Following friends through rehab - Mitch returns for Innie's release

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I’ll always remember the day I first met Innie, then a young Yucatan black howler monkeys at Wildtracks, and the moment he leapt onto my neck and purred in my ear. Looking back it was a pretty life-changing moment. It led to me returning to Wildtracks again and again and again. I’ve met so many truly incredible people, monkeys, and manatees during my summers here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Innie is a little extra special to me. When I first met him he was a tiny baby with a broken arm, the only monkey of his age group at Wildtracks. Affectionate, seemingly confident (as long as his carers were nearby to back him up), and prone to mood swings, he was a handful, but everyone adored him. Then along came Vicky, a pudgy gorilla-like baby with an attitude and confidence that put Innie’s to shame. Thus, a new troop was formed. Now “Innie and co.” consists of Innie, Vicky, Maggie, and Finn...and they are one of the troops moving to freedom in Fireburn this year.

Looking back over four summers following this dynamic, hilarious group of misfit monkeys, it has been quite an adventure full of ups and downs and funny stories. There was the time Innie and Vicky first slept together in the incubator as babies – Innie screaming and desperately pounding on the door with his tiny fists while Vicky was fast asleep clasped to his back, her face snuggled in his fur. Anyone who has met Maggie knows she is a story in and of herself; she’s a cross between a lanky jungle cat and a yeti who is somehow both very wise and aloof. Her style of play has always involved sneaky ankle attacks and ripping out of hair, which I believe she was collecting in a secret stash somewhere. Finn has been a constant source of bubbly goofiness, always trying to chuckle and play regardless of the social situation. Combine Finn’s determination to play and lack of social awareness with Innie’s predisposition to temper tantrums and you had a recipe for a memorable time.

Of course there were hard days too. There was Vicky’s stubborn determination to lay in the dirt in the pre-release enclosure instead of climbing in the trees where her portly figure made her slightly less than graceful. There were troop shake-ups as Kat and then later Kenya had to be pulled from Troop Innie and co. (I won’t point fingers, but Vicky you need to work on your jealousy issues). There were no shortage of monkey scuffles, monkey nips, and lots and lots of monkey poo, including but not limited to a slap to the face with a tail covered in diarrhea - but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Even the days leading up to their move to Fireburn were eventful and entertaining as always. My attempt to gather a faecal sample before releases nearly resulted in pandemonium when Innie assumed the plastic container was a syringe of milk, bringing back memories of milk time with Innie and his near frightening obsession with anything resembling a syringe of milk (a condition I’ve termed milk fever). Next came Vicky’s fantastic and reality-defying escape. After locking Innie and co. into the enclosure in pre-release in preparation for their transport to Fireburn, Vicky somehow escaped, either by wedging her way out the corner of two locked doors, or by digging and squeezing out of a hole along the bottom of the cage. Her characteristic belly would suggest both of those things would have been near impossible, but we assume she was just displeased with her food portions inside the enclosure and decided to take matters into her own hands - we lured her back with more food. Finn continued to display his innate need to play even as we kenneled him for the trip to Fireburn. He play-chuckled while simultaneously white-knuckle gripping the cage to avoid capture. Eventually all four were kenneled and after one final walk with Innie to the boat, they were on their way to Fireburn.

My time at Wildtracks following Innie and his troop has been indescribable. It truly was an adventure, but now they are about to begin a brand new adventure as they start a life as wild monkeys. I’m confident that they are well equipped to thrive thanks to this incredible place, Paul and Zoe’s selfless determination to help wildlife in Belize, and all the incredible people who’ve worked so hard to bring Innie and co. to this point. I wish Innie's the best of luck for amazing lives back in the wild, and I thank them for the experience of a lifetime by getting to know them and to play a role in their rehabilitation.