Paignton Zoo mammal keeper Deleece Mclaren travelled to Venezuela to volunteer with the endemic brown spider monkey project called Proyecto Mono Araña associated with the University of Los Andes.

She was one of the first zoo keepers to travel to the Caparo forest to research the behaviour of brown spider monkeys. The aim was to help her better understand a species she works with at Paignton Zoo and to work alongside the project to publish papers based on their work.

The only time I was a little scared was the travelling, which involved four airplanes and a bumpy car journey to reach the field station.

During my three weeks stay at the project I spent long hours trekking through the rainforest tracking three different study groups. The first was a solitary female in a small area of forest, the second a fragmented group in a slightly larger area and finally the main group over a large area.

The work was hard but the results were more than worth it. Whilst following the animals I learnt how the behaviours shown were similar to the animals I care for at the Zoo and how they are different. I also learnt what they eat in the wild and how deforestation is affecting the way they live. This information can be shared with my colleagues to help increase our understanding of these elusive and endangered animals.

I was overwhelmed upon my first encounter with wild spider monkeys. I enjoyed tracking the monkeys through the forest, learning as I went along. It was hard work in the heat and I was grateful I had a guide with me because I would easily have got lost and gone round in circles if I was left alone!

While working at Paignton Zoo, I’ve learnt a lot about the captive care of these monkeys, and this proved vital when I helped a young rescued spider monkey. I was able to provide information on diets, enrichment and husbandry from the guidelines I wrote for the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria.


My time in Venezuela may have come to end for now but the staff at Proyecto Mono Araña are still following and studying the animals in the area.

I’d like to thank all the staff at The Caparo Environmental Station for their help with the research and hospitality, particularly Diana, Amillio, Paipa and Alex who supported me for the duration.

The aim of Proyecto Mono Araña is the long-term conservation of the spider monkey and its habitat in the Caparo Forest Reserve. They are conducting scientific research covering diverse aspects of the ecology of the species, its threats, habitat status and the effects of fragmentation on the local population.

They are also training young researchers and the local youth in the community on issues of ecology, environmental education and conservation. Their aim is to incorporate the local community in projects involving sustainable practices for the maintenance of forests and biodiversity.

So the first goal of this project is to generate interest in the study of this species that hasn’t been studied enough and is hardly known in Venezuela, to integrate other interested researchers and students, field assistants, volunteers, and local communities. You can follow the spider monkey project on Facebook and through their website: and

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