My training course in Panama

Jennifer Vionnet, a biology student at UNIGE, participated in a primate rehabilitation project in the sanctuary and research center of Alouatta Sanctuary in 2016.

Where is this sanctuary and which species does it house ?

It is located in a primary tropical forest in the Batipa Peninsula, in the province of Chiriquì. We lived in the base camp, a cleared area on the edge of an estuary. Two Geoffroy’s tamarins and three howler monkeys a few months old were housed in two pens. Many troops of wild monkeys were also interested in our activities.
(click to enlarge pictures)

Base camp

Geoffroy’s tamarin

At 40 minutes of walk is the “triangle”, a vast area cleared within the tropical forest and containing two large pens, one of which housed two juvenile howler monkeys. We also housed a howler male as well as a capuchin female and her baby, rehabilitated but visiting us frequently.

Grooming of capuchin mother while her baby sleeps

Then they return to daily life

How did you care for the baby monkeys ?

The little howler monkeys were weighed and bottle-fed. They were encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the trees of the sanctuary, as the ground represents a real danger for them in the natural environment. We acted as their maternal figure, without which they die, and reproduced the natural interactions between the mother and her babies.

During the “rehabilitation walks”, the babies were brought to the tropical forest to exercise their agility in a more inhospitable environment, to sensitize them to hazards such as spikes or harmful insects, and to familiarize them with their native environment. Food was then placed high up to accustom them to seek their food in the trees. Their various behaviors were duly recorded for monitoring and research purposes.



What were your activities at the “triangle” ?

The twice-daily climbs to the triangle were somewhat exhausting, in an air saturated with humidity and reaching more than 35°. Food bags, insect protection clothes and the watch out for snakes, spiders and scorpions also made it difficult for us.

Once arrived, we took the two juvenile howler monkeys out of their pen to bring them to the tropical forest in search of their own food. Behavioral data collections were conducted during the three-hour trip. The juveniles were then brought back into their pens with a bucket of food. The spider monkeys, on the other hand, were left free, but they came during each of our visits to be fed. Indeed, they did not find adequate food in situ, as they were not in their natural habitat. They were subsequently released in eastern Panama, their place of origin.

Transport to the forest

Jennifer (aka Jane) and the spider monkey

Did you have other tasks ?

Much time was devoted to the preparation of food adapted to each species, and to the regular cleaning of the cages and pens. The data sheets had to be filed, and summary sheets filled out to allow for monitoring of individuals, their problems and their progress. Some visits to the veterinarian were also necessary. We worked an average of 10 hours a day, with half a day off per week. There were also some unexpected situations to manage…


What have you learned from this experience ?

This training course allowed me to learn a lot about these monkeys. I have learned to collect data, to develop rehabilitation strategies, to observe in a different way and to interpret my observations. It also allowed me to take responsibility and test my ability to live in such an environment. To live surrounded by such a rich biodiversity was a real moment of pleasure, both personally and as a future biologist.

Howling male …and the dialogue with conspecifics

What are your current projects ?

I would like to continue my studies in this direction and do a master’s degree in England. There are specialized training programs in the management of a park or wildlife reserve for the rehabilitation and conservation of mammalian species.

My stay also revealed other curiosities:

Fierce butterfly

Wild female howler monkeys

Multicolored spider

Opossum (small marsupial)

Striped spider

© Jennifer Vionnet