The black-handed spider monkey (ateles geoffroyi) is the New World’s largest and most intelligent primate. However, these graceful and sensitive creatures face many challenges. They are extremely sensitive to habitat destruction because they live only in the forest canopy. Forest canopies must be connected in order to link spider monkeys across the landscape, but the dry tropical forest ecosystem is extremely fragmented. Making it worse, these monkeys have been hunted for food, and young monkeys are often captured in the wild and sold into the illegal pet trade where they are held in inhumane conditions as household pets. The black-handed spider monkey is now locally extinct throughout much of the Paso del Istmo.
Since 2005, Paso Pacífico has worked with western Nicaragua’s last black-handed spider monkey population in the hope of bringing the species back. We have formed a team of six community forest rangers who patrol the forest, protecting wildlife and collecting valuable data about the monkeys. Some of them also help educate community members and care for rescued monkeys housed in the Karen Warren & Susan White Spider Monkey Sanctuary. In late 2016, we were able to purchase a 120-acre-property with mature dry forest in the heart of the Paso del Istmo. We named it the Mono Bayo Reserve, after mono bayo, the local name for the black-handed spider monkey.
We have also been studying the spider monkey population more in depth. Camera traps in the forest canopy help us follow the primates movements and better understand their needs for corridors. Additionally, remote sensing has helped us analyze the forest cover across the entire landscape to find “pinch points” where the monkeys most need a forest path in order to travel. As part of our reforestation project, we are planting thousands of fruit-bearing trees that give the spider monkeys both food and habitat.
Since we began, the population of black-handed spider monkeys in the area has increased by 60 percent! This decades-long work has been possible through a range of supporters, including the Disney Conservation Fund, Prince Bernhard Nature Fund, Primate Conservation International, and Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation. Now, we are working to set aside more core spider monkey habitats like the Mono Bayo Reserve. Additional key areas are currently up for sale. If you would like to be a part of this effort, please contact our executive director Sarah Otterstrom.