In My View
During January’s visit to Primarily Primates, the 78-acre sanctuary located in the beautiful Texas Hill Country outside San Antonio, I heard it was time to bond with fourteen of the refuge’s spider monkeys. (Word was out: I’d been spending an inordinate amount of time with the lemurs.)
So I got on friendlier terms with an 18-year-old spider monkey named Ian, who arrived as an infant from a Louisiana zoo after suffering a bite. With a shorter-than-normal tail, Ian was deemed unfit for display.
Red-haired Rosie, now aged 27, arrived as a cast-off pet in 1996, and nine-year-old WC appeared in 2002 with seven other spider monkeys from a dwelling in Jacksonville, Florida.
Recently, the sanctuary lost Jumper, a gentle, blue-eyed spider monkey in her late thirties who had always captured lots of my attention. I brought her treats each day to keep her weight higher and because she loved them. Jumper died of old age; with her passing, new social groups (and living areas to support them) are being designed. Jumper’s closest friend, Suzy-Q, has been successfully introduced to the active, wiry Zachary, another black-handed spider monkey. Released from a research lab years ago, Zachary had resisted social groups with male monkeys.
The sanctuary’s workers have been building large bedrooms and an expanded (40 cubic feet) living area. WC’s group of seven spider monkeys -- in varying shades of ginger, golden brown, dark brown and black -- will then have an arboreal habitat, featuring a Southern live oak with cascading branches that provide a canopy of speckled light. With one-armed strides, using their 35-inch muscular tails as extra hands, they like swinging, climbing, and suspending themselves.
Michael, who oversees the monkeys’ care, says WC’s group, which includes Rosie, Ian, and four others, will thrive in their wooded habitat, and might well be too happy with the high oak to come down. So the move is planned for the springtime, when San Antonio’s evening temperatures warm. The monkeys will be encouraged to come down for nuts, fruit and other food.
My bonding episodes included offering buckets of apples and sweet potato slices within reach of the spider monkeys’ long, spindly limbs. Excitedly they searched the bucket with their four-fingered hands to pick their fruits. Enthusiasm spiked when I reappeared with a red bucket full of peanuts. This time, Mike advised me to toss peanuts overhead rather than hold a bucket for selections. This I did, and one spider monkey remained on a high perched, declining to join the peanut-eating festival. Curious, I moved closer.
I felt a jolt to the peanut bucket, which tipped, spilling a third of its contents on the ground. I jumped back, looking down at the scattered peanuts, and my prescription sunglasses fell. Instantly, WC possessed the glasses that once were mine. WC’s glee over seizing the sunglasses would obviously exceed my despair over their destruction. WC rubbed the prize up and down his chest before dismantling the frame and chewing on the shatter-proof lenses. I had to walk away so Mike could persuade WC to part with the mangled glasses.
In the rainforests of Central and South America, spider monkeys live about 27 years. Their habitat is shrinking due to the conversion of forests into plantations and the cattle-grazing. On top of it all, hunters stalk the monkeys.
Without private sanctuaries to offer safe spaces for apes, monkeys, lemurs, birds and others formerly caught up in trading, kept as pets or for zoo exhibits or for show business, or used in experiments, animals remain trapped for life. Until our society insists on genuine respect for primates and other animals, refuges need to exist, and to be supported.
One chimpanzee at Primarily Primates is 31-year-old Wanda, who in the mid-eighties was confiscated from a brothel in Philadelphia. After she punched through a wall with unsuspecting humans on the other side, the police were called. But they didn’t save Wanda. The young ape was delivered to a research lab. Not for another ten years would Wanda and eleven other chimpanzees get to the sanctuary. This group includes several older ones who are still alive: Raisin, Oliver, Carmen, Buffy, April, Abendago and Beauregard.
Before I flew back home the Texas, we received the following e-mail. It’s copied exactly as it was received.
I have 2 monkeys that need a permanent home at a sanctuary.
I have a female rhesus (Lucy) that is almost 5. She is very aggressive.
She would do well with a large dominant male. She has injured other
females and a male that was smaller than her.
I also have a 20 year old male rhesus (Jeremy) that is neutered.
He is very docile. He lived with a female for 3 years (before I got him).
The female got out and was killed by a dog. They both live in 15 x 30
cages. They just need a permanent home, and I do not want the female
to go to a breeder.
Please let me know if you can help. Thank you.