’re all in this together, by which I mean all creatures are dependent upon one another. My parents taught me to leave a place better than when I found it—whether that’s a tabletop or a planet,” says Nash. “I’m trying to do that in helping others (and incidentally also myself) understand and appreciate the diversity of our own family. I hear more and more people say that the care of nature is something we should do. I find that promising. That’s a very, very good sign. It is where we came from, and it is our support system.”


Some thoughts and reflections on the use of illustration in Biodiversity Education Campaigns
Journal of Threatened Taxa | February 2009

When illustrating, as in this array of tamarin species, Nash places all the members of the genus in the same posture to help distinguish between species more easily. Nash’s images are mixed-media, creating using both digital tools and hand-colored with pencil and paints.
A royal greeting. Nash had the opportunity to chat it up with Prince Charles while he visited the Royal College of Art during the graduation exhibition of 1982. The person with his back to the camera is Quentin Blake, Chairman of the Illustration Department, who was escorting the Prince around the exhibition.
Nash's illustration of Geoffroy's tamarin and cotton top tamarin, 1981.
Night Monkeys

All photos and illustrations courtesy of © Stephen D. Nash, IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. Used with permission.

By Christine Regan-Davi, August 2018