Barcelona zoo is celebrating the birth of a brown spider monkey, a critically endangered species that is threatened by the destruction of its natural habitat, human hunters and from being used in laboratory research.
The species has seen an 85 percent drop in its numbers in the wild over the last 40 to 50 years and this brown spider monkey (Ateles hybridus) was born in Barcelona zoo, in the city of Barcelona, in the eastern Spanish region of Catalonia, on 31st January. Both the mother, named Emi, and her baby, are in good health.
Biologist Antonio Alarcon, 62, who is the director of the zoo, explained to Real Press in an exclusive interview that the monkey was born as part of a conservation programme in which many European zoos participate. The programme’s primary goal is to make sure the 60 or so members of the species in their care remain healthy and that their numbers increase.
The baby monkey, which is not been named yet because its gender is currently unclear, is being watched over closely by its 31-year-old mum and according to Alarcon, this monkey’s role is very important, because this is her third baby and so “she can teach other females how to breed.”
The zoo has a single male monkey, who is the baby monkey’s father. He is called Sito and he is 30 years old. All the other spider monkeys in their care are female and this includes the young ones too.
For now, the new monkey family will stay at the zoo while the baby grows up before it is decided whether the young monkey will remain in Barcelona or whether it will be sent to another zoo so it can play its role in preserving the species numbers and ensuring its genetic diversity.
This species, which lives in the jungles of Colombia and Venezuela, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List and according to Alarcon, “in the last 40 or 50 years, their population has decreased by about 85 percent as they are in very conflictive places, with the deforestation of tropical jungles and it even being hunted by humans for its meat.”
Alarcon explained that these monkeys are very important for the ecosystem, as they eat fruit and therefore spread seeds in the jungle, which helps new trees to grow.
The biologist said: “They live in groups, between 20 and 25, and their main difference with other monkeys is that they do not have thumbs, so they only have four fingers, something they can replace easily thanks to their long tails that they use as a third hand, as they can hang and swing from tree branches.”
The director of the zoo also said that another difference with other monkeys is that the females are the ones leaving the group to go to another colony, while this something that is usually done by males in other species.
Their main threat is, according to the biologist, “deforestation, as they live in the trees, they lose their habitats and are hunted as a source of meat by humans and are even used in research in laboratories.”
The biologist also said that a huge problem that the world faces is the rapid drop in biodiversity. Alarcon explained that most of the latest infectious diseases are zoonotic – which means that they first manifest in animals before being transmitted to humans – and they are often caused by changes to biodiversity and by the disappearance of various species that are key to preserving its balance.
Alarcon added: “Most people do not notice the silent loss of biodiversity, we are not aware that 20 percent of the individuals of different species, for example, living in Catalonia, have disappeared, and biodiversity is the key to having a healthy ecosystem.”
He added that “we need quality biodiversity in order to be in good health ourselves.”
The zoo director said that one of the projects the zoo is undertaking is to preserve the cells of animals cryogenically to study them because “we are in the middle of the sixth massive extinction, the loss of species is accelerating and we all have to cooperate”.