Saimiri oerstedii | Central American Squirrel Monkey
Good spot: Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Taxonomy & Occurrence
Black-crowned Central American Squirrel Monkey (S. o. oerstedii) -- Costa Rica, Panama
Grey-crowned Central American Squirrel Monkey (S. o. citrinellus) -- Costa Rica
IUCN Conservation Status
While the South American Squirrel Monkey is captured for pet trade and medical research (but listed as Least Concern), the Central American Squirrel Monkey is mainly threatened by habitat destruction. Squirrel monkeys have the largest brains of all primates relative to their body size; the Central American Squirrel Monkey's brain weighs about 25.7g, or about 4% of its body weight . Newborn infants have prehensile tails, but lose it in adults .
Seeing this Species
Famously labeled by National Geographic as "the most biologically intense place on earth", this national park is the last great original tract of tropical rainforest in Pacific Central America. Corcovado is also the only national park in Costa Rica with all four of the country's non-human primate species (which is the reason why we started our Central America expedition first with Corcovado. Indeed, we saw all its four primates in two days!).
Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica -- There are three ways to get into the National Park: via Puerto Jiménez, which is best for shoestringers; Bahía Drake, which has a wide range of upmarket all-inclusive lodges; and chartering a flight into the park directly. If you intend to sleep in Corcovado, you must register in advance (at least a day before because a maximum of 20 campers are allowed each day) with the park office in Puerto Jiménez, either in person or by phone. Park fee is $10 per person per day, and camping (with your own tent) at the ranger stations in Corcovado costs another $4 per person per day.
From San José, buses to Puerto Jiménez only leave from Terminal Blanco Lobo ($15, 8 hours). From Puerto Jiménez, you will have to get to Carate (the closest point of access to Corcovado in the southeast). You pay $9 to be put on a truck (this 45km dirt road journey is an adventure in itself). The truck stops in front of a small, family-run store where you can get some snacks (and beer) before you begin hiking into Corcovado. There is nowhere to sleep in Carate except camping along the beach. From Carate, we began hiking 3.5km along the beach into La Leona ranger station (you may not camp at this station anymore). Just one hour in, we saw Central American Spider Monkeys feeding and grooming (did not run upon seeing us). In the next hour, we heard a noisy group of White-Throated Capuchins. They were with another (!) group of Central American Spider Monkeys!
After checking in at La Leona ranger station, it is another 16km long hike to La Sirena ranger station. The trail is on and off the beach. It did not take too long before we saw the 3rd primate species: Central American Squirrel Monkey. We were first alerted to their presence by a guide passing by. Before actually spotting the tiny squirrel-sized monkeys, we heard their squeals and chirps. They seemed always restless; you will need a lot of patience to get a good picture of these monkeys. For the remaining hike, as much as we tried to take notes whenever we saw primates, we lost track of the countless times we saw White-Throated Capuchins and Central American Spider Monkeys. Only the Mantled Howler was missing at this point.
It is imperative that visitors time the hike so as to arrive at the major river called Río Claro 2km shy of La Sirena at the lowest possible tide. Bull sharks and spectacled caimans share that same river so you may want to cross whenever safest as possible.
The next day, we were woken up at 5.30am by the Mantled Howlers (finally!).
All trash has to leave with you so remember to carry along a trash bag.
Probability of Success: ◆ ◆ ◆ ◇ ◇
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Despite being Costa Rica's smallest national park, Manuel Antonio is the country's second most visited park behind the Poás Volcano National Park. In 2011, Manuel Antonio was listed by Forbes among the world's 12 most beautiful national parks (that you have to share with hundreds of tourists every day). In an attempt to control the tourist traffic, the park is closed on Mondays and the number of visitors is limited to 600 per day during the week and 800 per day on weekends and holidays.
Park entrance: $10
Overlapping species: White-Throated Capuchin, Mantled Howler
 Rowe N., 1996. The pictorial guide to the living primates. Pogonias Press, p.98
 Fleagle J., 2013. Primate adaptation and evolution (3rd edition). Academic Press, 464pp.
Page Last Updated: 20 February 2014