This week saw the next stage in our Spider Monkey Release Project: we moved our group of six Spider Monkeys (Ateles Chamek) to their new pre-release enclosure.
Along this stretch of the Madre De Dios River, there has been what is classified as a local extinction of Spider Monkeys. Twenty or thirty years ago, they were present here, but hunting and farming activities have pushed the species further and further back into the rainforest. The aim of our project is the repopulate the region with, initially small, groups of monkeys in order to build up a larger more stable group and population again.
This enclosure is located on the other side of the reserve, on Eugenio trail, away from the lodge and so much human contact. As the monkeys become accustomed to this area, we plan to make observations in order to collect data on their behaviour and social interactions. Initially, this will take place while they are in the new, bigger cage and then, as we begin to release them, we will continue to monitor them as closely as possible as they encounter and explore the world around them, spending nights camping near the enclosure and following them as they go further afield. For the moment, we still need to walk the 45-minute distance twice a day to take food for the monkeys while they are in the cage and, when they are released, we will continue to supplement their diet as they adjust to finding their own food in the wild.
Moving day arrived, then. Our mammal biologist, Raúl Santa Cruz and Vet, Maria Aguirre Aysanoa, were up early to take some final blood samples and give some vaccinations to the Spider Monkeys and get them ready for the move. Different pairs of volunteers and staff members took 2 monkeys each, throughout the morning, to the pre-release cage. They were carried in net bags tied to a long pole, supported on our shoulders, covered with a blanket if they seemed a little distressed. With big black eyes looking up at us, wondering what was going on, we set off, carefully carrying the monkeys over the occasional fallen tree trunk and branches. The monkeys handled the situation well, with little distress, but they definitely seemed relieved to arrive at their new cage, as they scampered off up into the branches and ropes above our heads.
All monkeys now safely in their new home, we can now begin the exciting process of liberation.