The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious Writing The Spider Monkey - Issue One
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Spider Monkey

The 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 long periods.
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.


Opening the Aviary

Christiano Artuso

"Aréir go bhfaca mé féin in m'aisling
Mar bheadh si ar bhácan mo láimbe
'N spéirbhean mhaiseach mar aon-bhrat sneachta
Dá mbíodh gan caisgairt a dhéanamh"…
… pero todo se derrete si lo aprietas tanto, macho!

As far back as i can remember, i have always been fascinated by birds: so mysterious, so scintillatingly beautiful, so poetic, curious, friendly, elegant, dynamic, so ingenious in their evolution and harmony with the planet they call home. Birds captured my childish attention and like any child i indulged that fasciniation. I think it was Milan Kundera who said "love between dog and human is idyllic - no development". Well, my love for birds developed alright, although not in ways i would have wanted it too with the good fortune of retrospect. Some evolutions lead to culs-de-sac it seems. It is not accurate to say that this passion flew too close to the sun and came melting down, but it weakened and waned after i squeezed way too hard and was subsequently suppressed by other all-consuming ideological dilemmas. My passion, like so many childish passions, would lie more or less dormant for many years before it re-erupted with surprising force many years later, after life had taught me more than a few lessons about calming down.

As a child i watched people around me petting and hugging their various pets. To a child, nothing seems more intimate than physical touch and i often felt a certain jealousy of their privileged encounter (of course it is easy to ignore the imprisonment of domestication with its invisible bars when you are a child). Our relationship with domestic animals might not be so bizarre when viewed in terms of a readily available food supply or cheap labour, but its modern incarnation - the pet - surely is.

As a child i loved to watch wildlife documentaries but the focus of Australian wildlife documentaries then was oddly, and somewhat sadistically, human. The main character was rarely one species of animal but rather one espèce d'idiot who roamed the countryside looking for animals to grab from their lairs with traps, nooses, or, most dramatic of all, their bare hands. We are all supposed to be impressed with their consumate skill of finding so many animals to fit into one half-an-hour episode, except that if we bothered to get off the couch we'd realise that half the animals were drugged or cornered or "borrowed" from a zoo or rehab centre. Of course the commentary spoke of natural behaviour and habitat (a camera can shield many an ugly reality when pointed in the right direction) but when it came to the actual action, the viewer was really being asked to forget natural behaviour and watch how they squirmed, or tried to bite, or looked cute in close up when placed disoriented back in a tree. This still seems to be the norm judging by way the Aussies export their quacks, who get free tickets to gallavant around the world, torturing dangerous snakes and crocodiles with their bare hands (and back-up team), all the while saying how beautiful and interesting they are. The danger factor is a big sell and the human subject who supercedes all animals (and their rights) becomes super popular, winning the hearts of consumer America, for whom he (and it is always a he) represents the "wild". It is bizarre how nobody seems interested in documentaries anymore, but rather all our documentaries are about the process of documentary making itself (metadocumentaries) and the fame of the narrator or the ordeals the crew endured to film their subject. The subject itself has become immaterial - and is certainly not respected (aside from the question of morality, you seriously have to wonder about the legality of the abuse of wild animals).

A naïve child, i too was duped by this form of "entertainment" and it blended with my puerile desire for contact with other species until ultimately, after watching other people with their "parrot on the shoulder", the mutution was complete and i went to my parents and asked them to build me an aviary. I wanted to "keep" that which i loved; to care for them no doubt, to "allow" them to breed, but especially to keep them and thereby to enjoy the pleasure of being able to watch them twenty-four hours a day, even hold them if i, and only i, so desired. It was a major wrong turn in my life, which cost me dearly. First i kept a few pairs of finches in a tall cylinder about a metre wide and two metres high, but as my greed and guilt grew simultaneously, i acquired a walk-through aviary with several species of finches and quail on the floor. At the same time, i tormented various lizards in my area, just like those T.V. "naturalists", catching them and holding them for a while and then releasing them in our back yard - of course they wouldn't stay. Rather than enjoying watching them, i had inherited the "fun" of catching and handling everything and i caught them so often that they soon became scarce and shy of me. It seems that i had evolved into the enemy of that which i loved.

I got to go out west once for "work experience" (i had wanted to be a country vet, though this wasn't so much born of the horses and cattle i wanted to treat but rather of my strong desire to escape the city) and stayed on a farm, where i watched flocks of wild Zebra Finches, the same species i kept in my aviary, an once the captivatingly beautiful Diamond Firetail, which i spoke of in glowingly hyperbolic adjective strings. The adults around me seemed to think it was normal to imprison wild animals, and invited me to try to trap some firetails for my aviary, even though i knew it was illegal. We borrowed a captive bred bird to act as a lure but it was mauled within its tiny cage in a minute by a local dog, at which point i finally took stock of what i was doing and asked that the whole sordid affair be stopped immediately. A moment of inspiration had thus ended in death and i was racked with guilt for having even contemplated trapping wild birds and allowing the words and actions to go that far. The whole world around me semed to think that imprisonment was perfectly normal and logical, proferring thousands on different excuses as to why (the most twisted and illogical coming from those who believe they are actually saving wild animals from extinction in the wild by keeping them alive in cages). I was able to take solace in this thin fabric of lies, which so cleverly mask the real human enjoyment of dominance and control that must stem from a profound inferiority complex, but not for very long.

The process of first doing and then justifying your actions as best as you can may wash over some audiences undetected, but once you become involved in it, you can't help but feel ashamed. I can't pinpoint a seminal moment or specific catyllitic event, but in my upper high school years i slowly began to question the notion that what authority deemed ok was ok, i.e. i stopped letting the adults in my life be my conscience. The truth is they were a pretty lousy conscience! This produced a series of events, which, in the view of my parents, were somewhat catastrophic, but which to me were an integral part of taking my own moral stance. I didn't come up with clear set of morals as a result, but i did let a whole lot of lofty castles come crumbling down.

In fits and spurts i let the birds out of my aviary, although they sometimes tried to return (i guess for a feed). The ones that did get out probably soon fell victim to the crows (simply releasing captive animals into the wide blue yonder is not a very responsible decision) but i didn't have a better solution. The aviary was left in limbo for quite some time, at first empty at the bottom of the garden, then closed so that no wild bird could enter. Finally, it was unceremoniusly torn down and the shrubs i had transplanted into it seized the opportunity to sprawl and grow tall.

After the aviary was torn down, i became increasingly aware of the nature of intrusion. I reevaluated the television i had been watching and swore off it for a year. The saddest thing about the realisation that i was unwilling to follow those around me in assuming the role of jailor, was that i ended up spending less time with animals and letting my childhood passion for birds slide. I often wish i had received just a little guidance on appreciating wild birds in wild habitats to steer me clear of the cage i became trapped in - but you can't blame others for not finding your own feet and the last thing i would wish for myself is the life of my father, whose deep obsession with the music lessons he never had has eaten away at him over the years. I will have to return to Australia one day - i must see that which i was blind to. I'd like to understand the detour from appreciation to imprisonment that stole so many years from who i am and robbed me of many moments of joyful observation.

Despite the changes in my attitude, it was not until many years later, when a friend asked if i was able to understand the meaning of a Gaelic song that spoke of loving a woman from afar and the desire to hold the admired "object" of affection, that it dawned on me just how i had allowed my own love to become oppressive and suffocating. Although i never saw the connection until i heard that song, my feathered crisis changed my perception of the world and the way i walked through it, hiding behind it a whole pile of dominoes needing only the slightest push to tumble. Ultimately, the open aviary would set loose more than captive birds…

Born in Montreal, and currently residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Christiano's educational background is diverse, with a BA in Chinese, an MA in linguistics, and a PhD in Environmental Science. Christiano works for Bird Studies Canada as their Manitoba Projects Manager and sits on the board of Nature Manitoba. He has published articles on Manitoba's avifauna and recently received the Cliff Shaw Award for outstanding contributions to the Blue Jay. Christiano is passionate about conservation and committed to public outreach, regularly giving presentations at venues ranging from schools to scientific conferences. Christiano enjoys traveling and wildlife photography. You can follow his work at his photo site and his blog.

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