Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Guest Blog Post: Saving Spider Monkeys from the Mexican Primate Pet Trade.

Jess Hooper is a primatologist who is just finishing her MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England. Jess is working closely with a Mexican monkey sanctuary (Ecoparque el Fenix) to rehabilitate spider monkeys from the Mexican primate pet trade. Jetting off to Mexico soon Jess writes about the work she is about to embark on.
"I'm very excited to have been asked to give my first guest blog, and I thank Luke for this opportunity to share my current work with primate rehabilitation in Mexico." - Jess Hooper

Primate welfare
I wanted to write a little about the importance of primate welfare and rehabilitation for those monkeys and apes with low conservation value-i.e. those which have unknown genetic value, are psychologically compromised, unsuitable for breeding, and/or release. I strongly believe that it is our duty, as primatologists and as human beings, to provide the utmost of care to those whose fate we have been responsible for. It is the human-primates of this world that extract our primate cousins from the wild, pluck babies from their mother’s chests and sell them on within the various ill-controlled wildlife trades. The trade I wish to discuss in particular is the illegal primate pet trade within Southern America, namely Mexico.

The Mexican primate pet trade
Spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) are an arboreal primate, endemic to Mexico. Pet spider monkeys are illegally captured and transported to cities where they are sold in unsavoury market conditions to become a pet. It is national demand which stokes this market-untouched by the CITES convention which only influences international wildlife trade.

Like chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), spider monkeys naturally exploit a fission-fusion society, whereby daily social groups vary in size and composition. Thus socialisation is fundamental to their psychological well being. A lack of intra-species socialisation whilst living as human-pets can cause severe implications to their development resulting in abnormal (or 'stereotypic') behaviour.

Spider monkey rehabilitation
I work closely with spider monkeys rescued and donated from the illegal pet trade at a Mexican monkey sanctuary Ecoparque el Fenix. I work to reduce stereotypic behaviours in ex-pet monkeys as well as to improve species-typical behaviour. Some monkeys I work with are unable to climb, the majority walk bipedally upon the ground like humans, and many are fearful towards other monkeys which they have never encountered before.
Nino, the monkey who walks bipedally like a human

I have taken a focal approach to studying these monkeys, to look at each monkey as an individual: with individual needs, past experiences, fears, and emotions. In doing so, I can understand them on a personal level, and determine which approach to use for each monkeys rehabilitation. Not all methods are suitable for every monkey. Some monkeys are unable to be socially integrated because the stress induces self-harming behaviour, whereas others benefit greatly from monkey company and quickly learn to cuddle, play and even share resources. Enrichment offers exercise to both the body and mind, swinging platforms encourage climbing and leaping behaviour, and novel enrichments provide stimulation.

Creating an enriched enclosure

Is it worth it?
Rehabilitation takes time, and there is limited support for such projects where the monkeys may never be ready for reintroduction. I desperately urge people to see primate rehabilitation as a separate issue from conservation-one of moral significance, one of responsibility. Only once we tackle the issues of rehabilitation can we bridge the gap between the welfare of abused individuals and conservation by restoring their conservation worth. These monkeys are still ambassadors of the forest and represent an educational tool of emotive power.

Spider monkeys

Meet the monkeys Jess is working with: ecoparqueelfenix.org
Keep informed with updates through her blog: http://primateworld.wordpress.com/ 
The pictures are owned by the author and under their copyright. 
"The views and opinions expressed in a guest blog post are that of the author and are not in any way linked to any organisations the site may represent or work with unless otherwise stated. The owner of the site is not liable for any content accessed through links posted."

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