Jan 09 2014

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

Marisol howling her tiny howl

It’s a beautiful day at Spider Monkey/Howler Monkey R&R. I am “monkey sitting” this afternoon for three sweet little howlers, or “Congos” as they are called in Costa Rica. Also present are two spider monkeys, Lolita and Chiquito, and two dogs, Magdalena and Tequila. But it’s the three baby howlers I interact with the most. They are Venecia, the oldest, at about a year old, Marisol, about nine or ten months old, and Millette, the youngest of the three girls, at about three and a half months old. All of the monkeys here are orphans, their mothers hit by a car, electrocuted on power lines, or killed for bush meat. They have found a caring home here with loving surrogate parents.

“What do you do when you monkey-sit?” you may be wondering. Well, first of all, I AM the monkey bars – my arms and legs and hands and shoulders are there for them to climb on, snuggle in, and use as bridges to tree limbs. A year or so after we moved to Costa Rica, we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. They have a large cage where they allow visitors to enter, feed and play with the howler monkeys. There was a volunteer sitting there with one small howler sitting on top of her head and another in her

Venecia on my shoulder

lap. I remember thinking at the time what a cool thing that was. Never did I imagine that a few short years later, I would have three howler monkeys climbing all over me, sucking my fingers, nibbling my ears, and competing for my attention. It is, as they say, “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

Another saying that I’ve learned is true is “Monkey see, monkey do.” When Venecia came to live at Howler Monkey R&R, she was already climbing trees, but Marisol, who is younger, wasn’t quite that advanced. She’d watch Venecia and eventually she’d try climbing up on a tree limb from the safety of my arm or leg. Little by little, she’d venture further on her own and now she’s a practiced climber. And I get to see little Millette watch and learn, too. She doesn’t miss anything as Venecia and Marisol climb from my arms into the tree. She doesn’t yet break contact with some part of my body, but when I prop my leg on the base of a small tree like a bridge, she’ll climb to the end of my leg and put her front hands on the tree limb. She’s not quite ready to let go, but I’m ready, holding her tail to keep her from falling in case she wants to give it a try. It’s just like a child learning how to ride a bike using training wheels, except I AM the training wheels.

Venecia climbing a tree

There are also other ways they watch and copy each other. If one of them climbs onto my shoulder or in the crook of my arm, the others soon follow. It’s constant monkey motion. And they love to wrestle and tumble with each other, sometimes posturing in a challenging way and biting each other’s tails. My time with them is pure fun and it makes me smile just to think of them.

All three of them know me now and they have their own distinct personalities. Venecia is the jumper of the trio. She loves to jump from tree limbs onto me. All I have to do is hold out my hand and call her name and she’ll jump right into the palm of my hand. She loves to suck on my fingers and sit on my shoulder. Marisol is the wanderer; she likes playing in the trees but soon gets bored and sets out on her own to explore. I get her, bring her back, and she does it again, until I do something to distract her. Marisol loves to suck on my hair and is the main cause of my “monkey head” at the end of the day. And Millette is the drama-queen-in-training, showing lots of emotion for such a tiny creature, but as sweet as they come.

And then there’s feeding time. Howlers are herbivores and in the wild, eat tree leaves, fruits, and flowers. At Howler Monkey R&R, Venecia and Marisol eat tender lettuce, cut up fruit and veggies, and leaves during their visits to the trees. Millette hasn’t started eating solid food yet; she drinks goat’s milk from a syringe so we can monitor her intake. One thing I can always count on after monkey-sitting is coming home and having to take a shower. There are no diapers, nor toilet-training involved, so you can imagine the reason. But it’s okay, it’s just part of the job and I wear old clothes. I just consider it a sign of good luck, or an extra blessing.

It has been a blessing in my life, this being a “monkey-nanny.” It has brought out qualities in me that I never even guessed at. I find that I am somehow attuned with these little creatures. As a matter of fact, since moving to Costa Rica, I feel so much more in sync with the whole of nature. And as Paul and I often comment, “Who knew??”

What could be better? Nothing, I thought…until recently when Machito, a male baby howler monkey, just about a month old, came to  Howler Monkey R&R. And I thought that “being the monkey bars” for three howlers was a challenge!

To see some of my adventures in monkey-sitting, take a look at three minutes of pure monkey fun in my video below. There are some tricky camera angles at times…but what can you expect when I’m the one taking the photos while three monkeys are playing on and around me? Enjoy!


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