Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Visit with the Spider Monkeys

My husband and I just returned from Mexico where we spent a week in the Yucatan jungle playing with orphan spider monkeys at a sanctuary in Riviera Maya called "The Jungle Place".
The sanctuary is home to seventeen spider monkeys, all rescued and raised with love by founders Heidi and Joel.  This couple's enthusiasm and passion for spider monkeys is contagious and one cannot spend time with them without soon becoming their friends.
Spider monkeys are slender with long limbs, small faces, beautiful brown or grey/blue eyes and a long and strong prehensile tail that helps them keep their balance as they move from branch to branch in the canopy of the rain forest where they live.  Their coarse fur varies in color from gold brown to red to dark brown or black.  Some have a white patch on their belly.  They have four fingers on their hands (the thumb is just a tiny stump) but they do have a thumb on their feet.  Males and females do not differ much in size (average weight is 13-20 pounds and height is 12-24 inches).  Males, however, are more aggressive and have bigger canines than females.
The diet of a spider monkey includes mostly fruit, some seeds and a variety of foliage and flowers.

The spider monkeys at "The Jungle Place" are fed peanut butter on bread in the morning for a healthy dose of protein, a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables during the day, oatmeal in the afternoon and again fruit and vegetables.  The two babies, Bali and Nicki get a bottle with baby formula and oatmeal before bed and there is no fooling them - they have a built-in clock and cry if the bottle is a few minutes late.

(Picture: Maya, a 4 1/2 year old female sort of "adopted" me and climbed over me any chance she got).

Upon reaching maturity, females leave their native group and build a new life.  They do choose their mating partners and can only give birth to one offspring every 4 years, as babies remain dependent on their mothers for about 3 years. 
At "The Jungle Place", Lady, a respectable spider monkey, gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby named "Luna", who is now 4 years old.  Luna's father is the dominant male of the group so, by association, Lady became first in rank and their daughter has been receiving all the respect due to the offspring of a high ranking couple.
Each spider monkey in the group has a story and a very distinct personality.  My friend Maya is very cuddly.  She loves interacting with humans.  Ischelle likes to lie down on men with a big belly - she must find it comforting.  Nena came to my rescue by sitting on my feet when Luna tried to pull my shoes off.  It was very interesting to see how with just one look and one gesture (sitting on my feet), Nena told Luna (whom she helped raise) to cut it out.   Teva seemed a little more shy, but she sure liked to hold hands.
Spider monkeys (like other primates) have many ways to communicate.  Vocalization is an easily identifiable way for humans to notice communication between group members.  When I was holding Maya in my arms, she was looking straight into my eyes and started making "ah...ah...ah" throat noises, which apparently means: "I feel comfortable with you".  Then there is a delightful chirpy sound meaning that a spider monkey is satisfied.  In the wild, spider monkeys use various calls, each with a specific function, such as to warn the group about predators, to lead the group to a feeding place, to avoid confrontation or to greet each other.
Then there is also silent communication that humans may or may not notice.  For instance, I witnessed an altercation between Luna and Maya.  Both started biting each other and tumbling on the ground.  Soon, Nena, Teva and Ischelle got in the mix.  Luna swiftly stepped away while Maya and Ischelle were still in a ball.  They were about to roll on the ground and continue the fight, but one look at each other and the fight stopped.  Their faces seemed to indicate "Wait a minute, you're not Luna.  I have no reason to fight with you.  We're friends!"  Peace was restored in a few seconds.  How amazing!
According to Dr Alexandro Estrada, senior research scientist at Los Tuxtlas: "Howler and spider monkeys of southern Mexico have not escaped the impact of human activity upon their habitats. It is estimated that the original distribution of tropical rainforests in southern Mexico has been reduced to about 30%. This has resulted in the local extinction of populations of howler and spider monkeys in many parts of southern Mexico."  (An Interview with Dr Alexandro Estrada, Mongabay News).
Deforestation is one cause for the disappearance of spider monkeys, illegal poaching is another one.  Mothers are killed and babies captured for the illegal pet trade.  Most of the monkeys at "The Jungle Place" are orphans, victims of the illegal pet trade. 

(Picture: The babies - Nicki sitting next to Bali's whose leg we can see).

(Picture: Rebecca was a mistreated pet, starving to death when she was rescued and brought to The Jungle Place).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


School teachers!  Help us raise awareness on the plight of the great apes & monkey species endangered due to poaching, deforestation & illegal pet trade.

Contest open to: children 5 to 10 years of age
Dates: September 1 through September 30

1st Prize: Framed Bee picture
2nd Prize: Plush monkey
3rd Prize: Book

Rules:  Drawings must be 8.5 x 11 in size and represent a monkey or great ape.
Indicate child’s first name, age at bottom of drawing.
Indicate name and address of school also at bottom of drawing.

The best 10 submitted drawings will be featured on the SCOOPONPRIMATES blog.
Prizes will be awarded on October 15 and sent to the school teacher.

Email your drawing to:

September 1 is International Primate Day

As I did last year, I want to celebrate International Primate Day, this September 1 and invite you to do the same.

Primates come in a lot of shapes and forms.  They live in many diverse countries and form societies with very specific rules.

When I mention to people that I spend my weekends caring for primates, I usually get two reactions: a smile or a grimace; yet everyone does ask questions and seems genuinely intrigued.  
I find it fascinating that most humans seem to be divided into those who respect primates and those who dislike them.  Seeing ourselves in primates can be a source of awe and wonder or a nasty reminder that we may not be as special as we would like to be.

International Primate Day is about awareness on the sad plight of a lot of primates in the world.
According to the IUCN report (2008-2010), there are 25 primate species currently on the brink of extinction - these include lemurs, gibbons, gorillas, bonobos, guenons and of course orangutans.

The major causes of primates disappearance are of human origin: deforestation, poaching and illegal lab animals and pet trade.

It is our duty to at least attempt to put a stop to it.
As advocates, we can educate children about these beautiful, intelligent, highly social animals.
In our daily life, we can strive to live greener and as Citizens of the World, we can influence companies to trade fairly, respect the environment and people in which they operate and we can influence legislators and governments around the world to take positive actions toward primate protection.

For my part, I would like to spread the word about primates and have children learn about them.
This is why, I am calling all school teachers to encourage their pupils to participate in a drawing contest.
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