Primate Rehab Program

Primate Rehabilitation CentER

Belize is home to two species of primate – the Yucatan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and Geoffroy's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi). Both are globally endangered, and Belize's populations are being pressured by increasing tropical forest clearance and capture of young animals for the illegal pet trade.

The Primate Rehabilitation Center has been established to fulfill three primary objectives:

  • To develop and support conservation initiatives focused at increasing the viability of primate populations in Belize
  • To assist Forest Department in ending the illegal pet trade in primates in Belize
  • To prepare confiscated and rescued primates for reintroduction to the wild

Why do monkeys need rehabilitation?

Both howler and spider monkeys are endangered species, with populations disappearing at an alarming rate as forests are cleared and as they are hunted for their young. In Belize, it is illegal to keep monkeys as pets. Despite this, the mothers are often shot and killed to remove the young, which are then sold into the illegal pet trade.

What happens when monkeys enter the Primate Rehabilitation CentER?

Monkeys come in at all stages – some are very young – far too young to be separated from their mothers. Others have been chained for up to 20 years in solitary confinement. All arrive stressed, traumatized, often behaviorally challenged and in ill health.

New monkeys are quarantined for 30 days on arrival, to help reduce the risk of disease transmission to those already at the Center. During this time they are screened for a number of possible pathogens, and kept under close observation. The young and very sick are housed inside, in the dedicated Nursery Unit in the house, where they have access to 24 hour care and attention.

Rehabilitation focuses on returning each monkey to good physical and mental health as soon as possible after arrival, providing the right food and surroundings to enable proper development, the facilitation of social interaction with other monkeys and gradual integration into cohesive groups or troops, the encouragement of exploration of new foods and new surroundings, and the development of the climbing, foraging and predator-avoidance skills that will be needed in the wild.

The adults are kept as stress-free as possible during the quarantine process, helping to stabilize their behavior and improve their condition. They are assessed for integration with other monkeys considered as 'best fits', to start creating the release groups, or troops, that then continues through the rehabilitation process.

Once they leave quarantine, the monkeys pass through three rehabilitation phases, dependent on their age and species:

  • Nursery Unit
  • Forest Cages
  • Pre-release

Nursery Unit

The Nursery Unit houses all the youngest monkeys, with a separate quarantine area for new arrivals or sick monkeys. Providing a sense of normality and security for the young requires one-on-one care from dedicated carers to be able to rebuild the confidence required for re-entry into the wild.

Forest Cages

The older monkeys are moved to the Forest Cages, where they are housed in groups, with space and time to develop social bonds and to learn to operate as a group – playing, moving and feeding together, and transferring their focus from the nursery carers to each other.



Several months prior to release, howler monkeys are moved into one of three extensive pre-release enclosures – ¾ acre of forest surrounded by electric fencing. Here they are monitored closely, with group cohesion, climbing, traveling and foraging skills being assessed prior to their approaching release in the Fireburn Reserve.


Howler monkeys are released into the tropical forest of Fireburn Reserve between 2½ and 3½ years of age. However, wildlife rehabilitation doesn't end when the animals are released – their success in returning to the wild needs to be monitored for at least a year, to ensure that they are coping with conditions in the forest, maintaining good health, adopting a completely wild lifestyle, and entering the breeding population. 

How can I help?

The Primate Rehabilitation Center is entirely dependent upon privately sourced donations and grants.

A donation of US$500 will feed one monkey for a year!

Primate rehabilitation can be very labor-intensive, particularly with species that require significant social contact and support as babies or juveniles. Foster-mother support of baby monkeys and providing enrichment activities for older monkeys are good examples of wildlife-care that require a very significant investment and time. Volunteering can be hard work, uncomfortable and smelly... but also extremely rewarding!

Volunteer placements are for a minimum of one month and more often for two or three months or more. We have volunteers who extend their stay with us for up to six months and others who keep coming back.

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