PSGB winner 2024: a win for black-and-gold howler monkeys

Born Free is delighted to announce the winner of this year’s Primate Society of Great Britain conservation grant.

A close-up of a black-and-gold howler monkey. Its mouth is wide open in a howl and it is in a tree

Black-and-gold howler monkey © Nicolas Gorostiaga

Born Free and the prestigious Primate Society of Great Britain (PSGB) offer an annual £1,500 conservation grant to support national researchers from countries with threatened primates – the group of mammals which includes apes, monkeys and lemurs.

PSGB is the UK’s national organisation devoted to primate study, conservation and well-being and, through the grant, Born Free has supported many early-career conservationists as they protect species including red-bellied guenon, white-thighed colobus, olive colobus, Barbary macaques, Preuss’ red colobus, western chimpanzees, the Caquetá Tití monkey, the spider monkey and Mount Kenya black-and-white colobus monkeys. 

Meet our 2024 PSGB winner! 

Born Free is pleased to announce the winner of the 2024 PSGB Conservation Grant is Nicolas Gorostiaga. 

Nicolas sits next to a river, smiling at the camera with a pair of binoculars around his neck. Surrounding the river are trees.

Nicolas Gorostiaga, 2024 PSGB winner

Nicolas is working in Argentina to understand the influence of a dramatic yellow fever outbreak in 2008-2009 on the demography and genetic variability of black-and-gold howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya). The outbreak is reported to have caused hundreds of howler monkey deaths, and resulted in their conservation status in Argentina being changed from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Vulnerable’.  

There is a concern this outbreak could have caused a ‘genetic bottleneck’ – a sharp population decline leading to ‘limited genetic variation’ (decrease in the gene pool) – in those groups of monkeys affected by yellow fever. This can be catastrophic, limiting the ability of populations to adapt to any change in their environment. A change in conditions – even slight – could cause entire groups of animals to vanish. 

Understanding how disease outbreaks affect ‘population demographics’ (statistics that describe a population and their characteristics) and whether they have caused genetic bottlenecks, is crucial for the conservation of these howler monkeys in South America. This is what Nicolas is setting out to achieve which is why our new grant is so important. Following 38 groups of howler monkeys (some affected by the yellow fever outbreak, some not), Nicolas aims to describe the demographics of these populations, and, using genetic analysis, assess whether any of these populations are experiencing a genetic bottleneck. 

This project will not only be beneficial for the conservation of black-and-gold howler monkeys, but has wider implications for other species and public health. According to the World Health Organisation, yellow fever is a disease that affects an estimated 200,000 people per year, causing 30,000 deaths. Species such as howler monkeys can act as indicators of potential disease outbreaks, allowing for rapid prevention measures to be implemented. This is an example of the One Health approach to public health, appreciating the interconnectedness between the health of people, animals and the environment. 

We look forward to reporting what Nicolas discovers over the next year!