Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Enter the Spider Monkeys.....a Wildtracks milestone covered by Kate


Oh hi! I'm Kate, and I care for the "Forest Spiders" - five spider monkeys here at Wildtracks whose enclosures are in the forest area.

Duma was the first spider monkey to arrive at Wildtracks, surrendered by a Sarteneja family who'd kept her as a pet. She arrived confused and suffering from lice. She is now playful and outgoing, living in a near-constant state of jubilance. Mattie, shyer but brave and very clever, was rescued from a poorly run, and eventually closed, cruise ship wildlife attraction. Pancho, the ultimate ladies' man, came from a home in San Ignacio. Pippa is small and secretly affectionate; she was kept as a pet tied to a tree for eight years before coming to Wildtracks. Teresa spent eleven years with a chain around her neck, fed foods that made her grossly obese. Now she's healthy and sweet, smacking her lips and squeaking with happiness as she pulls imaginary (I hope) bugs from my hair. Mattie and Duma share one enclosure; Pancho, Pippa, and Teresa share another. This is the story of my, and probably Pancho, Pippa, and Teresa's, favorite day at Wildtracks thus far.

Wildtracks is home to fifteen spider monkeys (including the Forest Spiders). Their release process is far longer than that for the the howler monkeys, but the goal is similar - to release them back into the wild, with the skills they need to survive. In the meantime, we want to prepare them for their departure by making Wildtracks as similar to the wild as possible, whilst also keeping them safe, comfortable, and happy. They currently live in large multi-cage units more spacious than their pre-Wildtracks situations, but it's still not enough space for these extremely active monkeys to effectively develop a full set of brachiating skills and build their muscles. We need to get them into much larger enclosures. Enter: the Spider Monkey Complex! Thanks to generous donations from devoted Wildtracks supporters, the spider monkeys will be integrated into three groups of like-minded, similar-aged troop members and moved into brand new enclosures almost seven times the size of their current abodes! With three huge satellite enclosures and one dare-I-say-ginormous shared space in the middle, these monkeys will have enough space and freedom to play, explore, and even get away from it all when they need some alone time. The first to move? Pancho, Pippa, and Teresa!

Earlier this week, construction was completed on the first satellite enclosure. I have been watching its progress for the past few weeks, but the reality of the move didn't set in until we were hanging three monkey-sized hammocks from the highest perch in the enclosure, just a few feet from the ceiling. As I stood at the very top of the tallest ladder, an analogy fit for my New York City days came to mind: the old enclosure is to the new enclosure as a studio apartment is to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The next morning, we got the go-ahead to close Pancho, Pippa, and Teresa into the half of their cage that was farther from the new enclosure, so we could break down the closer half of the cage and use it to create a covered passage way, linking the old enclosure to the new one. With Pancho's history of unpredictable behavior, and the stress involved in catching them to transport them, this method of getting the three of them from old enclosure to new was considered the least traumatic for all involved. Throughout the course of the day, I watched the passage structure go up and began to feel a child's-Christmas-Eve-like excitement brewing in me. Three of my new charges, who I've come to care so much for, would be moved the next day! This momentous event had somehow snuck up on me! And just as I was beginning to doubt I'd be able to sleep that night, we were alerted that the move was to happen early - that very afternoon.

I rushed with the rest of the volunteers to clump in an eager huddle at the edge of the forest to watch the move from afar. We waited and waited. I'd heard that it was predicted that they would make the short journey through the passage way one by one, possibly very slowly. Spider monkeys don't have night vision, so it was also possible they'd plant themselves in the passage way if night fell, and spend the night there. I was nervous that this would happen and they'd be left alone in a strange limbo overnight; I felt the instinct to run up and crawl into the passage with them. Volunteers were making bets on which monkey would venture forth first. Suddenly, Teresa came into view and we gave a collective gasp; she was confident, steadily walking and exploring, and in no time made it into the enclosure!

Pancho and Pippa were more hesitant. We waited with bated breath to see who would cross next. As their carer, I was lucky enough to be personally involved from this point on, helping to coax Pancho and Pippa toward the new enclosure. I'll never forget the moment I first approached the passage way and called out to Pancho: he looked up, registered my presence and, with a glint of something like recognition or trust in his eyes, took several steps forward. Pancho was clearly nervous and much less sure of this whole "wired passage" situation than Teresa. He seemed torn between the comfort of his old home with his friend Pippa still waiting at the door, and the thrill of the unknown. He called back and forth, and searched our eyes for a clue as to what was going on. Finally, guided by our gentle assurances, he crept to the entrance of the new enclosure and stepped in. He climbed back and forth a few times more, and called out to Pippa to join him, before ultimately deciding to stick with the gigantic new enclosure.

Pippa had stationed herself comfortably in the open sliding door between their old cage and the passage way. We tempted her down into the opening of the passage with a peanut, and when she went for it, I quickly slid the door shut. Pippa looked back at the closed door and then, perhaps accepting that there was no going back into that old enclosure, turned and dashed all the way through the passage and into the new enclosure with her friends in one shot.

We stood in awe for a while, watching them explore branches and hammocks, climb, and swing. Pippa dashed up one of the sapote trees growing inside the enclosure; I could easily imagine what she'd be like free and wild. Eventually, it started to get dark and we begrudgingly left them on their own. They seemed suddenly less dependent on our presence than ever, and the little feeling of empty-nester sadness at this fact was far outweighed by the joy of seeing them one step closer to release.

The monkeys are thriving in their big new home, having been there over a week now. Teresa has been taking advantage of the space most - hopping between perches, scurrying up and around trees, sitting (but not yet swinging) on the log swing, testing each hammock for comfort, exploring everything. She makes delighted chirping noises far more often than she did in the old enclosure, and I've even caught her grooming Pippa. Pippa is curious about her new home but most importantly she is much more vocal. In the smaller enclosure, I'd heard her vocalize a bit, only when eating. Now she chirps consistently, seemingly just to express how happy she is! Pancho, whose actions have sometimes been unpredictable in stressful situations, has been inordinately relaxed. He has started to spend less time on the ground; hopefully this new enclosure will help him break the habit in preparation for a life high in the trees. I can tell he's happy though, because he has been completely relaxed while workers have started construction of the new enclosures nearby.

I'm not sure I'm able to accurately describe the joy I felt seeing these three monkeys who had become so special to me cross into their new home. I felt nervous for them too - thinking maybe they felt how I felt on my first night at Wildtracks: "Where did this place come from? Is this my new home? What the heck is going on?!" But after the shock of that initial arrival (much like after a volunteer's arrival here), I'm sure that Pancho, Pippa, and Teresa feel far more happy and at home than ever before, and that's the best result I could hope for.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-04-25 21:23:41   [Link to this article]

Check out the latest articles in the blog!