Wednesday, May 02, 2007

You are what you eat.

The stomach of the howler monkey is very complex. Over the next days, we will be discussing about this in some depth but on our companion blog, howlermonkeyhome. The link is over on the left. In the wild, some 40% of the howler monkeys diet is from leaves. The howler has a special stomach for digesting and detoxifying this material and this is called the hindgut. Basically what this does is to provide a location in the stomach which will slow down the process of digestion so that enzymes can go to work and get this material in a condition where it can enter the cardio vascular system. The problems of feeding monkeys in semicaptivity are that of providing a suitable diet, which takes the needs of this special stomach into account. We go a long way in this by providing fresh leaves from the forest every day but it is not practical to collect sufficient for a 100% of their daily requirement. Zoos and other facilities use 'Monkey Chow' a preparation by a commercial company that also manufactures dog food. As far as we have been able to discover, 'Monkey Chow' is not available in Venezuela.
We give our monkeys two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. The former at seven in the morning and the later at four in the afternoon.
Breakfast always contains fresh fruit. This is usually of one fruit but varied each day. For example if we give banana today, it will be lachosa (papaya) tomorrow. This variation is to take into account the foraging, instinct of the howler. In the wild, if they eat from one tree today it must be a different tree tomorrow. To be sure that the monkeys have a well rounded diet and in the absence of 'Monkey Chow' we make a milk shake containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. The monkeys have this every day as part of their breakfast. The photograph above shows the steel bowl which we first sterilize and all the ingredients that go into the milk shake.
Dinner is always a collection of fresh vegetables, lightly steamed to prevent any contaminant reaching the monkeys. In line with the foraging principal mentioned above, the flavor of the meal is also varied daily. One day for example a couple of tins of tuna with soy will be added another we will add chicken and boiled eggs. It has to be different every day, otherwise we risk the meal being rejected. This is a light treatment of the subject of feeding the children but it gives you a basic idea of what we do to make them happy and healthy with their diet. Incidentally this diet is power packed with energy which the monkeys in the wild do not have. Chewing leaves all day only provided a minimum level of energy and accounts for the howlers slow movements and the need to sleep for long periods of the day. Our monkeys are much more active than their wild relations.

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