Melbourne Zoo Keepers Successfully Return Hand-Raised Monkey to His Family

12 February 2021

An endangered primate is back with his family at Melbourne Zoo after being successfully hand-raised by a dedicated team of keepers and vets.

The young Black-handed Spider Monkey named 'Izumi' was born naturally to mother Isobella at Melbourne Zoo in August last year as part of the Zoo's conservation breeding program for the endangered species. However, he was left on his own six weeks later while still at an early and critical stage of his infancy.

Zoo veterinarians and primate keepers stepped in to hand-raise the precious baby, working in shifts to bottle-feed and care for Izumi. The Melbourne Zoo primates team is very experienced in this role, having successfully hand-raised his big sister Elena in 2018 following a similar scenario.

Melbourne Zoo is home to six Black-handed Spider Monkeys, including Izumi's mother Isobella, father Oren, older sibling Elena and the closely-bonded Estela and Maya. Izumi was kept close to his troop as he continued to put on weight and develop.

Melbourne Zoo Primates Life Sciences Manager Harna Burton said Izumi has been growing in confidence since being reintroduced to his family, although keepers are still bottle feeding and keeping a close eye on him.

"Izumi is doing really well. We are in week four of introductions to the family group, which is really exciting because it means that keepers are able to take that step back and let nature take over. We are helping him learn how to become a monkey, which is super exciting," Ms Burton said.

"Hand raising is always worth it, you get a second chance at life for an incredibly gorgeous little monkey. So it is definitely worth the long hours and hard work."

Ms Burton said maintaining Izumi's connection to his family group has been prioritised during the hand-raising process.

"Hand-raising primates has changed a lot over the years. Now we’re all about having them as close to the family group as possible because we know from previous experience that it really assists with getting them accepted back into the group smoothly.

"If you visit the Arboreal Boardwalk at the Zoo you will probably get a glimpse of Izumi. He is quite independent, he isn’t actually clinging on to any of the adults or seeking out their comfort or protection as yet. He is playing with the others on occasion but he has still got a lot to learn. Eventually, he will learn play behaviours, he will learn grooming behaviour. But he is out in the group and being independent, which is pleasing."

Black-handed Spider Monkeys are native to Central and South America and are classified as endangered in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. Wild populations are threatened by habitat loss as their forest homes are cleared by logging and agriculture.