The Critically Endangered Nicaraguan Spider Monkey

Listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘Critically Endangered’, Nicaraguan spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi geoffroyi) may be found in undisturbed areas of the country’s larger reserves, including the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve and the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. They are easily identified by their exceptionally long limbs, and have grayish or brownish back, chest, arms and thighs, with black hands and feet – the reason they are also called black-handed spider monkeys. Some have black elbows, knees and lower arms and legs. Their abdomens are yellow or buff and their faces are hairless and black in color, with buff rings around their eyes. Although they do not have thumbs they are able to grip branches firmly, while their prehensile tails aid their agility by acting as a fifth limb.

As sociable animals, spider monkeys live in groups averaging fifteen individuals. They are diurnal (awake during the day) and spend time foraging for fruit, which is their food of choice. When fruit is scarce they will eat flowers, leaves, bark, nuts, seeds, spiders, insects and even bird and reptile eggs. Due to living in tropical conditions, spider monkeys breed at any time of the year, with females giving birth to only one offspring every two to four years. This low birth rate is a contributing factor in the decline in Nicaraguan spider monkey populations. The gestation period is seven to eight months, with offspring being dependent on their mothers for up to three years.

Nicaraguan spider monkeys need large undisturbed areas of forest canopy to thrive, and deforestation and human encroachment are detrimental to their wellbeing. They are also exploited by the illegal exotic pet trade, and seldom survive in captivity. Research by conservation organization Paso Pacifico reveals that the three primate species found in Nicaragua, being howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata), capuchins (Cebus capucinus) and spider monkeys are found in the unprotected forest areas of the Rivas Isthmus. It remains to be seen what will happen to the wildlife in this beautiful region of Nicaragua if the proposed channel becomes a reality.