In the Amazon forests of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, the black spider monkey (Ateles chamek) has been one of the species of monkey most affected by the habitat destruction, fragmentation or alteration caused by the growing presence of humans, and it has been classified as endangered since 2014 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Other threats to this species include hunting and the illegal trade in animals destined to be sold as pets.
Thanks to sustainable ecotourism initiatives, it is in protected natural areas like Tambopata National Reserve that the spider monkey has found a refuge from such threats, and is able to thrive.
Known in the Amazon forests of southeastern Peru by its Quechua name “maquisapa” (maqui = hand, sapa = large), the spider monkey is a key component of the ecosystems it inhabits, influencing the composition and function of these areas of tropical forest and contributing to regeneration through its feeding habits and territorial range, which combine to make it an efficient disperser of the seeds of several Amazon tree species.
Also known as the Peruvian spider monkey, this is a fairly large primate, with a body length of up to 60 centimeters (two feet) and a one-meter-long tail (three feet). It can be spotted feeding during the day in the high forest canopy.
Although Peruvian spider monkeys tend to live in groups of up to thirty-five individuals, it is unusual for such large gatherings to be seen. During the daytime, individuals will disperse in search of food, and overall group size at any one time will depend upon the availability of the foods favored by this species. Their constant vocalizations, employed to warn of danger and in bonding behavior, mean they are often heard in the forest before they are seen.
The spider monkey is the most agile of the many monkey species that inhabit Tambopata National Reserve. Helped by the fact that it only possesses a vestigial thumb, meaning that its four fingers can form a perfect hook, the spider monkey is able to travel through the forest canopy by swinging from one branch to another, using only its arms.
The preferred diet of the black spider monkey is fleshy fruit, and the fruiting season in the Amazon basin, which occurs during the annual rainy season, is the best time to observe these and other species of South American monkeys. At times of the year when fruit is scarce, the spider monkey will adjust its diet accordingly, seeking out insects and also feeding upon leaves and even small animals.