Mexican primate project-update 4: ENRICHMENT

Having begun my journey into the world of primates in the Mexican rainforests and having been lucky enough to participate in field work with many established primatologists, I am finally realizing my place is with those extracted from the wild and destined to live a life in captivity. After a troublesome summer of 2013 fighting off infections and struggling with a rheumatic condition whilst assisting field primatologists in tough terrain, I think I can give more to monkeys in places like Ecoparque el Fenix, and although I love field work I am finding this project  extremely rewarding.

Although the project has taken a different direction after finding we needed a staggering £6, 000 to reconstruct the derelict enclosure, I think progress here has flourished.

The English team are doing well, and it brings me much joy to be living and working alongside such dedicated people. Robyn is now confident with data collection and monkey identification; we sit together in the evenings discussing the behavioural progress of each individual monkey within the enrichment program and enjoy sharing stories of our daily observations. Dave has managed to win the hearts of everyone here (minus Pequitas the dominant male monkey, but boys will be boys), and after enduring staggering heat and apocalyptic monsoons to construct enrichments, shelters, and enclosures for the monkeys here, he has been rewarded by the naming of a new baby boy ‘Dave’….probably the only monkey named Dave in South America!

The Mexican team are also doing brilliantly, all assisting in every aspect of the project at each phase. It has been a really rewarding experience teaching the keepers about enrichments, social structures, fission-fusion dynamics, and captive management, and even more exciting watching them plan and implement networks of ropes for our large enclosure. No longer will there be bored monkeys sitting on the floor twiddling their thumbs (if they had any).

As for the monkeys, well I hope the following photos will do justice as to the success of the project so far, and I expect my data will do just the same (fingers and tails crossed!) In addition to the drudgery of checking in with the online world (I haven’t missed the junk mail and bills!), I was wonderfully  overwhelmed today to find our online donations are still rising whilst we are busy working here on a limited budget. I hope you can see what your kindness is achieving from these photos, I know I say this a lot but we couldn’t do any of these things without your support, so thank you!




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If you would like to contribute to our work, then please feel free to visit my crowdfunding page and the ecoparque el fenix website!



Mexican primate project-update 3

Hola amigos!

A short and sweet post from me and the team tonight, as we are bracing ourselves for another night of heavy rain.

The past two weeks have flown by! We had a few technical issues with our camp due to the hurricane in the pacific, which spread a lot of water our way, playing havoc with our scheduled (no painting or building from lack of dry wood, flooding meant we had no trip to the zoo to talk with directors about capturing our lone male for translocation into another new enclosure, no material deliveries, and no dry pants or other amenities). But all was not lost…we did what we could and then cracked on like troopers once the weather cheered up a bit (to almost 40 degrees!) Here is a quick list of our progresses so far:

Panzaburro was successfully rehomed in his new enclosure and is now loving life! Below is a picture taken before, and after…we hope the new facility speaks volumes as to the improvements made to his welfare. Panzaburro also now enjoys more company with limited tactile contact to conspecifics and other age mates-which we hope will lead to a full integration in the future.

I presented an educational talk to the sanctuary director and zoo keepers about the results of my previous study (conducted in 2013) and the importance of species-specific locomotion and socialization. This was a lovely opportunity for us to discuss future ideas including new plans for larger social enclosures, a social integration program, and even a baby nursery for new orphaned babies derived directly from the illegal wildlife trade. I presented the current results of  my socialization study which really emphasized the cognitive significance of fission-fusion socialization and the importance of social facilitation within captivity. Each one of our resident monkeys were represented and discussed at length in order to ensure that all management decisions are appropriate at individual level, taking into consideration their specific life histories and personalities.

Following the presentation we began introducing our newest arrival (Moni) to Ciriaca, an adult female with a longing for a baby. Ciriaca stole my heart last year, as she is a well-rounded monkey with exceptional social skills despite her past history within the pet trade. As a free ranging primate at Fenix, Ciriaca is friends with everyone, and if you can’t find her with the usual suspects, then you can be sure to find her clinging to the side of our large social enclosure trying to play and groom the infants through the wire. Unfortunately a previous unexpected pregnancy was unsuccessful and Ciriaca carried her deceased baby for two days before accepting its death. Ciriacas reaction to Moni was very moving, at first seeming unsure as to why the monkey was not accompanied by its mother, then taking it by the hand and not letting go for several minutes. I believe Ciriaca will make an excellent surrogate mother for new orphans, a possibility we are looking into for the future.

After six days of rain, the sunshine brought in new materials and new lease of life for our monkeys Nino, Naomi, Gorda, and Matha, who were all issued with a plethorer of enrichment activities -ropes, ladders, swings, elevated platforms, and shelters. We are now attempting to raise even more funds to create a social enclosure for them so they can learn to live closely with other monkeys of similar backgrounds within the pet trade.


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Oh and we got locked in my  observation area (aka “Jess’ cage”)whilst  I trained Robyn how to collect observational data….by a monkey climbing on the outside! Well its only fair I guess.



Mexican primate project-update 2

As much as I have been enjoying connecting with other primatologists and like-minded folk through my blog, website, and twitter, I have to say the immersion back into the wild has been so pleasing that I have put off the trip to the city to stay instead with the animals, which has meant a significant lack of updates on my behalf and for that I am sorry.

That being said, I have many good news to report about the progress being made here at Fenix. In the short of it-we have started something big!

Never before has there been any fundraising efforts to create the much needed financial support to aid the monkeys in their rehabilitation from their pet-trade pasts. With new arrivals appearing every year, we desperately needed better enclosures, an enrichment program, a social integration program, and the involvement of the community to educate the public as to why these monkeys are wild animals and not suited to a life as a pet.

Although I was upset to learn that the enclosure we had set out to repair would cost a whopping £6000 (!!) we have instead put all your kind donations to good use in a way which will (and already has) improved the welfare of ALL our monkeys. In order to keep this simple and instead of showing you our organised chaos, this is a list of all we are achieving-none of which could have been done without the support of our friends back home and here in Cuidad del Carmen.

1) Some of our friends will remember Panzaburro, a lone male unable as yet to be socially integrated into the population. Housed in a small barren enclosure for 11 years, we have successfully built him a new, larger, more complex enclosure with visual and olfactory contact to the females and limited tactile contact with another singularly caged male. I am very saddened that at this point full social integration is not an option between our males, due to past incidences of intense aggression and resultant injury. Panzaburros new enclosure is equipped with an elevated shelter, many platforms of varying sizes, textures and elevations, ropes for climbing and swinging, and a keepers double-door entrance to prevent disease transmission and uncontrolled breeding with neighbouring females. Panzaburro is awaiting his move whilst we finish the final touches…but we have had a full seal of approval from all our free ranging monkeys which have spent every day since its installation resting on the platforms and playing together in the network of ropes!

2) After enclosure A fell into disrepair, a resident male (named Pequitas) escaped and was free to roam with the other free-ranging females. This had unfortunately caused several unplanned births, as Pequitas was able to mate with several females through the wire mesh of their enclosure. This not only causes an uncontrolled population, but also a significant risk of inbreeding. Unable to rehome Pequitas elsewhere (surplus males are a problem for zoos, as are all genetically unknown primates from the illegal wildlife trades) we have begun constructing Pequitas his own enclosure equipped with multiple platforms, substrates, shelters and enrichments. He will be housed next to Panzaburro, enabling a slow social integration between the two and we hope that in the not so distant future we may be able to permit them full access to each other.


3) We are very pleased to say that your support has enabled us to build a shelter for every single monkey at Fenix, which have been a huge success! Nino spent the first two days after recieving his new shelter pushing the walls and inspecting it thoroughly, before sitting contentedly eating his dinner inside. Nino now enjoys a stable, safe, and dry place to hide when the monsoon rains hit, and when he finds things a little stressful.

4) Enrichment for everyone!! After my study last year revealed a deficit in species-typical locomotion it is my aim to increase normal spider monkey locomotion…more climbing, clambering and arboreal locomotion! With your help we are providing every monkey with an extensive playground! Every monkey will have access to a plethora of ropes, rope ladders, enrichment platforms, swinging tires, novelty toys, feeding stations, climbing walls and more! If the reaction of our monkeys to Panzaurros new playgound is anything to go by, we should be seeing a lot of very happy monkeys!

5) This is where it gets big-our project here has attracted a little bit (a lot!) of attention. Myself and Dave have been in the newspaper and local newsletter along with the director Lou, with information about our work with the monkeys, and we have even held a concert in support of our work! The incredible singer Maria Moctezuma played a beautiful concert all in aid of buying more materials for our project. In a single day we sold 100 tickets, raising $10,000 (pazos) with more on top made from the sale of t-shirts which we had printed specifically for the concert. I was extremely happy to see so many people buying a t-shirt and sporting the logo which I created. The money raised on the night alone has equipped us with enough wire mesh to finish Panzaburro and Pequitas’ enclosures, and we have been inundated with support including another fundraising event in the pipeline!

6) Sustainability- this is the most important aspect of what we have started here at Fenix: Not only have the zoo keepers been busy helping Dave in the construction of our new enclosures and enrichment structures, they have been learning the vital skills needed to maintain our work here. It is my full intention to fade into the background, by providing the zoo keepers with the ability to take action themselves-with knowledge of what the monkeys need, and how to achieve it.

One final word from me for now is that all our materials have been sourced locally in order to aid with the local economy and spread the message of our project both for Fenix and primate conservation as a whole. Our enclosures have been constructed from fallen trees (also helping with land management), the wood for our enrichments are largely collected from skips (the hippy in me was having a field day!) and every bought piece of wood has been recycled, and who knew pallets could look so beautiful!…many of which we were amused to find originated from England!

I leave you now with a collection of photographs of the project so far, and I will upload soon a video of our test pilot Carmen giving Panzaburros enrichment a once over (for good measure of course).

Adios amigos and muchos gracias!

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