Hold on to me

We sat there holding hands. Or better said, she was holding my hand with her foot. Her hands were occupied clasping my leg, by which it was pressed against her cage. Preciosa is a spider monkey, and she’s depressed. And that makes sense, if you’ve been kept in a too small cage for years, in an establishment that was open each night until 3 am. Drunk men would lure her with food, to break the bones in her stretched arms and fingers with their intoxicated power. Now she tries to grab a piece of banana with her deformed, grown together fingers.

Holding 'hands'She found a good home in Parque Municipal Summit (a wildlife rescue centre near Panama-city), but even here her life wasn’t easy. The other spider monkeys recognized her as the weakest, and didn’t accept her in the group. The bullying continued, and her state of mind didn’t improve. Now she has her own cage, next to Happy and Bonita, two young spider monkeys. Every now and then Happy already shows interest in her, and he’s been her best neighbour ever. Aside from that, the keepers try to give her as much love as possible: by calmly sitting next to her cage and letting her hold on to us. As soon as I rest my leg against the cage, her long arms grasp it. One along the top, one along the bottom. I gently stroke her semi-rough hairs. She stretches her leg, looking for something to grab with her foot. I give her my hand, and slowly stroke her toes. Every now and then I carefully turn her foot around to compare us to each other. Her foot is long and elegant and from my perspective her toes look like fingers. Her black nails are narrow and thick and her skin has similar skin lines as my fingerprint. She pinches my thumb and looks at me. Puckering lips are trying to imitate the sound of her neighbours, but Happy and Bonita are far louder. I start to think she might be mute, until her bowl of food arrives. Joyful cries leave her lips and she selectively chooses the pieces of banana, leaving the rest of the fruit for what it is.

Hold on to me, stroke gently through my hair
hold on to me, sometimes everything becomes too much
to be with you, is then everything I ask for.
Don’t ask me anything, don’t say anything, wrap your arms around me
don’t talk to me, just hold me tight.
Translated from: Volumia – Hou me vast

The food makes her loosen her grip on me, something she hasn’t allowed until then. I stretch my legs and change position, under the watchful eye of Preciosa. One hand tightens the grip on my leg again: I shouldn’t think she’s going to let me leave that easily. Lynne and Elena, the two women who supervise my volunteer work, tell me that they already see progress. The personal attention she’s been getting works in her advantage, but she remains a depressed monkey.

Sometimes she sits quietly in a corner, she tucks her head in between her shoulders or her eyes turn into a haze. It shows how sensitive animals can be and to what extend they can be abused by humans. Take into consideration that we as humans are responsible for the well-being of animals in captivity: don’t visit places where animals are kept in too small enclosures, don’t be tempted to ride on an elephant’s back and investigate videos of ‘cute’ wild animals in a domestic environment. The latter sometimes look cute, adorable and happy to the general audience, but professionals at a glance spot a depressed, illegal and/or obese animal. Watch the video below for a message about the impact of social media on the rare slow loris. And Preciosa? She will get the attention, love and care she deserves, so she can grow old as happy as possible.

ApenstaartjePS: In Dutch the word for the at symbol is called ‘apenstaartje’: literally translated ‘monkey tail’. I learned here where that word comes from! The spider monkeys sometimes curl their long, strong tail around their bodies, which shows a striking resemblance with the digital sign.