As you walk through the rainforest, carefully stepping over roots and dodging hanging liana vines, you hear a rustle off to the side of the path. Something is jumping through the trees, something small and nimble. As the rustling continues, you hear a warbling twitter that sounds like it belongs to a bird. It is answered by other twitters in the trees surrounding you, and as you peer closer to find the animal that is responsible, a pair of close-set, dark eyes stare back at you from a white face. They disappear in a flash of gold, and suddenly you spot a small monkey perched on a branch curiously peering down at you. These monkeys are grey-crowned squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus), known locally as the monotiti or just titi. They are an endangered subspecies of the widespread central american squirrel monkey, and are only found in the region around Manuel Antonio National Park. Squirrel monkeys are the smallest of the four primate species native to Costa Rica, and can be found in large troops in primary forest, secondary forest or palm plantations
At Kids Saving the Rainforest, the intelligence and dexterity of these monkeys is on full display, as there is a wild troop living around the sanctuary that has become habituated to humans. They have learned that people carry around big buckets of food for the animals twice a day, and won't hesitate to quickly swipe a piece of fruit when the keepers are distracted. In fact, they even attempt to get into the cages to steal the fruit! I have witnessed a panicked monkey frantically running around the parrot cage after the hole he used to sneak in turned out to be a one-way door! In fact, the combination locks used on all of the cages in the sanctuary are there partly to keep nimble monkey hands from opening the doors up in quest of a snack
There is currently one squirrel monkey, Chicky, in the rehabilitation process. I've mentioned him in previous blog posts, as he has been in the care of KSTR for a while after being admitted for injuries from electrocution. Although he was at first unable to properly sit up and feed himself, he has recovered well so far, and we are currently working with him, doing physical therapy treatments to help him regain all of his mobility. His right arm is stiff and he avoids using it when climbing or feeding, but he needs to regain back it's full use if he is to be released. The jungle is not a kind place for a little monkey, as there are many predators of this species including ocelots, snakes, birds, and other monkeys. His recovery is continuing slowly, and if he gets to the point where he is releasable it will be long after I've returned to Texas.
Chicky shortly after he was received at KSTR laying in a blue bowl that was used to weigh him.
As Chicky has gotten stronger and faster, catching him to deliver medicine or conduct physical therapy gets more difficult.
Occasionally, Chicky needs to be brought into the clinic from his outdoor cage in rehab to receive mediation and check-ups. I'm usually the one to go out with gloves and a basket to catch him, and he always protests with loud alarm calls when he is caught. When bringing him back from rehab to the clinic, I pass by the squirrel monkey cage in the sanctuary. Once as I was passing under this cage, Chicky in hand, I looked up to see not only the captive squirrel monkeys, but also the habituated wild troop staring at me, hostile black eyes following my every movement. Chicky's alarm calls had alerted them to the presence of a threat in their environment, and once it became clear that I was the threat, they immediately put on aggressive and intimidating body language to make sure that I knew I was not welcome!
Skittles and Dewo are intrigued by the target held by a staff member. This small orange ball on a stick is usually used to train the capuchins, but the titis are also fascinated by this strange object.
Skittles, the alpha monkey of our captive troop, stares at the visitors to the cage.
"Epithet after epithet was found too weak to convey to those who have not visited the inter tropical regions, the sensation of delight which the mind experiences… The land is one great wild, untidy luxuriant hothouse, made by nature for herself." -Charles Darwin, Voyages of the Beagle
Welcome back to kinkajou travels! I haven't posted for a while, and I'm sorry to leave all of you guys in the dark for so long! I have had some personal deadlines that needed attention, and there was several busy weeks that were very tiring, both physically and emotionally. My first month here, intakes were fairly sparse, and the work was more centered on healing, rehab, and release. While I learned a lot from this time, I also forgot that I am working at a rescue center, where the worst cases of injured animals come through. I was abruptly reminded of this fact lately when there was a quick succession of severely injured or sick animals coming through the clinic that we were unable to save. Although difficult, these events brought conservation to a personal level. It is one thing to hear about the effects of power lines and roads on wildlife, but it is another thing entirely to see the devastation before your eyes. Although these kinds of things are very tough to witness, I'll never forget the things I've learned and seen, and I was inspired by the teamwork and support of everyone here at Kids Saving the Rainforest.
Another update concerns the capuchin training! In a previous post, I mentioned that we were training them to come into the shift cage so that we could dart them and conduct their biannual check-ups. That training had been going fairly well, but we kept hitting a wall with Hector, the very nervous monkey. Any time we tried to get him to come and do the training inside the shift cage, he would leave and not participate in the training anymore. Luckily, as we were encountering these problems, we had veterinary students from Spain come and stay with us for a week. One of them, Valentina, was conducting a project on medical training for monkeys, and was willing to work with us to revamp our program! We talked with her, and based on her experience and our ideas of where to take the training, we redesigned the entire training plan. To begin, we paired each monkey with someone from the clinic staff so that there would be less problems with monkeys stealing each other's food. I was paired with Moncho, a juvenile male capuchin. Young monkeys act a lot like human children: Moncho is distracted by almost everything, from passing butterflies, to interesting-looking sticks, to a rock another monkey found on the floor. However, he also picks up new tricks very quickly, and I have to constantly think of ways to keep his training engaging. Working with Moncho presents a unique set of challenges, but I enjoy it a lot
After redesigning the training, we started from scratch, beginning with training the monkeys to come when they hear their name and ensuring that they are completely comfortable with the tricks they've already learned before we push them out of their comfort zone. With the redesigned plan, we started to see progress again, and training sessions felt a lot more focused. With their physical exams coming up, it was very gratifying to see the training once again moving forward. However, we knew that once all monkeys were comfortable with going into the shift cage and closing the door, we would lose all of the progress we'd made in training if we darted them to sedate them as was the plan. Capuchins are one of the most intelligent species of monkey, and scary experiences can stay with them for a long time. Therefore, we reevaluated and are talking about switching to an oral sedative. Since the monkeys are already accustomed to taking treats individually, we could give them their sedatives inside the shift cage, where they can go to sleep peacefully without the risk of falling from the tall structure inside the main cage. Additionally, this less-traumatic plan will allow the staff to build trust with the monkeys, and they could continue with training that would allow clinic staff to treat cuts and scrapes and deliver medicine easily. There's a lot of exciting new directions with this training, and I personally find it fascinating to get a chance to see how these monkey's minds work!
Another interesting bit from recent events: a group from KSTR went on a night walk in the back property! I had never been deep in the jungle at night, and it was fascinating to see how the fauna changes once the sun sets. Walking through the dense forest, I could hear the chorus of frogs from nearby puddles as they seek a mate with which to produce their ephemerally aquatic offspring. I watched the slow, deliberate steps of the katydids, insects that are reputed by locals to bring bad luck to any person who kills it. Along the sides of the path, pale, ghostly fungi sprout through the forest floor whose ephemeral beauty will be gone by the morning. One can only wonder what other creatures peer silently down as we noisily pass below, a thought that is both fascinating and eerie
So many other things have been going on! I wish I could go on and on about it all, but to avoid writing a whole novel here I'll add some photos below to summarize the past couple of weeks.
Greetings from the rainforest! I've decided to feature an animal once a week that I'm working with and write up what I've learned about their biology, behavior, and the little quirks that every animal has. Hopefully it will be an effective way to communicate information about species that not everyone encounters on a daily basis.
This week, I've decided to feature the two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), also called the "peresozo de dos dedos" in Spanish (this literally translates to lazy with two fingers). Two-toed sloths are one of the two species of sloths found in Costa Rica; the other species is the three-toed sloth. These names are misleading, because the difference between the two species technically lies in their number of fingers, not toes. All sloths have three toes, but the two toed sloth has two fingers. I'm not sure who decided on such a misleading common name, but they may have been translating from Spanish, where dedo refers to both fingers and toes collectively. The three-toed sloth is diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day, but the two-toed sloth is active at night, or nocturnal. Both species feed mostly on leaves, but will also eat fruit.
Currently at Kids Saving the Rainforest, there are ten sloths: nine two-toed and one three-toed sloth. Five are in the nursery, where the baby animals are cared for. Three are permanent residents of the sanctuary. Two sloths, one of which is the three toed sloth, are in bootcamp, being prepared to go back into the wild and monitored until their release. There used to be four sloths in bootcamp and rehabilitation, but two two-toed sloths named Patty and Speedy were recently released. On Tuesday, when the interns and vet staff were changing out the sloth food in bootcamp, we saw that Patty was sleeping in a location that was easy to reach. Before any animal is released, the vet staff performs a physical exam to double check that they are in the best condition possible before release, and this was the perfect opportunity to catch her for her physical. Clemence, one of the vet techs, brought up a basket and falconry gloves and warned us that Patty was more of a fighter than her slow movements and easygoing appearance indicated. Sure enough, the moment they grabbed the back of her neck so that she couldn't bite us, she started hissing and swiping at everybody. To get her into the cage, we had to hold her head and grab all four of her limbs while pinning her claws to her paw. Sloths' claws aren't like a dog or a cat's claw; they're growths of the finger bone itself, so they are sharp and very strong. However, we were able to safely and gently contain the angry, hissing sloth to conduct her physical. We were very happy when she passed her physical with flying colors, and we were prepared to release her along with another sloth named Speedy that same day. However, a storm blew in that delayed their release until Friday.
On release day, most of the staff and all the interns hiked out to the back of Kids Saving The Rainforest's property with the sloths in baskets. We found a tree for each sloth that they would easily be able to climb that didn't have bullet ants or other dangers dwelling on it. Ellen, the new vet tech, was releasing Speedy, which would be the first animal she had personally released. She opened the top of the basket and raised it up to a branch. Slowly, a paw with two long claws reached out, grabbed the branch, and Speedy pulled himself up into freedom. Patty was released in a nearby tree by Dani, the head of our nursery who had raised Patty from the moment she was brought into the nursery as an orphan. It was a special moment for everyone, and I was very lucky to be there to watch it. This won't be the last time I see Speedy and Patty though, because both sloths were released with a tracking collar and will be followed for several weeks with telemetry equipment that was bought with a generous donation to KSTR. When following the sloths, we will observe the them and collect post-release behavioral data to double check that the methods we use to rehabilitate these animals are effective and that the animals are surviving and thriving upon release.
After watching and working with sloths for about a week, I finally understand better why they are the way they are. Their most famous trait is their slowness and supposed laziness. Indeed, after observing sloths both in bootcamp and after release, I can confirm that they spend much of their time sleeping. When they do move, they move at an excruciatingly slow pace that is peaceful to watch but could possibly drive some people crazy. Biologically, what they've done is slow down their metabolism so that they have reduced calorie needs, rarely need to defecate, and spend most of their life moving slowly and sleeping. You wouldn't think this is the best strategy in the unforgiving rainforest, but the jungle is so thick and tangled that they easily go unnoticed. Walking through bootcamp, there's been several times that I've walked right under a sloth curled up in a tree without even noticing it until someone pointed it out to me. If there was a sloth slowly climbing high up in a tree, any predator that was not actively looking for a sloth in that area would most likely miss it, which explains why they have survived for so long. I'm very glad that I've gotten the opportunity to learn about them, and I realize how important it is to look at animals in the context of their environment. For right now, I'll be continuing to track Speedy and Patty until we can confirm that they will be fine in the wild. I hope that you enjoyed learning about sloths as much as I have; thanks for reading!
Hello again from Kids Saving The Rainforest!
As promised in the last issue, I would like to introduce you to two very special baby sloths. Dudley and Smokey are growing up together in our nursery. While their stories of how they got here are sad, they are both healthy and have each other to grow up with.
Dudley came to us on July 23rd, 2019 after KSTR received a rescue call at a local hotel. Dudley had fallen from her mother and she was unable to be reunited by hotel staff. Dudley was very weak and her coloring was off when KSTR wildlife personnel arrived. We had to make the tough choice of removing her and taking her to our clinic. We photographed her mother and noted her location.
Our veterinarian and clinic staff did a full exam on Dudley and treated her. She was found with a tick embedded in her fur and her weakness continued. She regained her strength after a couple of days and we made Herculean attempts to reunite her with her mother. Unfortunately, our attempts were unsuccessful and she was brought back to KSTR to be raised until she is ready for release back in the wild.
A few days after Dudley’s arrival, a past KSTR board member brought us Smokey.
He was in the area of Hotel California with his mother when they were both electrocuted on a transformer. Sadly, his mother did not survive and he was left orphaned. Smokey suffered electrical burns under his chin and body. He was treated by our veterinarian and clinic staff and then brought to the nursery.
Dudley and Smokey were introduced
to each other after they received observation and clean health inspections. They hit it off and have become the best of friends. Dudley is a talented climber but prefers to use Smokey’s back, much to his dismay. Smokey is younger than Dudley but bigger than Dudley is so she prefers to hitchhike. I wish I could embed a video into this magazine because we have thee most amazing videos from the first time they met. We will have to settle for the pictures instead.
Tuesday, December 3rd is Giving Tuesday this year. It was started as a day for anyone, anywhere to give and it’s grown into the biggest giving movement in the world. Giving Tuesday harnesses the generosity of millions of people around the world to support the causes they believe in and the communities in which they live. We believe the movement will become the first global day of giving and a year-round platform for strengthening civil society.
Please consider giving to our cause. All Giving Tuesday Donations will go directly to an X-ray machine that is desperately needed at Kids Saving The Rainforest. Most of the animals that KSTR receives come with very serious injuries, trauma, and diseases and require X-rays. Unfortunately, KSTR does not have one on-site and has to travel for one hour to a location that has one. Sloths, monkeys, birds...the stress and trauma of traveling can kill them if their injuries don’t.
They all need YOUR help!
Donations can be made on Giving Tuesday or any time of the year at kstr.org or at www.kidssavingtherainforest.org/givingtuesday.html
Kids Saving the Rainforest is a non-profit animal rescue/sanctuary and reforestation project located in Quepos. Tours are available six days a week by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and volunteer opportunities are available at email@example.com. Please check out our Facebook and Instagram pages as well. Pura Vida from the staff and interns at Kids Saving the Rainforest.