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The birth of the loudest monkey of the New World

2018-07-27
The birth of the loudest monkey of the New World

Black howler monkey is one of the symbols of South America. It was once worshiped as a Mayan deity, a symbol of writers and sculptors.

Typical for this species are morning and evening songs, which can be heard kilometers away. Due to the fragmentation of natural habitats, agricultural development, poaching and the yellow fever epidemic, the population of black howlers  in the natural environment is significantly decreasing. The role of conservative breeding of this species in zoos is becoming more and more important. Zoo Wrocław  not only manages the breeding of this species, but is responsible for its coordination in zoological gardens on two continents - Europe and Asia. Each birth is recorded and analyzed by the program coordinator.

In the Wrocław zoo, the black howlers have been bred since 2008 and so far, over a dozen of them have been born here. They live in a model enclosure that provides excellent living conditions and ensures proper husbandry. The monkeys have an internal run in the Monkey House, with numerous ropes and tree trunks, as well as an external one, which consists of trees and rope bridges connecting them. Such  living conditions allow our howlers to develop natural behaviors.

On June 20th 2018, mama Moorty and papa Pantanala welcomed their new baby to the world. For now we can say that the little one is strong and healthy. The keepers and the coordinator are hoping the tot is a female.

- As you can see, the small howler is doing well, not only holding tight onto its mother, but also starting to wander around her body. First it climbed to her sides, now is trying to climb on her back - says Przemysław Leśniakowski, the keeper of the monkeys at the Wrocław zoo. - Now mom is the center of the baby's world, but soon it will become interested in other individuals from the troop.

The young one is still nursing and it will remain so for a few more weeks, when leaves, leafy vegetables and sporadically flowers will dominate its diet.

- In 33 institutions in Europe and Asia, we have 69 males and 70 females. For some time, mainly males have been born, so I would be more pleased with the birth of a female, because thanks to that I would be sure there is balance in our breeding population- says Marta Zając-Ossowska from the Wroclaw zoo, the species coordinator in Europe and Asia. - My goal is to involve new zoos in the breeding program and create more breeding groups.

Starting in the 1990s until 2013 the European Studbook (ESB) was run by John Partidge of the Bristol Zoo. In 2013, the European Association of Zoological Gardens and Aquariums entrusted this task to Zoo Wrocław, and  Marta Zając-Ossowska became the coordinator. Her task is to monitor black howler's populations in Europe and Asia (total of 142 individuals), genetic analysis of the population and issuing breeding recommendations. The coordinator decides where the howlers can reproduce, where the reproduction is halted, where the gene pool should be "refreshed", and where to send the juveniles after they reach sexual maturity. The breeding and educational value of the black howler monkeys is so high, that in 2018 a decision was made to coordinate the breeding of this species under the EEP (European Endangered Species Program).

- I monitor the populations of the black howlers in terms of genetics, number, gender and age structure. It is a complicated and long process requiring a well-thought-out strategy for many years ahead. I also need to take into account the current situation of a given zoo, so breeding recommendations are updated many times. There is one goal- to keep as many individuals of this species as possible and maintain  a  genetically strong population - adds Zając-Ossowska. - With our troop as an example, I can explain how this coordination works. Now, the Wroclaw population consists of four males, two females and a newborn of an unidentified gender. This year, we sent a female born here in 2014, to the zoo in Le Guerno (France) for reproductive purposes. She could not stay in Wrocław because there was no partner for her in our zoo, who wouldn't involve inbreeding. For the same reasons, a male born in the Wrocław zoo in 2015 will soon leave for the Lisbon zoo. To "add fresh blood" to our population I am currently on the lookout for a  right female to join our group.

The goal of conservation breeding is carried out in close cooperation with Keri Bauer of the Bush Gardens Tampa, Florida, who coordinates black howlers' breeding in the United States.

The Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta caraya) is one of several species representing the genus Alouatta.

It is one of the largest monkeys in the New World, males weigh between 6-9 kg, and females 4-6 kg. They live in central South America - Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They inhabit various habitats - gallery forests (Cerrado), dry forests, deciduous and tropical forests, where rainfall can occur even daily. The species is very flexible, which means that it adapts to changing conditions, can occur even in degraded areas and in secondary forests. Its diet consists mainly of tree leaves, but depending on the area of occurrence, it may include fruits, flowers and seeds.

Sexual dimorphism is typical for this species- adult males have black fur, and females are golden. All black howlers are born golden, but only the males gradually, at around 2-3 years of age, change their color to black. Therefore a two-color toddler is definitely a male.

Like most of the New World monkeys, they also have prehensile tails- they can hang from the branches, keeping all their weight on it.

The social structure resembles the one of gorillas, they live in groups of 2-19 individuals (average 6-8). Males are dominant. Females are subordinate to them, but there is a hierarchy among them. Females may belong to different groups during their lifetime. The size of the group depends on food resources of the environment in which they live. Young males leave their birth families at the age of about 2 years, females do it later - at the age of about 3 years, and with time create their own groups.

Reproduction is not dependent on the season of the year, and the pregnancy lasts about 6 months. The female gives birth to one baby (twins births have been observed) and can get pregnant again after about 7 months. The young become independent after about a year from birth.

As the name suggests, the howlers are loud. It is possible due to the enlarged hyoid bone. Black Howlers are considered to be one of the loudest animals in the world, and certainly the loudest monkeys of the New World. Their howls can be heard from a distance of up to 2 km, some reports say it could even be 5 km. The group sings in the morning and evening, the voices of the males dominate, and the voices of females are more sporadic and shorter. The purpose of this is mainly to mark the territory.

During the day, they rest for 75% of the time, spending the rest of their time searching for food and howling.

The population living in the natural environment is endangered by human activities. The main reason is the loss of habitats as a result of agricultural development, in particular by growing soy and animal farming. Fragmentation and population decline are also caused by felling forests. Howlers are also occasionally  hunted.

Last year, populations of many species of monkeys in Brazil, including the black howler monkeys, were decimated by the yellow fever. The threat still exists.

On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Black Howlers have the status of least concern (LC), but  the population is shrinking, and the increasing threats in the environment may soon move them up to  the near threatened category.

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