Brief From the Fireburn Jungle ReTurning Spider Monkeys to the wild - belize

The year has started - the year we are releasing our first spider monkey group. We have been preparing for this for a long time - securing the protection of the release site in Belize's North East Biological Corridor, building the capacity of the post-release tracking team, buying the infrastructure and equipment for the pre-release enclosure and release camp, and raising the funds for the logistical costs of keeping people in the field for the post release monitoring.

9th January, 2019

The Wildtracks Team headed down to Fireburn - complete with camping equipment, construction equipment and food for ten days - to construct the release enclosure for Charlie's spider monkey group. All equipment and supplies had to be carried to the lagoon edge with the help of the Sarteneja bus, then over the lagoon by boat with help from the Fireburn Community, and then through the forest for more than 7 km to the release site by tractor. With no roads into the area, and deep tractor ruts on the single track, moving the kit into the site was a challenge, with the tractor getting stuck several times on the way...when night fell, the Team were still working hard to arrive at the site. The release enclosure will hold the spider monkeys for the next ten weeks, to ensure they know the immediate release area and are used to being fed here. Then the door will be opened and the post-release tracking will start...

All the camping equipment and release enclosure framework and wire was loaded into the Sarteneja bus

At Cowpen, the kit was then loaded into the boat, with the help of the Fireburn Community, and carried across the lagoon...

It then had to be carried into the forest for more than 7km by tractor...

...a journey that continued into the night, with the tractor getting stuck in deep ruts on the track

The camp is set up...the Tracking Team are going to be here in rotation for up to a year to ensure the spider monkey release is a success.

...they have set up their kitchen and dining area.... cooking by solar lanterns and candlelight...

Fried jacks and plantains, as always, are on the menu!

The enclosure framework came together fast...

...followed by the wire

The release enclosure takes shape in the two week run-up to the spider monkey transfer

All members of the Team worked hard to ensure the enclosure was ready for the spider monkeys

...erecting the internal enclosure post-and-pole climbing frame and shelf for the monkeys

Last but not least, the final boards are put in place to prevent any wildlife from digging in

17th January, 2019

Whilst the enclosure was being constructed at the release site, at Wildtracks, we were preparing for the final health checks to ensure that the spider monkeys are ready for release. Wildtracks has been very fortunate to have the support of Twycross Zoo, in the UK, for the upcoming release of the first group - Charlie, Duma, Penny, Mattie and Mel.

This includes the assistance of two primate specialists - the Twycross head vet, Mátyás Liptovszky and primate specialist carer Lainy Miller. They arrived on the 16th January, and spent the 17th conducting the health assessments on the five spider monkeys being released.

We have also been very fortunate to have the support of in-country vets - Isabelle Paquet-Durand of the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic in the darting of the spider monkeys for the health checks, and Jane Crawford and Philip De Shield of Belize's Animal Medical Centre assisting with the assessments and blood tests. - it was great to be working with such fantastic, dedicated people!

The health check is a critical part of the reintroduction process, ensuring not only that the animals are healthy enough to face the stress of release, but also to ensure that they won't be introducing disease into the release site.

Isabelle Paquet-Durand, from the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, darted each monkey in preparation for the health checks.

Once under anaesthetic, each spider monkey was carried to the temporary vet clinic...and weighed

...the bag used to weigh them is symbolic of the contribution of this effort to achieving the outputs of Target C3 of Belize's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan - Belize shall let no species become functionally extinct.

This group of spider monkeys - Charlie the flirt, Duma, Mel with her 'smoosh' face, Mattie and Penny - are critically endangered, with increasing threats of forest clearance and from the illegal wildlife trade throughout their range.

This project also contributes towards Belize's efforts to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal 15 - Life on Land (15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species).

The temporary vet clinic as health checks get underway...

Each monkey is fitted with a microchip above their shoulders for identification...

Dr. Philip de Shield and Dr. Jane Crawford, from the Animal Medical Centre in Belize City, also assisted - it was a great opportunity to be able to host them during the health checks, and will provide continuity once the spider monkey release is under way

After each health check was completed, the spider monkeys were monitored as they came round from the anaesthetic. Each sits in an individual kennel with cable ties keeping the doors closed - spider monkeys are the ultimate escape artists!

The monkeys all had external examinations and a series of blood tests / TB tests to ensure that they are 100% healthy, fit and ready for their next great adventure. They were also fitted with pit tags for identification. The final blood tests were completed and the results...all monkeys are cleared for release! They are good to take the next step - the transfer to Fireburn.

Like the equipment and enclosure infrastructure, the monkeys also need to be carried across the lagoon to the release site

Arriving in the Fireburn Village, the monkeys are a source of curiosity for the Fireburn children - their parents have been the stewards of our reintroduced howler monkeys for the last seven years...now they have welcomed the spider monkeys...and their children will become the stewards of Fireburn in the years to come

Then the long trip through the forest to the release site - there are a lot of ups to having a release site in one of the more remote corners of Belize, deep in the tropical forest, and far from roads and people...but also some downs - access being one of them!

The next morning, the sun breaks through the clouds….and there they are – five spider monkeys jostling for space in the early morning sunbeams in the pre-release enclosure in the heart of the North East Biological Corridor. Charlie, Duma, Mattie, Mel and Penny have been amazingly calm during the whole health checks and transfer process, taking it in their stride. Now they are starting their next phase – 10 weeks in the release enclosure to ensure they are familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of their future home, before the doors are opened and the post-release tracking begins…

Charlie, Duma, Mattie, Mel and Penny welcoming the early morning sun

For Wildtracks, rehabilitation isn’t just about improving the health of an animal towards release…it is about ensuring that the release is successful – that the animals have the skills that they need to survive in the wild, thrive and contribute towards strengthening species populations in Belize, restoring key seed dispersers to improve forest resilience to climate change – and bringing natural balance back to an area from which they have disappeared.

A huge thank you to the fantastic Wildtracks Team for all their hard work in preparing for this transfer, to the Fireburn community for their assistance, and to Lainy Miller, Mátyás Liptovszky and Twycross Zoo for their support of the health assessments ... to Alysha McGrattan, our Primate Rehab Manager, and all those other members of the Wildtracks Team who have been involved in the rehabilitative care of these spider monkey characters over the years.

A huge shout out to the Wildtracks Team out there at the release site - you guys are seriously awesome!!

And we cannot forget our Wildtracks supporters - those who have donated to the Spider Monkey Release Appeal either through Paypal, Wildtracks USA or Global Giving - we wouldn't be so close to their release without you!

A very special thank you also to Wildtracks USA, Wild and Free, and Warren House Inn for your support for this phase of the release.

Created By
Zoe Walker


Eran Gissis, Lainy Miller, Mátyás Liptovszky, Vasco Jacke

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