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!