The Reintroduction of Woolly Monkeys into Nature

Dorilla and two siblings (Andrea and Steven) were small infants when they were confiscated from the illegal pet traffic in Belen floating market in Iquitos. At the time we were friends with the officer who confiscated them and he gave them to us to raise at our tourist lodge on the Tahuayo River. The visitors to the lodge loved to see these happy, affectionate little monkeys, but within a year they had grown to be large, strong and aggressively curious. One time Dorilla ripped the screen off the top off of the bathroom of a woman tourist and climbed down to sit on her lap while she was on the toilet.

At this point we knew we had to find an appropriate situation in the jungle for them.  We felt that they should not be introduced into a wild ranging woolly monkey troop. Lodge owner Dolly Arevalo Shapiama had an idea to form a collaboration with the people of the tiny village called San Pedro. San Pedro sits on a small tributary of the Tahuayo River, about 7-8 meters wide; on the other side of the river is a nice forest with many fruiting trees and legumes that form the diet of woolly monkeys. Dolly offered to pay the village a monthly stipend to make sure the woolly monkeys would not be hunted or otherwise harmed by people.

At first the monkeys were doing fine, but about a year later a Harpy Eagle killed Steven.  Dorilla and Andrea must have learned to be more cautious because they lived unharmed for several years thereafter, until Andrea succumbed to illness and died in 2011.  Then Dorilla was alone. She seemed very lonely as every time our boats passed by her home, en route to visit the poison dart frogs of Frog Valley, Dorilla would call us to stop, jump onto the boat, check all of our bags and backpacks for food, then present herself to be groomed by tourists on the boat. So at this time we started to make it a point to stop and interact with Dorilla every time we brought people to Frog Valley.

The woolly monkey Chepa was kept as a pet in the village of Esperanza, on the lower Tahuayo River.  The family has a child who is paralyzed as a result of polio.  As part of Dolly’s work with her Angels of the Amazon foundation, www.angelsoftheamazon.com Dolly provided special bed, chair and other facilities and services to help the child and his family. But Dolly never liked to see how the pet monkey was kept, always tied by a rope, that left open infectious wounds.  The monkey was always obviously in pain.  For 4 years, every time Dolly visited the home she would ask the mother to give her Chepa. The mother never agreed, saying that her stricken son loved his pet, until March of 2012, with the monkey appearing near death, she agreed.  Dolly took Chepa to a veterinarian in Iquitos who treated the infected wounds. After she had recovered, Chepa was brought to the main lodge to be raised as Dorilla was.  Although it was several years old, because of malnutrition and abuse, she was only the size of a baby woolly monkey.

We had planned to keep Chepa for several months, but she seemed either very afraid or very angry at the presence of people.  So we didn’t know what else to do except maybe introduce her to Dorilla in her forest home off the Blanco River.  Knowing that woolly monkeys may kill strange woolly monkeys we were very anxious about doing this, and ready to intervene.  Upon releasing Chepa into a tree by the river’s edge, Dorilla immediately climbed down to her.  Chepa looked terrified.  But Dorilla made soothing vocalizations, hugged her and comforted her. It was amazing to see.  After a few minutes Dorilla climbed down to the boat to get some bananas.  She called to Chepa, but the little female was too wary and kept her distance.  Then Dorilla took a banana up into the tree, peeled it and gave it to Chepa! Dorilla continued to bring Chepa her food on our visits, until about 3 weeks, at which time Chepa gained confidence to come to the boat on her own.

The people in all of the Tahuayo villages have come to know how much our tourists love the rescued monkeys on the Blanco River.  So a couple of months ago a man from the village of El Chino approached Dolly and said he had a relative in a village in another tributary system of the Amazon, who had a little male woolly monkey named Rocky.  He thought it would be nice if the two females had a male companion.  He acquired the monkey from his relative and gave to Dolly in August 2013.  We brought him to a veterinarian to make sure he had no disease or parasites to infect the others and then released him at the Rio Blanco site.  Both females immediately accepted him.

By 2016 Rocky had reached maturity and in May of 2016 we discovered that Dorilla had given birth. Thereafter when boats stopped Dorilla reacted aggressively and we felt there was a danger to tourists. In late May we captured Dorilla and her infant and transported them to our research center lodge,some 40 km distant from where she had been living. Under the watch of our staff biologists we released the monkeys near to a wild troop of woolly monkeys. Over the next month the wild monkeys accepted them into the troop. We have continued to see Dorilla and young with the wild troop from time to time.

Paul Beaver, Ph.D.

President and Founder of Amazonia Expeditions

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