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.