I’ve been at the sanctuary for a few days now, and I am already immersed in the several projects going on here. I am learning so much. While the babies are adorable and fun to play with, I am falling in love with the capuchins.
Their intelligence is so obvious when you spend even a small amount of time with them. Every time I enter their enclosure, they embrace me quickly and then search my pockets for hidden almonds I may have brought for them. After that, we settle down for a grooming session. I usually groom Angie while Ace sits on my shoulder and grooms me. It is easy to forget, however, that these are wild animals and not pets.
I’ve been trained in how to read their body language and facial expressions. For example, when upset, caps will bare their teeth in a way that almost looks like they are smiling. This is similar to their play face, so when working with them, you have to always be aware of how they are feeling and behaving.
Because they have to live in an enclosure while they are being rehabilitated, it is easy for these intelligent creatures to become bored. We try to provide as much enrichment for them as possible, and part of everyday is dedicated to that. We often rearrange their enclosure, so branches are in different positions than they were before and new ones are added. We also hide their food in interesting places and design fun toys for them. Some favorites of theirs are colored paper or egg cartons with yummy peanut butter.
We also have to watch for stereotypic behaviors they might exhibit. These are behaviors that are common in animals in captivity, and are usually a sign of distress or boredom. Lately Ace has been doing a quick head roll, almost like a twitch. This is a common behavior in capuchins in captivity, but it isn’t clear what it means or how to prevent it.
Another cool thing with capuchins is their territorial behavior. When trying to ward off enemies or demonstrating dominance, caps will break and shake branches. It’s actually quite terrifying to be on the receiving end of one of these encounters. We try to keep the wild caps away from the ones in our care, as they take their food and make Angie nervous, so part of the job is breaking and shaking branches at them in return. I’ve had a couple showdowns with some wild caps, and they are extremely intimidating.
I’m learning so much about animal behavior and husbandry, and loving every second of it!