Nestled inside a blue-and-black animal crate, a baby spider monkey rescued from a suspected smuggler has flown from Dallas to Melbourne to — hopefully — start a new chapter with a foster family at Brevard Zoo.
The wee primate was seized in June at the United States-Mexican border in Hidalgo, Texas when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found him hidden inside the center console of a Ford F-150 truck, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
After living in quarantine at Dallas Zoo this summer, the 7-month-old spider monkey boarded a Florida Institute of Technology four-seat Piper plane Friday morning alongside Dave Quavillon, Brevard Zoo curator of animals.
Florida Tech pilots Shayne Inniss and Zachary St. Amand made refueling stops in Baton Rouge and Panama City en route to Orlando Melbourne International Airport. After the plane taxied to a halt, a group of spectators gave the tiny monkey a round of applause.
“He’s a little scared,” Quavillon said, carrying the monkey’s crate across the tarmac.
“He was curious. He was looking around. He was awake the whole time,” he said.
The spider monkey — whose favorite food is grapes — was promptly whisked into a Toyota Sienna van for transport to Brevard Zoo in Viera.
Over the weekend, officials will introduce him to Shelley, the alpha female of the zoo’s troop of six spider monkeys. Shelley, who is caring for her own infant, is described as a gentle mother by zoo officials.
Brevard Zoo’s new spider monkey complex was constructed as part of the $4.4 million Rainforest Revealed expansion project. This habitat features three enclosures linked by sky bridges, which let the monkeys separate into subgroups — mimicking how they live in the wild.
The complex also includes a smaller, 36-foot-by-24-foot cognitive research center, where Florida Tech students study spider-monkey behavior. The new rescued baby will move into half of this area, and Shelley and her infant will enter the other half Saturday.
“They’ll be able to interact through the mesh, but they won’t have full contact with each other,” said Darby Proctor, a Florida Tech assistant professor of psychology who leads the spider monkey research.
“Then if we see affiliative interactions with them between the mesh, then we would start thinking about opening a door and let them have full physical access to each other,” Proctor said.
If Shelley rejects the newcomer, Proctor said researchers have a backup plan: Introduce him to Daisy, a 3-year-old spider monkey “who loves to play with everyone.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers said a 23-year-old man from Pharr, Texas, had attempted to smuggle the infant monkey into the United States.
“It’s important for us to spread the word about how impactful the illegal animal trade is on endangered species, like spider monkeys,” Proctor said.
“And it’s great that we have a chance to help out this little guy, and also help educate people about these types of events — because they’re happening all over the world, all the time,” she said.