Jul 04 2012

Monkey Love and Monkey Yoga

Michele with Lolita & Chiquito

Paul and Chiquito

Ever been hugged by a spider monkey? I have, and it was an incredible experience. For our friends, Michele and Paul Gawenka, it’s an every-day occurrence. Recently retired to Costa Rica from the U.S. and with all of the required permits, they started a primate rehabilitation center six months ago, fulfilling a life-long dream for Michele.

We recently visited their Spider Monkey R & R (Rehabilitation and Release) Center, located at their new home outside of San Ramon, and met their first two primate kids, Chiquito and Lolita. Chiquito is a 2 year old male who lives in the spacious, clean, juvenile monkey cage connected to the house.

Chiquito in the Juvenile Monkey Cage


Lolita is an adorable female, about eight months old, who currently lives inside the house with Michele and Paul until she is old enough to share the monkey cage with Chiquito. Both Lolita and Chiquito have bonded with their surrogate parents, Chiquito with Paul and Lolita with Michele. Both monkeys make outings to the river, where Chiquito plays in the trees to his heart’s content and then hitches a ride “home” in Pauls arms, (and Lolita on Michele’s ankle).

Gloria with Lolita

For me, the highlight of our visit, was when Michele asked if I would like to hold Lolita. “Can I, really?” I asked in amazement. And the next thing I knew (and to everyone’s surprise) Lolita climbed right into my arms. I can’t fully describe what I felt. Maternal, sure, like holding a human baby, but something else, too. It was a connection of sorts that transcended the fact that we are of different species. This sweet little creature was comforted by being in my arms. I fed her a bottle, and would have been quite content to stay there for the afternoon, but previous commitments called and we were off – though not before I offered to monkey-sit in the future!


From Paul & Michele Gawenka:


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Follow orphaned monkeys Chiquito and Lolita back to the wild in Costa Rica,and learn what makes spider monkeys unique.  Did you know?

  • You can’t determine the sex of a spider monkey unless you know what you’re looking at.
  • Missing a thumb is an evolutionary advantage if your preferred mode of transport is brachiation.
  • Female spider monkeys leave home when they reach sexual maturity, but males stick around.
  • Offering someone a “pectoral sniff” is a guy thing.

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