Monday, August 27, 2007

Of monkeys,snakes,butterflies and rubber

monkeys calling

A study a species of Amazon butterfly, potentially of pharmaceutical interest because its larva secretes a toxic goo that causes numbness, paralysis and may contribute to arthritis. Authorization was delayed for months, and when it finally arrived, it was for only one day — in February, weeks after the larvae have finished their metamorphosis.
Fears of biopiracy, loosely defined as any unauthorized acquisition or transport of genetic material or live flora and fauna, are deep and longstanding in Brazil. Nearly a century ago, for example, the Amazon rubber boom collapsed after Sir Henry Wickham, a British botanist and explorer, spirited rubber seeds out of Brazil and sent them to colonies in Ceylon and Malaya (now Sri Lanka and Malaysia), which quickly dominated the international market.
In the 1970s, the Squibb pharmaceutical company used venom from the Brazilian arrowhead viper to help develop captopril, used to treat hypertension and congestive heart failure, without payment of the royalties Brazilians think are due them. And more recently, Brazilian Indian tribes have complained that samples of their blood, taken under circumstances they say were unethical, were being used in genetic research around the world.
The great valley of the Amazon is rich in species of Monkeys, and during my residence there I had many opportunities of becoming acquainted with their habits and distribution. The few observations I have to make will apply principally to the latter particular. I have myself seen twenty-one species; seven with prehensile and fourteen with non-prehensile tails, as shown in the following list:--

3 Howlers, viz.--Mycetes ursinus, M. caraya? and M. Beelzebub;
1 Spider Monkey,--Ateles paniscus;
1 Big-bellied Monkey (Barrigudo of the Brazilians),--Lagothrix Humboldtii;
2 Sapajou,--Cebus gracilis (Spix) and C. apella?;
4 Short-tailed Monkeys,--Brachyurus couxiu, B. ouakari (Spix), B. rubicundus (? Calvus, B. M.), and a new species;
2 Sloth Monkeys,--Pithecia irrorata and an undescribed species;
3 Squirrel Monkeys,--Callithrix sciureus, C. personatus and C. torquatus;
2 Nocturnal Monkeys,--Nyctipithecus trivirgatus and N. felinus; and 3 Marmoset Monkeys,--Jacchus bicolor, J. tamarin and a new species

Spix, in his work on the monkeys of Brazil, frequently gives, "banks of the river Amazon" as a locality, not being aware apparently that the species found on one side very often do not occur on the other, though the fact is generally known to the natives. In these observations I have only referred to the monkeys, but the same phænomena occur both with birds and insects, as I have observed in many instances.

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