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Zoo Boise zookeepers recruited to help El Salvadoran sanctuary

Zoo Boise has been asked by an El Salvadoran animal sanctuary to assist in the country's first-ever spider monkey sanctuary.
Credit: Zoo Boise
Zoo Boise zookeeper interacts with a spider monkey, exhibiting exceptional care and unique methods with traumatized rescues.

BOISE, Idaho — Zoo Boise has been asked by El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to assist in the country's first-ever spider monkey sanctuary.

El Salvador's National Program for Spider Monkey Conservation was founded because the country is witnessing a sudden surplus of rescued spider monkeys - a byproduct of increased volume of illegal pet trade activity in the country.

The El Salvadoran sanctuary specifically sought out and invited Zoo Boise to El Salvador to share their training methods on the proper and ethical care for rescued monkeys.

According to El Salvadoran government officials coordinating the project, many of the monkeys were exposed to harsh conditions and cruel treatment prior to their rescue. 

Therefore, they often have behavioral and developmental issues, making it extremely difficult to care for them. Many were illegally taken for pets as babies. 

The El Salvador sanctuary said that prior to Zoo Boise's guidance, they were typically left with traumatized animals and at a loss for how to rehabilitate them. 

This led sanctuary coordinators to seek out Zoo Boise and invite them to El Salvador to determine if Boise zookeepers' expertise would be compatible with the monkeys' needs.

Three zoo staff members - Zoo Director Gene Peacock, Interpretation Coordinator Austin Reich, and Animal Training Coordinator Nicole Villeneuve - traveled to the Central American country in 2022.

Credit: Zoo Boise
Three Zoo Boise staff members travel to El Salvador, per governmental officials request to establish the country's first-ever spider monkey sanctuary.

They led hands-on workshops centered around spider monkey health, housing, social structure and enrichment.

But it was one specific encounter with a monkey named Pancho, that solidified the partnership.

Pancho was a severely traumatized spider monkey and would not allow anybody near him without physical restraints. At the time of Pancho's rescue, he was found with a rope tied around his neck, and his resistance to any human interaction, prevented anyone to get physically close enough to remove the rope. 

That is until Villeneuve presented a training practice that succeeded, literally overnight. 

Pancho no longer screamed or threw a tantrum when approached after being introduced to Villeneuve's positive reinforcement technique.

Zoo Boise zookeepers' expertise in establishing trust with traumatized animals convinced an El Salvadoran animal sanctuary to invest in a partnership with Zoo Boise.

Zoo Boise will assist in the transition and establish treatment and methods for the rescue spider monkeys.

"Conservation is a key part of our mission at Zoo Boise," said Zoo Director Gene Peacock. 

"Being able to work with the team in El Salvador to rescue spider monkeys helps us further our conservation goals by making an impact in country. The cooperation and learning opportunities exchanged between our zoo staff and staff in El Salvador shows how we can all make a difference."

Zoo Boise is home to two black-handed spider monkeys, Elvis and Sarah. 

Elvis made headlines a few months ago as the oldest spider monkey in the world. 

Under human care, spider monkeys usually live to be 20 to 40 years old, and Elvis turned 60 this past year!

A blog and video further highlighting the trip and its impact can be found on Zoo Boise's website at here on Zoo Boise's website.

Zoo Boise has turned the act of visiting the zoo into a conservation action. Since 2007, visits to Zoo Boise have generated more than $3 million towards the conservation of animals in the wild. 

Zoo Boise is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a national organization that supports excellence in animal care, conservation, education, and science.

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