Zoo Boise in Boise, Idaho, has partnered with El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to set up the country’s first spider monkey sanctuary. El Salvador’s National Program for Spider Monkey Conservation sought after and invited Zoo Boise to teach training methods on how to properly and ethically care for monkeys rescued from the illegal pet trade.
Three Zoo staff members, Zoo Director Gene Peacock, Interpretation Coordinator Austin Reich, and Animal Training Coordinator Nicole Villeneuve, traveled to El Salvador in 2022 to lead hands-on workshops centered around spider monkey health, housing, social structure, and enrichment
“Conservation is a key part of our mission at Zoo Boise,” said Peacock. “Being able to work with the team in El Salvador to rescue spider monkeys helps us further our conservation goals by making an impact in the country. The cooperation and learning opportunities exchanged between our Zoo staff and staff in El Salvador shows how we can all make a difference.”
Prior to Zoo Boise’s visit, El Salvadoran government officials were often left with traumatized monkeys and no way to rehabilitate them. Many were illegally taken for pets as babies.
One male spider monkey the Zoo Boise team met would not allow anybody near him without physical restraints. The monkey, named Pancho, was rescued with a rope tied around his neck, and local zookeepers didn’t believe anyone could get close enough to remove the rope. That is until Villeneuve presented a new positive reinforcement training technique that succeeded overnight. The animal no longer screamed or shook the fence when approached. Seeing this immediate impact was all the proof the El Salvadoran animal care staff needed to buy into Zoo Boise’s expertise for establishing trust with traumatized animals.
Zoo Boise is home to two black-handed spider monkeys, Elvis and Sarah. Under human care, spider monkeys usually live to be 20 to 40 years old, and Elvis turned 60 this past year. Elvis may be the oldest spider monkey in the world.
Photos Credits: © Zoo Boise
Edited by Sarah Gilsoul, a writer and communications program assistant at AZA.
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