Scientists and keepers at Living Links, a top field station and research centre at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, are celebrating the birth of four squirrel monkeys. Born in July and August, the tiny babies can be seen clinging to their mother’s backs in amongst the troops of squirrel monkeys.
Living Links is a partnership between the University of St Andrews and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), and supports studies by scientists affiliated with the Scottish Primate Research Group. The four new-born squirrel monkeys will one day contribute to ground breaking research at the facility.
Donald Gow, Teamleader for Living Links and Budongo at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, said: “All four of the squirrel monkey babies are doing really well and, whilst they are still clinging to their mothers, they will soon become more independent and start exploring their surroundings on their own.”
“Taking part in training and research at Living Links is entirely voluntary, so once the youngsters get a bit older they will be able to take part if they wish. The training is fun for them and they always get rewarded with treats, so they are normally quite enthusiastic to take part.”
The squirrel monkeys at Living Links are mixed with capuchins in the same enclosure to promote natural interspecific interactions, as well as to provide enrichment for both species. Living Links is divided into two enclosures, which are exact mirror images of each other, allowing for comparative studies between the two groups in the two enclosures. Most of the research at the centre focuses on cognitive, psychological and behavioural studies, as well as evolutionary development. Training is entirely voluntary and uses positive reinforcement or is merely observational, such as seeing how the monkeys interact with different objects, their ability to use tools or whether they are able to share items.
Squirrel monkeys are native to the tropical forests of Central and South America. There are five different species of squirrel monkey: the common squirrel monkey, black-capped squirrel monkey, the Central American squirrel monkey, the golden-backed squirrel monkey and the black-headed squirrel monkey. All of the five different species are quite similar in appearance and are distinguishable by slight variations in fur colour and the region in which they live. Whilst the common squirrel monkey is not threatened, the Central American and black-headed squirrel monkeys are both listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with populations decreasing as a result of habitat loss due to agriculture and logging. The black-headed squirrel monkey is currently considered to be vulnerable as their entire range is confined to the very small area of the Mamirauá State Sustainable Development Reserve.
Photo Credit: Katie Paton/RZSS