By Matthew Phelan, Senior Science Reporter at Dailymail.Com
20:27 February 9, 2024, updated 22:38 February 9, 2024
- The newborn primate was suspended by its umbilical cord 15 meters above the jungle
- Endangered brown-headed spider monkeys are losing habitat to industrial agriculture
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Conservationists have revealed the first video of a critically endangered baby spider monkey being born in the wild – a brown-headed boy they named Anku.
The newborn spider monkey came into the world high in the Chocó forest, a rainforest along northwestern Ecuador, on January 22 this year.
The co-founders of the conservation group that obtained the historic video said Anku dangled perilously about 50 feet off the ground during the first nail-biting moments of his life, hanging only by his umbilical cord.
The team feared the baby might fall and die. “Fortunately that didn’t happen,” said one of them. ‘Unbelievable, ultimately.’
Eyewitnesses to the birth of an endangered spider monkey are rare, in part because the species typically gives birth to its young at night, according to conservationist Felipe Alfonso-Cortes, co-founder of the Proyecto Washu group that released the tape.
Proyecto Washu wildlife biologists have actually never seen a live spider monkey hatch before – although they have studied the species in Ecuador for the last 10 years.
The brown-headed spider monkey is one of the 25 most endangered primates on planet Earth, according to the group.
The monkey’s habitat, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, extends from western Panama to the western border of Colombia and northwestern Ecuador.
But in all these regions of Latin America, according to San Diego Zoo vice president of wildlife care Greg Vicino, these spider monkeys are being driven from their homes by human activity.
Spider monkeys are known as “boreal primates,” Alfonso-Cortes told ABC News, which first broadcast the video, which means they need a safe perch high in trees to survive.
“They don’t come down to the ground,” as Vicino of the San Diego Zoo said.
‘That’s where the jaguars are.’
Habitat loss, in the form of widespread deforestation for livestock grazing and for extensive plantations that grow cash crops like palm oil, is driving the species to extinction, both researchers believe.
But other factors unique to the brown-headed spider monkey have exacerbated the problem, according to Alfonso-Cortes, particularly the primates’ long average lifespan and the long time it takes them to nurture and raise their young.
A pregnant brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) typically needs more than seven months before giving birth – and once born, a young spider monkey may need breastfeeding for up to four years.
And it’s unlikely that those long four years, the researcher said, will involve another new pregnancy, delaying efforts to increase the number of endangered monkeys.
It will often take at least that long for the next pregnancy to occur.
Another factor contributing to the decline in the spider monkey population is the species’ long lifespan, which means that older and younger monkeys fight for reduced living space in forest canopies.
Each brown-headed spider monkey can live approximately 15 to 20 years.
Alfonso-Cortes, biologist and project coordinator, from Proyecto Washu, noted that baby Anku’s birth was a surprise because his mother, Arawi, is about 25 years old – or ‘very old’ for a spider monkey.
Arawi had also been childless for eight years, Alfonso-Cortes said.
Anku could potentially meet up with a young friend, according to Alfonso-Cortes’ co-founder and colleague Nathalia Fuentes: Another female spider monkey, Anna, gave birth last Saturday, but she’s been much more shy in front of the cameras.
“Local organizations like Proyecto Washu are nothing less than essential to tackling some of today’s toughest conservation issues – from climate change to habitat restoration,” said JG Collomb, CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Network, which has partnered with Proyecto Washu. told ABC News.
“Anku’s unlikely birth is a landmark achievement for the brown-headed spider monkey, highlighting the power of community-based conservation,” said Collomb.
Community conservation efforts around the brown-headed spider monkey can be very culturally sensitive, according to Vicino at the San Diego Zoo.
Although illegal wildlife traders pose a threat to these endangered spider monkeys that can be tackled by law enforcement, local indigenous communities are allowed to hunt and eat the primates, which have been a traditional part of their diet.
The balance, according to Vicino, will come from protecting and respecting both these critically endangered species and the way of life of the local population.
In other words, as he said, ‘How can we develop programs that allow people to live in these places and still make sustainable use of the resources there without depleting them?’