Orphaned Costa Rica Monkeys Get a Helping Hand

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Of the 26 spider monkeys that have been rehabilitated at Curú since 1989 and later released, 14 are still alive. The normal life span of spider monkeys is about 22 years, although some live to more than 30.

Schutt, who has taken classes in wildlife rehabilitation and medicine, quarantines new arrivals to prevent the spread of disease to wild populations.

"Within Costa Rica she is one of relatively few Ticos (native Costa Ricans) who are so active in wildlife rehabilitation," said Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. "Given the results of a survey that showed nearly one in four households in Costa Rica has had an illegal wild pet within the five-year survey period, there need to be more people like Adelina at work."

Though Curú is the only facility in Costa Rica where spider monkeys are returned to the wild, Schutt receives no government money. She runs the refuge on the limited funding that comes from donations and the sale of souvenirs. "We get almost no support, except from some kind hearts who believe in what we do," she said.

Her mother and brother help out, and she hires local children to keep the monkeys away from the road. About a dozen volunteers come to Curú each year, mainly from the United States, Great Britain, and Holland. They clear trails, guide visitors, run the souvenir shop, and help care for the monkeys.

Patient Dedication

"It's not enough to return monkeys to the wild," Schutt said. "You must also educate people. We invite school groups and go on walks to find monkeys. We don't touch the monkeys because we don't want kids to get the idea that it's okay to have them as pets."

Rodrigo Gamez, director of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in Costa Rica, applauds Schutt's work. She does an "excellent job in calling attention to the undesirable consequences of capturing and keeping wild animals in captivity," he said.

Two malnourished spider monkeys arrived recently, confiscated from a hotel where they were kept as pets. "They could break anybody's heart," Schutt said. "They were so skinny, and their teeth were a mess."

Schutt has spent a lot of time shifting them from a diet of bread, cookies, and leftovers to leaves and wild fruit. "So far it is working," she said, "but I wish they would get healthy sooner."

With her bright smile and vivacious manner, Schutt makes it all seem easy. Though she faces tough odds, her goal is "to go out of business someday."

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