No monkey business . . toy is Diego's new mother
A CUDDLY toy monkey might not be seen as the ideal surrogate parent for an orphaned youngster.
But for a baby monkey whose mother died days after giving birth it has proved a perfect match.
Primate keepers at Edinburgh Zoo have been hand-rearing the baby black howler monkey for the past three months.
The monkey, which was named Diego, was just a few days old when keepers arrived in the morning for their daily check, only to discover that his mother Molly had died.
Diego was still alive however, and ever since then staff at the zoo have been working around the clock to raise him.
They have been helped in their work by a cuddly toy, which has quickly become a surrogate mother to Diego.
The little monkey clings to the toy as he would his real mother, and staff said it had allowed him to develop natural behaviours such as climbing and gripping.
The keepers also have to feed Diego day and night, giving him a milk substitute that contains all the nutrition he would normally receive from his mother seven times over 24 hours.
A post-mortem on Molly, who had previously reared two other infants without any problems, revealed that she had died of heart complications.
Now three-months-old, baby Diego – so-called to reflect the South American origins of black howler monkeys – is doing well and is gradually being reintroduced to the zoo's group of howler monkeys, with full reintroduction expected to be achieved by the end of the year.
Howler monkeys would normally leave their mother after 9-12 months, and this is the amount of time the keepers plan to continue hand-rearing Diego for before they try and reintroduce him to the other monkeys
Donald Gow, senior keeper for the Primates and Koala Section at Edinburgh Zoo, said: "Diego has coped really well with losing his mother at such a young age and he is displaying all the normal behaviours we would expect of a baby howler monkey.
"At the moment, we place him within sight of the other howler monkeys during the day. For the next stage of reintroduction, we are creating a purpose-built cage for him so he can be safely placed into the enclosure. By the end of the year, he will be fully integrated into the group."
The reintroduction process will be difficult, but the Primate Section has previously hand-reared marmosets and Diana monkeys and, in all cases, the infant was successfully reintroduced to their group.
"As a section, we are very experienced in hand-rearing primates," added Mr Gow. "It is a big commitment but it's an extremely rewarding experience."
Black howler monkeys can live up to 16 years, but they are under threat in the wild as they are hunted for their meat.
They live in the forests of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and their name comes from the loud calls they make to alert other monkeys to their territory, which can be heard from up to two miles away.
All howler monkey offspring are born brown-coloured but if the infant is a male, it will gradually turn black.
This species of howler monkey is the largest of the New World monkeys, and they live in large troops with two or three males and a larger number of females.
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