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.
Opening the Aviary
"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
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