Orphaned monkeys settle in
The 33 young monkeys are distributed among six U.S. zoos. Their parents are bush meat trade victims in west and central Africa.
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published May 10, 2006
TAMPA - A half-dozen orphaned monkeys that arrived three weeks ago at Lowry Park Zoo have a curiosity and energy reminiscent of human youngsters their age, zookeepers say.
Rescued from the Congo in central Africa, where their parents were slaughtered for sale in the illegal bush meat market, the 1- to 5-year-old primates are fascinated with the movements of a turtle that swims the pond inside their habitat. And the rambunctious group bounces around the trees so much, they've stripped away most of the leaves.
"But we can replace that," said zoo president and chief executive Lex Salisbury.
What can't be replaced are the monkey's parents.
Salisbury said the slaughtering of wildlife for the food trade is a cultural problem that persists in Central and West Africa. The zoo gives money to a task force that supports efforts to stop the bush meat trade in Africa.
Jim Fowler, a wildlife expert and correspondent for NBC's Today show, said sources of protein are so scarce in that region that miners, loggers and natives overhunt game. He admired the monkeys at Lowry Park Wednesday while taking a break from a Zoological Association of America board meeting at the park.
The six monkeys that came to Lowry Park were too young to have been killed for meat, Salisbury said. They would have been sold as pets had they had not been rescued by curators from the San Diego Zoo and sent to zoos across the country, including Tampa's.
Salisbury remembers the "bird chirping" noises the monkeys made when he first saw them.
"They were singing," he explained Wednesday. "When they took them out (of the cages), all they wanted to do was fall asleep in your arms."
He saw that as a sign that the monkeys have been accustomed to humans. Someone in Africa took good care of them, he said. Before coming to Lowry Park, they went through a series of tests and quarantine required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Salisbury said they're in excellent physical and mental health.
The Lowry Park monkeys - two Wolf's guenons and four Schmidt's spot-nosed guenons - are among 33 monkeys distributed among six U.S. zoos.
The mission began a year ago with a telephone call from the San Diego Zoo. Salisbury said the director called to ask him whether he had an interest in giving a new home to orphaned monkeys from Africa.
Salisbury agreed. But it was a while before they took him up on his offer.
The San Diego Zoo learned about the orphans last year when it received a call from someone wanting to know how they should price the monkeys for sale in South Africa. Zoo curators declined to get involved, saying they didn't want to promote exotic animals as pets.
Instead, the zoo decided to contact a handful of accredited zoos to rescue the orphans. Lowry Park, Denver, San Diego, San Antonio, Houston and a zoo in Litchfield Park, Ariz., split the $400,000 cost to import the monkeys.
At Lowry Park, the two male Schmidt's spot-nosed guenons have been named Jasari and Rubani. The two females from that species haven't been named yet.
The female Wolf's guenon is Mukali; the male is Moses. Zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said he's the most affectionate.
"Their individual personalities are starting to emerge," she said. "You're starting to see who is the wild one, who is the affectionate one."
Angela Belcher, assistant curator of primates, said the life expectancy of these monkeys is 20-plus years. They're characterized by their large cheek pouches that help them carry food in their mouths to safety before eating it. Adults can weigh as much as 15 pounds, but some of the smaller monkeys at Lowry Park probably weigh about 5 pounds.
Nelson said the zoo is still making changes to the new exhibit. When the monkeys arrived, they had to "baby proof" it, Nelson said. Some of the monkeys were so small, zoo officials had to make sure there were no cracks in the fence for one of them to slip through.
There are still plans to put a more extensive description in front of the monkeys' habitat of their unusual story.
Salisbury said that while Lowry Park owns the monkeys, he couldn't say for sure whether they would spend the rest of their lives in Tampa. Zoos trade out animals for breeding, he said. And zoo officials hope that these six can produce offspring someday, too.
Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified May 10, 2006, 22:10:20]
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