The first time I held Kamal was on January 28, 2016. He was a young spider monkey confiscated from the illegal pet trade, and estimated to be about eight months old, very similar in age to Cas, the other young spider monkey in the Primate Rehabilitation Centre at Wildtracks. During my first two and a half months at Wildtracks, before Kamal arrived, I was a part of the six-person Nurseryteam caring for Cas and the other nursery monkeys. Cas was thriving at Wildtracks, learning new life skills and gaining more confidence every day.
After working with Cas, meeting Kamal the day after his confiscation was a shock - he was emaciated, scared, and extremely confused. He had a bad case of scabies that left him with no hair on his tail, arms, and legs, and a bloated belly from worms. It is very hard to put the experience into words. He felt fragile, weak, and uncomfortable. He was nothing but skin and bones.
During the initial transfer from Emma (who provided the first hours of care for him) to me, he was very upset. He settled after a few minutes, but every new movement I made was unsettling for him. The good news, however, was that he had been removed from the environment that had resulted in his condition, and he could now begin his recovery.
During Kamal’s first month at Wildtracks, he was kept in quarantine to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Because of his young age, Kamal spent all of his waking hours with a caregiver - one of three of us. In the wild, he would have been attached to his mother until he was over a year old - this social support is very important in ensuring his development, and is replicated by the caregiver. Over time Kamal grew more comfortable with me and I grew more comfortable with him. His moments of panic decreased and he became comfortable with his back and tail being touched, as well as being transferred between caregivers. Kamal grew a lot in that first month, both physically and emotionally. He went from being slow and unsteady in his movements to having the energy to play most of the day.
Finally, the day Kamal was officially out of quarantine arrived. This was exciting for a few reasons. First this meant he had been cleared of the parasites and the scabies he came in with, and second, he could now meet Cas. the first time Wildtracks had two young spider monkeys in rehabilitation at the same time. It also meant that I didn’t have to be in quarantine any more either!
Kamal and Cas met under a coconut palm tree on the grass near the lagoon. It was an incredible moment. Kamal ran straight for Cas, wrapped his arms around him, and did not let go for a few moments. Their first meeting lasted for about five minutes. This was the first time since they were taken from their mothers that either Kamal or Cas had met another spider monkey.
Cas was fully integrated about a month and a half before with Annie, one of the young howler monkeys in the nursery. They played together almost all day, every day. Although they are different species, both benefit from the interaction, building important life skills, such as climbing. So Cas had a bit of a head start in terms of learning how to play.
Kamal was very eager to play with Cas, but he still had some things to learn. It was a good thing that he was a quick learner, so the short integrations did not last long. Within the next three days Kamal and Cas were spending all day together. They had their moments of frustration in the beginning, but these were short lived and pretty infrequent.
About two weeks after Kamal and Cas were integrated, it was time for me to leave Wildtracks. I could see that Kamal was starting to form a strong bond with Cas, and was no longer happy playing by himself or with me for extended periods of time. They both have a long way to go in their rehabilitation process, but I hope with the two of them together they will move forward successfully towards their return to the wild.