With Colleen & Filippo - Spider Monkey Experts

One of my favorite moments of each day is spotting spider monkeys in the canopy. I consider it a gift - a gift to be amongst wild animals and seemingly not disturbing them either. I literally walk down the dirt roads in the jungle setting where I am living with my dogs and when we spot the monkeys we sit down and simply watch the show unfold. Spider monkeys are fascinating to observe.

I also consider it a gift to be invited to the house of spider monkey researchers, Colleen and Filippo, and listen to their stories unfold about amazing moments and discoveries in the jungle with their subjects.


On a walk with Colleen, Filippo, and their dogs.

Colleen and Filippo are into their 15th year of spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) research. They are also the founders of the non-profit ConMonoMaya which works toward the conservation of monkeys and their habitat in the Yucatan Peninsula.


A sketch of ancient Mesoamerican art and spider monkeys at Los Arboles. 

Many of you have asked me to explain more about the monkeys - especially my African friends who know so much about golden monkeys and mountain gorillas. So here is a short spider monkey information list thanks to Colleen and Filippo. (Click here for their article published in Current Biology that gives more highlights about spider monkeys.)

  • Spider monkey research is constantly evolving which makes it difficult to name the exact number of spider monkey species because some have been renamed, some condensed with another, but there are at least four and maybe five. Atelese geoffroyi, the species of spider monkey living in Central America, has two subspecies - yucatanensis and vellerosus - in Mexico. The yucatanensis is the spider monkey in the jungle where I live and at Colleen and Filippo's site at Punta Laguna.
  • Atelese geoffroyi's status is endangered.
  • Approximate number in the wild unknown; estimating it is one of the goals of ConMonoMaya.
  • Their range is from southern Mexico to Panama in dense tropical wet and dry forest.
  • Threats include
    • loss of habitat
    • pet trade (pets in homes, pets as tourist attractions at hotels and restaurants)
    • susceptible to reductions in population size due to females having an offspring every three years which is a very low reproductive rate compared to other primates of similar size.
    • disease - herpes simplex 1 which is passed from person to monkey and is fatal to the monkeys.
  • Their diet is mainly fruit from more than one hundred species of trees. The main species is the fruit from the Brosimum alicastrum, FicusCercropia peltata, and Manilkara zapota. Spider monkeys are so helpful in forest regeneration because of their seed dispersion. With their fruit-based diet and their movement in the forest, they defecate away from their parent tree increasing the diversity of trees in large areas.
  • Their social organization is very interesting - learning from Filippo and Colleen it is referred to as "fission-fusion" because of continuous changes in their group and subgroup size. This system is similar to the chimpanzees' social system.


Karl, Lucy, and I visited Punta Laguna and had guide Guadeloupe who shared excellent information of the areas flora and fauna.

I'd like to thank Colleen and Filippo again for having me out to their place and sharing. We have a lot more to talk about but at least it's a start. ConMonoMaya and Art of Conservation are in position for brilliant partnership which we are thrilled about.

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Thank you!




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