Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

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Preparing for release - Molly talks about the pre-release monkeys


Hi, my name is Molly! Here at Wildtracks, I work with the Pre-Release 2 howler monkey troop, a group of howler monkeys that are preparing for release this summer. I thought that I would give you a bit of a look at the process that the monkeys here at Wildtracks go through, from confiscation to release.

One of the main goals of the Primate Rehabilitation Centre here at Wildtracks is to end the illegal wildlife trade in primates. We are lucky enough to be working with the Belize Forest Department who are driven towards the same goal. We work together providing rehabilitation and eventual release into the wild for confiscated illegal primate pets. As many of the animals that come to us have been kept in households for most of their life, with no previous primate interaction, they need to learn many of the skills necessary for survival in the wild. Not only do howler monkeys need these essential skills for a successful reintroduction, they need confidence as well. That is why the rehabilitation and release program at Wildtracks is set up in manageable steps. For the howler monkeys at Wildtracks, the last step taken before release is spending several months in the trees of a pre-release enclosure where they can practice and hone their skills.

After a monkey has come in and cleared the 30 day health quarantine, depending upon its age and temperament, it will begin integration with another monkey or group of monkeys thought to be a suitable match. This process continues until a troop has been formed. When a troop is deemed ready, they are moved to a pre-release area. We currently have two pre-release areas on the property, both areas are approximately 0.7 acres of jungle surrounded by a fence with an electric hot-wire. To make sure that they cannot jump from the trees in the pre-release out into the surrounding area, there is a ten foot perimeter cleared of trees and brush around the fence. When the troop is first moved into pre-release they are kept in a large enclosure, similar to the ones they formed their troop and had previously resided in. Once they become comfortable with their new surroundings they begin electric fence training. They are taught with a practice wire that is set at a very low voltage and has brightly coloured ribbons tied along it. The monkeys quickly learn to associate the brightly coloured ribbons with the small electric shock. Once we are sure they will not be going near the hot-wire, they are let out into the pre-release area.

For the first few weeks they are monitored closely to make sure that they are learning how to move safely through the trees. Some of the monkeys here at Wildtracks have never had the chance to climb trees before they were confiscate. The pre-release area gives them an opportunity to practice how to move around them, learning which ones will hold their weight and which ones will not. For howler monkeys it is also very important for them to learn which trees are edible and which are not, as 80% of their diet in the wild consists of "browse"; leaves, bark, and other bits of the trees. The troop will spend several months in the pre-release enclosure together before release into Fireburn, a protected conservation area, usually during the month of June. As this is the last step before being moved to Fireburn, the carers that work with the pre-release troop have limited contact with the monkeys that live there. Our goal is to have the monkeys rely on each other and not on us, discouraging them from approaching human populations.

Working in pre-release is one of the most rewarding opportunities at Wildtracks. Being able to watch the howler monkeys learn and improve together in a large forest environment is a wonderful sight. Without these pre-release enclosures, many of the howler monkeys that are admitted into Wildtracks would have a difficult time becoming independent from human care and completing their transition back into the wild.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-04-05 08:43:46   [Link to this article]

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