OUR FLAGSHIP SPECIES
The spider monkey is our organisation’s flagship species. Through its conservation, we can achieve the protection of other species that share the same habitat.
The name by which it is known varies depending on where it is found. It is known as: mono araña [spider monkey], bracilargo, mono manilargo [long-handed monkey], mono negro [black monkey] or mono volador [flying monkey], and in the indigenous communities of the coastal region, los Chachis it is known as Washu; in the Awá community as chuba or waya; in Épera, jére; and for the Tsáchila it is we’le.
Now you know what WASHU means.
The scientific name of this monkey is Ateles fusciceps fusciceps. “Ateles” comes from the greek for missing, referring to the atrophied/diminutive thumb that spider monkeys have. Whilst “fusciceps” means dark headed.
Did you know?
A breastfeeding mother nurses her child for up to three years old, then the offspring remains close by for up to six years old when it becomes a sub-adult, having learnt all that it needs to.
It is the most threatened primate in Ecuador and is one of the 25 most threatened primates in the world. According to the IUCN and the red list for Ecuadorian mammals (2011), it is listed within the category Critically Endangered (CR); furthermore, it is included in Appendix II of CITES.
WHERE DO SPIDER MONKEYS LIVE?
They inhabit the northern and central region of the Ecuadorian coast, and the western foothills. They are found within the tropics and humid subtropics between 100 and 1700m in altitude, both in continuous forest and forest patches- principally in primary and older secondary forest. However, they also inhabit the fragmented forest of the Manabí province.
ECOLOGY AND LIFE HISTORY
Spider monkeys are vulnerable to changes in habitat, mainly because their diet is based on mature fruit, meaning they require large areas of healthy forest to acquire food. A group formed of 30 individuals occupies approximately 90 to 250 hectares.
They have very long biological life cycles, the females have their first offspring between 7 and 9 years, giving birth every 3 years. Mothers breastfeed their young up to 3 years of age but the young remains close to the mother up to six years of age when they become sub-adults. Therefore, populations take a long time to rejuvenate.
HOW DO THEY BEHAVE AMONGST THEMSELVES?
The frugivorous diet of these primates is a determinate factor in their ecology and social structure due to the fact that fruits are not found equally in space or time within the forest. They have developed a strategy to avoid competition amongst themselves, which is dependent on the availability of fruits. They separate or (re)group together in large or small subgroups; this type of changing social grouping is called fission-fusion.
To locate themselves within the forest they use a vocalisation in the form of a long distance call and when a subgroup is found or ‘fuses’ with another this encounter is sealed with a hug, reminiscent of human behaviour (we are also primates, of course).
WHY ARE SPIDER MONKEYS IMPORTANT?
Spider monkeys are nearly entirely frugivorous. When the seeds of these fruits are swallowed, the journey they make through the monkeys’ digestive tract accelerates the germination process and leads to long distance dispersal. Spider monkeys can travel round 6km a day and a group of spider monkeys uses around 400 hectares of forest meaning that seeds are distributed throughout a large area.
Their digestive system is adapted to allow ingestion of entire seeds, including large seeds (5 x 2 cm); therefore, various species of tree rely on spider monkeys for their existence. Amongst Neotropical primates they are the best seed dispersers, making them the best forest farmers and thus a keystone species.
Furthermore they are an umbrella species, thanks to the implication their protection has for forest conservation and other species that inhabit these forests such as jaguars or great green macaws that are also on the edge of extinction.
Deforestation, poor agricultural practices, cattle raising and impending large-scale mining seriously threaten forests, as they do to all primate populations in the coastal region of Ecuador.
The amalgamation of these human activities have led to the loss and fragmentation of spider monkey habitat and a severe reduction in the population size of this primate. Furthermore, there is a strong hunting pressure, so bad that in some areas the species is locally extinct.