Alejandro Morales has a job that comes with both immense emotional rewards and moments of sheer heartbreak. He is a veterinarian who rehabilitates animals recovered from the illegal pet trade in Guatemala and makes them strong enough to return to wild. (You can see Alejandro and his team at work in NATURE’s most recent episode Jungle Animal Hospital.) Alejandro spoke to NATURE about the challenges of working in the intense heat of the Guatemalan jungle, the decision to release the omega monkey “Bruce” and the status of some of the other animals featured in Jungle Animal Hospital. Below is an edited excerpt from the full 20-minute interview (above).
NATURE: I’m sure our audience is curious about the status of some of the animals featured in Jungle Animal Hospital. For example, the very young female spider monkey introduced at the beginning of the episode or the group of scarlet macaws released from the hilltop. Can you give us any updates?
The baby spider monkey had a companion by the end of the film–a little baby male. From when the episode ends, up to now, they fully integrated into a group of eight monkeys. It’s fantastic for them, but it’s actually very sad if you figure out that in the past eight months we have received six baby monkeys from the illegal pet trade. So it’s good news and bad news: the illegal pet trade is still happening, it’s still a reality, but those animal being brought to us have a chance of going back as a wild group of monkeys. We will rehabilitate and give them all the tools in order to survive in the wild. So this little girl has a real shot at being released, because she now has a group and she’s fully functional with them. She’s learning how to be a real monkey, not learning how to be a little human.
As far as the scarlet macaws, we know for a fact that we have a 60 percent survival rate. Out of the five that had a radio collar, we lost two collars. We don’t know really what happened. Two collars stopped transmitting about three or four weeks after their release. Sadly, the type of technology and the type of environment were in make it very difficult to find them. The transmitters are 30 grams each, so they’re about the size of a key chain. In a primary tropical forest, it’s very difficult to find something that small. We went out to look for them, but we didn’t find any feathers or skeletons, or anything that would suggest the animal was predated. We just know that the collar stopped moving, we just don’t know why. So we can guarantee that out of the five we have released, three are still happy and moving and alive and well. They’re flying fantastically. They have done flights of over fifteen kilometers. They have their own core areas of sleeping and foraging and moving around.
Out of the four that did not have a radio collar, we don’t know what happened to them. We’ve been going out to search for them. You can hear them just in the distance but they’re trained to go away from humans. They don’t want human contact. So it’s very difficult to see them. Some people who have looked for them, have seen glimpses of them, but no one has been able to have a direct line of site because their just being wild, they’re just being out and about by themselves.