A recent birth at Taronga Western Plains Zoo is being celebrated for more reasons than one – a new Black-handed Spider Monkey baby is the first to be born at the Zoo in 16 years!
First time mother, Jai, gave birth to the female baby on exhibit on 9 October 2017, much to the delight of Keepers who had observed her condition changing in recent months. Jai is one of two females transferred to the Zoo from Auckland in 2015.
“We were very excited to witness Jai’s labour and the baby’s birth, following a seven-and-a-half-month gestation period,” Keeper Sasha Brook said.
“The delivery was very smooth, and Jai has been taking wonderful care of the yet-to-be-named baby. She has been showing strong maternal behaviours and is quite protective of her newborn.
“The rest of the troop has been visibly curious about the baby, but have also been respectful of Jai, and keep their distance when necessary.
“Once the baby is older and more active, we expect to see alloparenting, whereby other individuals will help with parenting duties. This is common behaviour amongst primates,” Sasha said.
Visitors may have already spotted the baby’s tiny face on Primate Island, which is visible from the Zoo’s free access Savannah Visitor Plaza area. The new arrival is particularly special for the Spider Monkey troop, which has not bred since 2001.
After a hiatus from breeding the species, Keepers were optimistic about the potential for more babies following male Pedro’s arrival from France in 2014.
“Pedro’s genetics make him a highly valuable Spider Monkey male in the Australia/New Zealand region, so we were very pleased to have him join the troop for breeding. This new birth allows for important genetic diversification in the group,” Sasha said.
Spider Monkeys are well-known for their long limbs and love of climbing. Jai swings around on ropes, across water and in trees on her island home, and from birth the baby has clung to her mother’s stomach very tightly.
After around six months, the baby will move from its mother’s stomach onto her back. The baby will remain dependent on her mother until approximately three years of age.
There are three sub-species of Black-handed Spider Monkeys residing on Primate Island, with colours ranging from dark brown to lighter blonde. The best time to see the Spider Monkeys is at the Spider Monkey feed at 12.50pm daily.
Black-handed Spider Monkeys are found in Mexico and throughout Central America, and are classified as Endangered, with habitat loss being the primary cause of their decline.