Deforestation of Panama:

The current greatest threat to the Monkeys of Panama

Deforestation rate in Panama has been constant since 1947 (ANAM, 1993). Estimates (World Rainforest Movement, 2001) suggest the rate has recently increased (Figure 2). There is a sustained, focused and unrelenting attack on the rainforests of Panama: the forests are vanishing under the onslaught.  

forest cover 1947 forest cover 1993 forest cover in 2000

Figure 1: Forest cover in the Republic of Panama in 1947, 1983 and 2000 (Gutierrez, 1989).

Deforestation by year

Figure 2: Graphed actual and projected data on deforestation in Panama. Note acceleration in projected deforestation.

According to Panama's Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, ANAM (1993) all forested areas that are not protected will disappear by 2018 if deforestation continues at its present rate. Figure 3 is a typical scene from our drives across the Isthmus of Panama. The forest and its inhabitants are vanishing.


Figure 3: Deforestation in the former Canal Area of Colon Province. This forest is inhabited by white-throated capuchins, mantled howlers, and rufous-naped tamarins as well as a variety of other fragile fauna and flora

Need for Information

Deforestation and increased numbers of formerly captive monkeys together have given us notice that the nonhuman primates of Panama and their habitat are at risk. Review of the literature, and recent correspondence with members of The Conservation Union (IUCN) indicate more information is needed on the distribution and abundance of nonhuman primates in Panama.

Knowledge of the numbers of primates in Panama’s rapidly dwindling forests is based on patchy, and often very old data. In most cases numbers of primates are simply not known. Instead, amount of forested area is used as a rough guide of the degree to which a given primate species may be threatened. New and better data on the number of nonhuman primates in Panama is necessary to guide evaluation of their conservation status. Conservation status, in turn, guides the degree of protection that may be given to the nonhuman primates within the Republic of Panama. 

In order to conserve the still remaining populations of monkeys in Panama, their current and historical locations need to be mapped.  This accurate information must, in turn, be provided to international conservation groups, such as the IUCN.  The initial steps being taken by Panamanian primatologists, such as Pedro Méndez-Carvajal, need to be encouraged and developed.

tree density in Panama

Figure 4: Tree Density in the Republic of Panama. The lighter the color the greater the tree density.


ANAM (1993). La deforestacion en Panama: Analysis de las causas y alternativas para su control. Documento elaborado por la Comision Interinstitutional y Multidisciplina sobre la Deforestacion.

Anderson, D.R., & Pospahala, R.S. (1970). Correction of bias in belt transect studies of immotile objects. Journal of Wildlife Management, 34, 141-146.

Clarke, M.R., Crockett, C.M. & Zucker, E.L. (2001). A comparison of methods used to census mantled howler in the dry tropical forest of Costa Rica. Laboratory Primate Newsletter, 40, 4-6.

Defler, T. R., & Pintor, D. (1985). Censusing primates by tansect in a forest of known primate density. International Journal of Primatology, 6, 243-259.

Fashing, P.J. & Cords, M. (2000). Diurnal primate densities and biomass in the Kakamega Forest: An evaluation of census methods and comparison with other forests. American Journal of Primatology, 50, 139-152.  

Gutierrez, R. (1989). La deforestacion, principal causa del problema ecologia ambiental de Panama. Direccion Nacional de Desarollo Forestal (IN.RE.NA.RE).

Mitani, J.C., Struhsaker, T.T. & Lwanga, J.S. (2000). Primate community dynamics in old growth forests over 23.5 years at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda: Implications for conservation and census methods. International Journal of Primatology, 21, 269-286.

World Rainforest Movement. (2001). Panama: Mining, forests and indigenous peoples' rights. WRM's bulletin, 46. Retrieved from the web: April 11, 2003,