Monkeying Around

Photo by Seth Inman

Photo by Seth Inman

Spider monkey encounters are commonplace at Chan Chich Lodge. Whether it be during an early morning bird walk or a late afternoon read on the porch futon, spider monkeys will likely make their swinging appearance from the tree top branches at some point during the day. They are curious, but daring creatures that will have no shame in shaking up a couple of branches above your head and letting fruits fall on you if they feel threatened (an inexplicable reaction in my mind when I humbly walk through the trails hoping to catch sight of a Tody Motmot).

Having been in Belize for over a month, I have several memorable anecdotes to share about spider monkeys, but I will share two that I believe encapsulate the magnificence of these intelligent creatures.

Returning from an afternoon jog, I spotted a spider monkey at the base of a sagging palm tree leaf. She (I found out her gender based on the details I’m about to share) was staring at the branch across the road intently. After a minute of careful examination, she ran across a palm frond, the leaf sagging further and further to the ground with every hurried step. Just as she reached the edge of the leaf one of her hands and her tail wrapped around a new branch on the neighboring tree while two feet and one hand held the palm frond. I was puzzled by the monkey’s action because I did not comprehend why it would remain holding on to the palm leaf. As I tried to unravel her behavior, an infant monkey started walking along the palm frond, climbed around its mother’s body, and grabbed on to the new tree. The mother then swayed onto the new tree and both continued on their monkey way. I smiled to myself because my query had just been answered so plainly.

A few days ago, a lone spider monkey was hunched on a tree branch near my cabaña. At first glance, I did not perceive anything as being odd but when the monkey started swaying his body forwards and backwards to prepare for its jump to the next tree, I noticed that one of its arms was significantly shorter than the other; the arm extended to the elbow, missing a forearm and hand. I suddenly became nervous about the monkey’s trajectory as I watched it push off from one branch and leap into the air towards another one. The monkey skillfully grabbed onto two thin branches with its hand, tail, and legs, then swung onto a lower branch to soften the landing. I was stunned. I underestimated the monkey’s ability to perform an impressive jump and realized at that moment the beautiful resilience of the monkey to adapt to a life with a physical disadvantage. I did not need to feel bad for this monkey: it had mastered the swing of things.

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