“In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught”
These elegant primates live almost exclusively in the upper-canopy and emergent trees, rarely coming down to the ground. And, like most endangered species, they are fast losing their homes to deforestation and their lives to hunting.
They live in protected parks, but the pressure on the park rangers has become so great, due to the increase in human population and activity, they are no longer equipped to deal with any conflict which arises.
The black-headed spider monkey is suffering as a result.
The species Ateles fusciceps is the largest of all New World monkeys. The body is black or brown, with a brown head and pale rings around the forward facing eyes. The tail is prehensile and acts as a fifth limb with which to hang on to the branches and allow hands free feeding. As with all spider monkeys, the black-headed spider monkey has disproportionately long, spindly limbs, hands like hooks and no thumbs.
The head and body length can be as much as twenty-two inches with a much longer, extremely strong, tail of thirty-four inches. The average weight for males is almost twenty pounds and females nineteen pounds.
The black-headed spider monkey is arboreal and diurnal. Graceful movement is by climbing and brachiation, and speeds of up to thirty-four miles per hour can be reached.
Spider monkeys live in groups of up to 20-30 individuals. However, they prefer travelling in smaller groups, so the whole troop is rarely seen together. Leadership falls to the females when hunting for food. They are highly intelligent primates and the various routes will be planned by the females in advance.
Spider monkeys have a lovely habit of greeting each other with a hug. When the whole troop gets back together, they sometimes affectionately entwine tails, too.
There is no particular breeding season for spider monkeys. The gestation period is usually up to two hundred and thirty-two days. Normally only one infant will be born with a pink face and pink ears. It will ride on its mother’s back for the next sixteen weeks. Sweetly, the baby will wrap its tail around its mother’s for security. At twenty-two months the infant will be fully weaned. By then, the infant will have developed its adult coat. Females only give birth once every three years.
The black-headed spider monkey, Ateles fusciceps fusciceps, is a sub-species of Geoffroy’s spider monkey. The other sub-species is Ateles fusciceps rufiventris, which ranges from south-west Colombia to eastern Panama.
Tropical and sub-tropical forests up to seventeen hundred meters above sea level. The species favours the emergents and the upper canopy.
The black-headed spider monkey (a.f.f.) occurs only in north-western Ecuador. There have been reports of sightings in Colombia, but no evidence has ever been submitted.
What they eat
Fruit makes up the most part of the daily intake, with leaves, seeds and insects being eaten during the dry season when fruit is not so plentiful.
Severe habitat loss due to deforestation. Excessive and illegal hunting has also caused huge losses to the population. There has been an estimated population decline of more than 80% of the population of all black and brown-headed spider monkeys in less than fifty years.
The black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps fusciceps), is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also protected under Cites Appendix 11. There are an estimated two hundred to two hundred and fifty Ateles fusciceps left in the wild in Ecuador. Both sub-species live within the protected areas of Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Los Cedros Protected Forest and Awá Ethnological Reserve. Despite the supposed safety of these national parks, illegal hunting still continues.