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Integrating Beth and Ty.. Spencer's inside view of the work behind creating successful release troops


I recently spent an unforgettable two months at Wildtracks working with a variety of animals, and one of my most enjoyable and rewarding jobs was supervising the integration of Beth & Ty, two of our young howler monkeys with quite contrasting personalities.

Like many young howlers at Wildtracks, Beth was an illegal pet, and had been kept on display as entertainment in a bar, cruelly chained around her waist uncomfortably to the point that it rubbed a painful sore all the way around her small and fluffy body. She was confiscated by the Belize Forest Department and brought to Wildtracks. For the first several months after Beth came to Wildtracks, the result of her past mistreatment and confinement at the hands of humans was an overall solemn demeanor and great apprehension toward her new human caretakers. She'd nearly always remain withdrawn to the shaded corner of her enclosure, only moving around when food was brought to her. Ty is a bit younger than Beth, also rescued as an illegal pet earlier in his life, and is currently in his "teenage" stage of growth. This is a time in a monkey's life that is greatly dedicated to playing and roughhousing as a means of strengthening social bonds and expending lots of energy. Being younger when he arrived, and growing with other monkeys in the Wildtracks Nursery Unit, Ty was quite accustomed to both other monkeys and his human carers as playmates, and had a personality that was overall very confident, rambunctious, and affectionate, all quite opposite to Beth's behavior. Beth had recently finished her initial quarantine period at Wildtracks, and Ty had also recently found himself on his own due to his bullying behavior with the other monkeys his age - so it made sense to try to integrate the two.

Beth and Ty's time together started off somewhat as expected. Ty was very fascinated by Beth and saw her as an immediate playmate, chasing and trying to tackle her, while Beth was quite wary of Ty, perhaps due to the fact that she had not encountered another of her own kind in a very long time, but also to the high energy that Ty approached her with at first. She would allow Ty to come near her, but as soon as he wanted to roughhouse she'd run off to the other side of the enclosure to end the activity. It was during this initial period of integration, unfortunately, that Ty suffered a cut to his leg and had to be moved temporarily into the Nursery Unit to heal. This put their integration on hiatus for a time, as we were left to reflect on its initial stages, feeling some concerns of whether Beth would ever warm up to Ty, or if she would express interest in other monkeys at all. Perhaps her abuse had been too great, and her social isolation too lengthy to bounce back from.

Once Ty was returned to his own enclosure after his stitches had healed, our fears were soon put to rest as their relationship progressed. Ty, who had been previously known for bullying and being a bit rough with other monkeys, showed incredible compassion and tenderness towards Beth, approaching her very calmly, simply sitting by her and gently grooming her as much as she would allow. After Beth had warmed up to this interaction a bit more, Ty began to try playing with her again and she would actually engage in this for a time. Soon after, Beth even began initiating play with Ty, chasing him around, wrestling with him, making monkey laughing sounds we'd never heard from her before, and being more active than ever. They would soon peacefully eat browse from the same branch, sunbathe on the same palm leaves, and if Beth felt the need to retreat to her usual corner, Ty would lay in her hammock beneath her as company (I think he also enjoyed the novelty of a new hammock).

From Ty, Beth seemed to learn anew how to be a monkey, as her previously repressed social instincts flourished with his gentle coaxing and patient companionship. Beth and Ty's successful integration greatly exemplifies numerous amazing characteristics of primates: their incredible resilience to suffering, ability to forgive, and the healing power of their friendships, which we can easily see across many species including our own. Primates are inherently social creatures that thrive on their interactions and sense of belonging in a social group with one another, and thanks to Ty, Beth's true personality and identity as a howler monkey were brought back to life. Together with the bond they share, they have a bright future ahead of them as part of a larger troop released back into the wild, and I will always cherish my experience in being a part of their new beginning.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-01-15 07:57:44   [Link to this article]

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