Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

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Following the Teens..John returns to catch up with his charges


When I first met the bunch of howler monkeys we're now affectionately calling 'the teens' they were just big enough to spill their limbs over my cupped hands. Peanut, Pebbles, and Polly were already getting along well, spending most of their hours curled up together in a hammock or having a bit of childish play. Sam was recovering from a bad case of pre-intake scabies which had left his coat a wreck and his spirits dampened (I've included his "before and after' photos as part of this blog). Looking considerably slimmer than he ought to, and with his newly restored coat only just coming in, he drew a comparison to a wet rat. Elliott was the biggest of the five, but carried his weight and size like a school yard giant who couldn't understand why none of the other kids wanted to play. He was an anxious sort, often crying and biting at his feet and tail, a sign of stress.

Taking in the sight of these five unique characters, I knew I was in for an adventure. In those first couple of months we were able to see Sam completely integrated with the 3 P 's (as we called them then), sharing a cage, hammock, and milk (though not as willingly!) Elliott was still playing a bit too strong for the smaller four, so his integration remained supervised and to help keep his spirits up, we began to take him out for one on one time with his carers, people willing to play with the tenacity he desired. This is where I left them when I returned to the USA: Peanut, always attaching himself to Pebbles and frequently throwing a tantrum when things didn't go his way, Pebbles alternating between a perch on your shoulder to exploring something new to climb, Polly looking for the reassurance of a hug, an independent Sam looking suave but going mad for milk, and an anxious Elliott looking on from his own cage. It was tough to leave but I was pleased with the progress we'd made and with what the future held for them. Only, as soon as I returned home I knew I had to get back and be a part of that next chapter. And so nine months later I returned to find the five baby howlers I had cared for had entered that next stage. Adolescence

At first came the shock of their size; how they'd grown! But soon it was their character that had me stunned in excitement. Polly was still good for a cuddle at milk time but it had developed into a clever manipulation for extra milk, while Peanut had become almost brazen in his desire for a good rough play with his monkey companions, no longer crying whenever someone caught him by surprise, but now darting back for a go of his own. The biggest surprise for me however, was Elliott. His confidence level was night and day from when I left. That sad, anxious monkey was growing into a strong alpha, now fully integrated with the others and enjoying play and feeds without issue. Sure, he'd slip into a fit now and then when a carer or one of his troop-mates told him no, but compared to the little guy I had left this was a vast improvement. When I returned to work with these monkeys this year I wasn't looking at five baby howler monkeys, I was looking at a troop.

And so it went for a couple months, adding vines and changing around the perches and greenery in their enclosure, helping them strengthen their climbing skills and social bonds alike while we began working on a new enclosure. Here at Wildtracks, when a troop is preparing for release, they enter an enclosure we call "pre-release," a large area of trees and natural foliage surrounded by an electric fence, used to help the troop explore an environment similar to the one they'll find upon release. The teens weren't quite ready for an enclosure as big as pre-release, yet they were quickly outgrowing their cage and were eager to take to the trees. In May we completed a small area we've taken to calling "pre-pre-release." Significantly smaller than pre-release, but with the same idea, this new enclosure would work as a stepping stone for all nursery howlers at Wildtracks on their way to release. Future nursery intakes will follow this same path, starting their rehabilitation in the nursery and forming a troop, before heading out to an outdoor cage and learning to get on without supervision. When the time is right and their group cohesion is strong, they'll enter pre-pre-release to strengthen their climbing skills and knowledge of trees and other foliage. Then it's off to pre-release to put the finishing touches on their skills, where they'll spend most all of their time in the trees, coming down only for food. All the while thorough this process we're weaning the monkeys off human contact so that upon release, they'll be off to enjoy happy monkey lives as any wild monkey should.

In the middle of these pre-release enclosures is a cage, where fruit and browse are set out as well as hammocks for sleeping. The teens well continue to come into their cage overnight to sleep as a troop, but as time goes on the lure of the trees may become too much to resist! In fact, it didn't take long at all before they were bolting out the cage and up the trees every morning! We started letting them out in groups of two or three for about an hour and a half, but they took to the trees so quickly that by the time the week was out, all five were enjoying the sunshine perched high atop the trees all day long!

It's been an incredible experience watching these little guys grow over the past 18 months and it's absolutely exhilarating to think about where they'll go from now. It's just a year now before they'll be released back into the wild, into a world they've never known, but one which has called to them since their arrival at Wildtracks. I have every faith in the world in these five. Their time at Wildtracks has built their bond and fostered the skills they'll need in the wild, but stories like these exist because of the generosity of supporters and volunteers alike, without whom organizations such as Wildtracks could never operate and the success of wildlife rehabilitation would be impossible. Thank you for doing your part.

(Thank you also to Matt for the recent photo of Sam in the trees in pre-release).


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-06-22 09:03:47   [Link to this article]

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