Spider Monkey is pot - bellied, spider - limbed, worried - faced and
independent. They have very long legs and tails and are extremely agile.
In the tropical rainforest of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, they
live in communities that can break into sub-groups of 3-4 individuals.
Spider monkeys live in trees up to 35 metres above the ground. Probably
only gibbons exceed spider monkeys in agility in the trees. Acrobatic
and swift, spider monkeys move through the trees, with one arm stride
covering up to 12 metres. They have a prehensile tail, which acts as a
fifth limb, able to grasp objects or hold their entire body weight for
They eat fruit, nuts, seeds or leaves but they will take insects or small
animals if they are readily available. Maturity is reached at around four
years, with females coming into season every four weeks. Gestation is
7-8 months. Newborns cling to their mothers' abdomen and then travel on
her back until independence. The average life span for a Spider monkey
is around 20 years. They are closely related to the other monkeys in the
family cebidae, including capuchins and howler monkeys.
They have been known to shake a vine occupied by a predator to cause them
to fall. They have also been seen breaking off dead branches weighing
nearly 5kg and dropping them on the predator.
Reasons for their decline include hunting for food by locals, the use
of infants as pets, and habitat loss due to clearing of forests for agriculture
and human habitation. They are vulnerable because they have low maturation
and reproduction rates. Their habitat, mature rain forests, is being lost
to farming at the rate of 35,000 acres a day. Preserving the rainforest
in South America will help save them from extinction.
Cement or Environment?
June 9, 2004, I filled my car and did what I had said I
would never do: work in the U.S. of A. I am proud to own and run the smallest
car in Nevada, for here the SUV and jacked up supercabs are the vehicle
of choice. I came to work on wild horses, a worthy cause, but the plight
of the feral horse is minor compared to our overall ignorance and disrespect
of the natural environment.
Right away I saw Las Vegas and me were not likely to get along. My second
day in town I was told by the social security office that my entry status
was "suspect" and if the powers that be disliked me I would be "sent to
Iraq where I would be legally beaten". This is how America gets around
its own strict torture laws. I was unimpressed to hear that this wife-beating
pseudo-cop found the situation in Iraq so comical. I told him I was looking
forward to receiving the full American experience.
Shortly upon my arrival I concluded that a city, let alone 2 of the 3
fastest growing cities in the US, should not be built here. They have
levelled the desert and introduced lawns, golf courses, and big box stores.
They haphazardly throw up casinos only to demolish and replace them with
bigger casinos, elaborate water shows and mock oases as little as 40 years
later. Las Vegas is growing like an invasive weed we brought with us when
we settled here, taking over a habitat not really suited to human life.
Instead, we continue to create our own environment at the cost of naturally
existing landscapes. Hoover Dam is touted as not only the most incredible
engineering feat of its time, but they continue to call it an environmental
feat. And what an environmental [de]feat it is! Apart from flooding vast
acreages of land, creating lakes when none existed before, one of the
purposes for building the dam was to control the snowmelt waters from
Colorado and prevent natural flooding in southern California. Flood dependent
species became threatened and risk-free highly fertile land for agriculture
and horticulture was made available for corporate farms.
The dam also provides a local source for a much-desired energy. If it
were not for the comfort of air conditioning there would not be the present
rush to move to the southwest. In fact, air conditioning has been made
law. Landlords must have cool air restored within two days of the unit
breaking down, or they can face charges. There is also a steady draw of
power for the famous lights of the Las Vegas strip. The nearly continuous
drain on power sources for cool air and indoor entertainment creates further
water conservation issues.
Many believe that the high rate of development in the desert is a good
solution to the prevention of growth in other regions. If you were to
fly over Las Vegas, you would see nothing but new residences and the much-loved
gated communities pushing further and further out into the desert. People
commonly believe the desert is just wasteland, suitable for only development
or dumping. Accordingly, with the Yucca Mountain project the government
wants to make Nevada its nuclear dumping grounds. Why not? After all it
has an extensive history as a host of America's nuclear testing site.
It's atmospheric tests of atomic bombs and a further 800+ underground
detonations of nuclear warheads continued well into the 1980's.
The desert is one of the last ecosystems to be disturbed or exploited
by us. We consider ourselves a conscious species, so we should be able
to recall how it feels to miss something once it is gone. The loss of
roaming bison and passenger pigeons has done little to raise awareness
of the loss of less charismatic species. Despite legislation to disallow
development without an environmental assessment and removal of species
listed as endangered, most companies prefer to pay a per acre fee that
allows them to proceed without taking any conservation actions.
A predictable thing happens when people move into a new environment. Not
surprisingly, wildlife is displaced from prime habitat and must attempt
to exist in a habitat they are less suited for. Here they face greater
competition from, or are a threat to existing species. The plants and
animals humans bring with them further complicate wildlife's existence
through competition or threats. Humans then interpret the displaced species
as invasive and begin to mismanage the region. For example, the feral
horses (existing for over 500 years in North America) are forced deeper
into the mountains and use higher elevation springs. The horses must also
compete with the more recently introduced (for hunting) elk and existing
native species, such as deer, for water. Predictably, these springs are
at risk of losing their natural vegetation to grazing and trampling. The
horse is an easy target for removal as they have very little value in
terms of income (from hunting as the elk), and have a tenuous claim despite
having preceded the settlers in the race to claim land.
The best wildlife management is undoubtedly no management. Only when humans
move into a new environment and disrupts the availability of resources
and/or behaviour of wildlife, the desire for management arises in order
to preserve what fraction of the original ecosystem exists. Without further
efforts to curve the trend of the human invasion to rural/remote areas,
and the horizontal explosion of the current cities, this need and desire
for intervention will continue to grow. Stronger legislation and education
efforts are needed in order to encourage the respect that the planet NEEDS
in order to sustain ALL life into the future, including our own. Without
the presence and interference of humans, the earth can manage and maintain
itself; it has done so for millions of years. We can only hope that it
will be allowed to, and be capable of doing so, once again.
April 16, 2005, and happily I am back on the road, returning to Canada
after finally receiving the full American experience: a foreigner harassed
by the police for out-of-state plates. America has an incredible amount
of fabulous landscapes, but it saddens me how many show the mark of heavy
hands. I am writing this from a cave in Capitol Reef National Park, splendid,
but still bears the sign of cattle grazing. The cattle are gone, and only
the inscriptions of cowboys (and a horseshoe cemented into the wall?)
remain, to confirm that perhaps we are heading in the right direction.