Rare Spider Monkey Born in UK Zoo

The little-studied species is at risk of extinction.

spider monkey baby at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo

Keepers found a newborn threatened spider monkey being cradled by its mother at a zoo in the United Kingdom.

This new baby at the Chester Zoo is a Colombian black-headed spider monkey. The parents are 11-year-old mom Kiara and 32-year-old dad, Popoyan.

"Kiara is a really caring, protective mum. She carried her close and is always checking on her precious newcomer," Nick Davis, deputy curator of mammals and primatology expert at the zoo, tells Treehugger.

"She’s an experienced mum so motherhood comes really naturally to her, and we’re seeing all the right signs in her behaviour with her little one. For now, she’s keeping the infant close until they become strong and confident enough to forage for food and climb independently.”

Colombian black-headed spider monkeys (Ateles fusciceps rufiventris) are found primarily in Colombia and Panama. They are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are at risk of extinction.

Researchers believe their population has dropped by 30% or more over the last three generations or 45 years. The monkeys are threatened by the continued loss of their rainforest habitat, as well as hunting for the bushmeat and pet trade.

The rare baby primate supports an international breeding program that is in place to help protect the species, according to the zoo.

Colombian black-headed spider monkey baby

Chester Zoo

“Colombian black-headed spider monkeys are vulnerable to extinction and so Kiara’s precious newcomer is a great addition to the international breeding programme for the species," Davis said in a statement.

“It’s fantastic to see Kiara cradle her new baby closely—she’s an experienced mum so has slipped right back into motherhood. The infant will start to venture off after around 6 months, but they’ll stay close to mum for about 12 months when the little one will be strong and confident enough to forage for food and climb independently."

Keepers don't yet know the baby's gender, but will be able to determine if it's a male or a female once the infant starts to leave its mother in a few months, Davis says.

About Spider Monkeys

Colombian black-headed spider monkey mom and baby
Mom Kiara with her newborn.

Chester Zoo

The Colombian black-headed spider monkey is one of the least-known species, according to the wildlife group Neotropical Primate Conservation. It is a subspecies of the brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) which is native to Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.

Spider monkeys have slender bodies and long, spindly limbs. They swing, leap, and hang from branches, suspended by their tails. They are about 16-22 inches (40-55 centimeters) long, but their tails are much longer than their bodies and can be up to 34 inches (85 centimeters) long. Their prehensile tail helps them move between and hold onto branches while they use their hands to collect food.

They were named for their overall spider-like appearance, particularly how they look when they are hanging upside down from trees.

Spider monkeys have one offspring at a time, which the mother typically cares for until the baby is about 20 months old.

“They’re incredibly agile and fascinating to watch, spending the majority of their time high up in trees, leaping up to a distance of nine metres. They can walk in an upright position and communicate through high-frequency whinny vocalisations," said Davis.

“The social structure of a group of spider monkeys is quite different to most other monkey species and the group here at Chester has proved to be really important to our wider scientific understanding of the species. Numerous conservationists and researchers have studied the spider monkeys here—developing methods for recording behavioural data which they’ve then transferred and applied to vital conservation action in the field.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Rare Spider Monkey Born at the Zoo." Chester Zoo.

  2. Link, A., et al. "Colombian Black Spider Monkey." IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2020, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2021-1.rlts.t39921a191688429.en

  3. "Venado Verde Campaign." Neotropical Primate Conservation.

  4. "Brown-Headed Spider Monkey." New England Primate Conservancy.