Hooper, J. 2016. An assessment of enrichment strategies for sanctuary housed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). Canopy 17(1), 14-16.
From May- July 2014, I conducted research within a private spider monkey sanctuary, Ecoparque el Fenix, in Campeche, Mexico, home to 20 spider monkeys obtained from the illegal pet trade. Limited financial resources had resulted in a variety of captive housing conditions, classified as follows: social housing (one group of eight monkeys housed within a large communal outdoor enclosure), free range conditions, singularly housed, and tree tethered. In order to improve immediate welfare concerns I coordinated the construction of an enrichment program whereby all monkeys were provided access to elevated physical enrichments, including shelters, platforms, and rope furnishings. The aim of the study was to determine the effectiveness of enrichments upon promoting species-typical behaviour in relation to space use, locomotion, and social structures. I found ropes, suspended branches, and wooden planks were effective primate enrichments. Such items promoted the use of Ateles functional assets as observed by the expression of quadrupedal locomotion, suspension, and clambering, which are all species-typical behaviours (Youlatos, 2008). Adults favoured shelters and platforms, whereas infants preferred flexible structures such as rope and hanging furnishings, which were most effective for grappling and play. Terrestrial activity and resting near ceased in all cases, indicative of a uniform preference for elevated space use. Social network analysis revealed that all individuals sought proximity to group members at higher rates after environmental changes. Enrichment pathways ensured means of escape from any negatively perceived social encounters.