Collaring spider monkeys before release
There was always the question as to how the five spider monkeys would react when the door to freedom was opened - would they run out and disappear in separate directions into the surrounding tropical forest, or would they stay as a group near the enclosure and start exploring their surroundings? The release process in many countries is to carry the spider monkeys in kennels to the release site, then open the kennel doors, often with the monkeys shooting off in different directions, becoming lost and fragmenting the group. Our pre-release process was designed to address this issue, with three months in the release enclosure at the release site, to ensure the Wildtracks monkeys were accustomed to the sites and sounds of the forest they were being released into, to give them a better chance of success.
As we watched, they cautiously emerged from the open trap door, and started exploring the nearest trees, returning to the enclosure for fruit and water, and generally staying together. Charlie, Penny and Mattie enjoyed the fruit of the nearby negrito trees, while Duma and Mel stayed closer to the enclosure, with Duma reluctant to leave the safety of the enclosure roof. Mel started to explore further, returning to the enclosure and Duma at times. The others increased the range of their exploration - on the third day, Penny was tracked down to the middle of a swamp area more than 600m away, high up in an emergent tree, eating flowers buds, before returning to the release site and the rest of the group later that day.
Not all spider monkeys are ready for the wild. After six days, it was obvious that Duma was not adapting well...she was tracked to a kilometer from the release enclosure, and found on her own...and on the ground. She was encouraged to follow the trackers back to the enclosure, was kenneled, and brought back to Wildtracks. The others, however, pay less and less attention to the trackers, more intent on exploring their environment.
The tracking team are now focused on the remaining four monkeys - on checking how Charlie, Penny, Mattie and Mel are doing, and where they have been roaming since their release. With many thousands of acres of forest, keeping up with them is proving challenging, but post release tracking still continues. The team range through the forest using the receiver to pick up pings from the transmitters, indicating their location. At times there are no signs, then a signal will be picked up, showing the trackers that they are on the right trail. However, the spider monkeys are not making it easy, as they are can travel silently through the canopy and are now moving away from people - excellent behaviour, but also making it harder to pick up their signals.
We are now four months into the post release monitoring. We have passed the $8,000 mark in our appeal, and would like to express our gratitude to all those amazing supporters who have been with us on this project - particularly our recurring donors. You have been instrumental in ensuring that we have the support, backup and operational funding for maintaining our tracking team in the field. Since the release, the team has encountered not only the spider monkeys, but also come face to face with a jaguar, avoided a large herd of white-lipped peccary (the Belize equivalent of wild pigs), watched an ornate hawk eagle soar over the canopy and listened to the howls of well established groups of reintroduced Yucatan howler monkeys, announcing their locations to stake their territories.
As we continue the post-release monitoring, we are entering a somewhat delayed wet season, which will bring changes to the forest and potentially to the areas the spider monkeys use. Thank you for joining us on this adventure!
Wild and free
Wild and free - foraging for fruit