Every orphaned infant howler monkey that comes through our doors presents a challenge; many are seriously injured, which makes the rehabilitation process demanding. Our ultimate goal is always to release wild animals back into the forest where they belong. For infant howlers, this can mean up to five years of care before they can be released back into the wild; however, at Refuge for Wildlife we are dedicated to giving each orphan the best chance of being released. Every step of our rehabilitation program is designed to teach the essential skills needed to survive in the wild. We constantly monitor the monkeys’ progress and adapt if things are not progressing as they should. Before considering our monkeys for release, we evaluate their behavior to ensure they have the right skills to survive in the wild. Most of the monkeys do very well; unfortunately, we have some individuals that do not exhibit the behaviors necessary for a life in the wild.
We recently released a troop of monkeys that had all grown up together at the Refuge; they are now enjoying their freedom in the wild. Sadly, after a thorough assessment, two members of the troop could not be released. Following years of rehabilitation, Fran and Felix did not exhibit the skills needed to make the move to this next step.
Fran was a juvenile when he was found with an exposed fracture to his right arm, which needed a life-saving amputation. Although we have had good success with other amputees in the past, Fran struggles to climb with his missing limb. We had hoped that, with a little more time, he would get better at climbing; however, he was not fast enough or stable enough on the branches to live in the wild. Rather than climbing to reach fresh leaves and fruit, he preferred to forage for food on the ground; in the wild, this behavior would have put him at serious risk from predators. With these two major obstacles, at this time, we cannot release him.
Although Felix doesn’t have a disability, he lacks confidence. When he was a young monkey, he craved support from our animal keepers and, even after several years with limited human contact, Felix never really became independent like the other members of his troop. As a small, submissive monkey, Felix would not have been able to protect himself in the wild. Like Fran, he also prefers to forage for food on the ground. Felix also becomes easily stressed in new situations and, instead of turning to his troop for support, he tends to seek out humans. This kind of behavior makes him unreleasable.
It is not the end of the story for Fran and Felix, we will continue to work with them and, hopefully, with more time, their behavior will improve and they will get another shot at freedom. If it is not possible to release them, we will provide them with a large sanctuary enclosure to live in safety.