Tales of the TailsMonkey Business

December 14, 2018

When you visit the Virginia Zoo’s newest exhibit, the World of Reptiles and Friends, what types of animals do you expect to see? Your first thought is probably reptiles like snakes, tortoises and crocodiles. But do you expect to see any mammals? Probably not, but they’re there! The furry “friends” you can expect to see in this heated exhibit building include sloths (coming soon), Bolivian gray titi monkeys and our featured species of the month: white-faced saki monkeys!

Pale-headed, or white-faced saki monkeys are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that the males and females have specific traits that differentiate them. Females are brown or brown-gray in color over their entire bodies. Males have black bodies and a black head, while the face is white or reddish-white, giving the species its name. Both males and females can reach from 12 to 16 inches in body length, with the same length in a bushy tail. They can also weigh up to five pounds.

Saki monkeys are listed as least concern according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means their species is not threatened with extinction, but they do have threats such as hunting and habitat loss due to mining and logging. They can also be found in the illegal pet trade, and their pelts have been used for clothing, such as hats. Saki monkeys are protected in some national forests in their native habitats. Want to help saki monkeys in the wild? Purchase products made with sustainable materials, recycle whenever possible, and support organizations that protect wildlife.

Saki monkeys are found living in savanna and marsh forest in South American countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname. They are primarily arboreal, meaning they live in trees, and use all four legs to move among trees or to descend to lower branches or bushes to search for food. Their tails are not prehensile, which means they do not use it to grasp onto branches but instead use the long tail to help with balance.

These monkeys mostly eat fruits, but will also eat seeds, nuts, leaves and insects. Saki monkeys are diurnal, which means they eat and are most active during the day and sleep at night while clinging to a tree.

Sakis are typically found living in monogamous pairs or small family groups. Their breeding season in the wild is currently being researched, but they can reproduce continuously under human care. After a five-month gestation period, one infant is born and will live with its parents for up to two years or until another infant is born. In the wild, saki monkeys typically live 15 years, but have reached 35 years or more under human care.

Two white-faced saki monkeys can be found at the Zoo: male Lionel and female Jackie. Lionel and Jackie arrived at the Virginia Zoo in October 2017. They stayed in a behind-the-scenes enclosure until their exhibit was finished. They are fed around three ounces of primate biscuit, seven ounces of greens, and 14-19 ounces of fruits and veggies to share each day. They also each get half an ounce of nuts and seeds.

Lionel was born on April 6, 1999, at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Before arriving at the Virginia Zoo in 2017, he also lived at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, and the Oregon Zoo. According to his Keepers, eating, laying in the sun and people watching are his favorite things to do. He also appears to enjoy exploring new branches and perches, but his favorite type of enrichment is receiving a special treat of peanut butter. His Keepers say he is very curious and always wants to know if they have anything in their hands for him.

Lionel met Jackie, the Zoo’s female saki monkey, before they arrived at the Virginia Zoo. The two lived together at the Oregon Zoo for a couple of years. Jackie was born at the Jackson Zoological Park on February 12, 1993. She moved to the Oregon Zoo when she was seven years old and arrived, along with Lionel, at the Virginia Zoo in 2017. Jackie spends her time grooming herself and Lionel, foraging for food, basking in the sun, and people watching. She tends to spot her Keepers from far away and normally vocalizes in excitement as she comes to meet them. Her favorite types of enrichment include having her favorite foods hidden inside paper bags, puzzle feeders, or around the exhibit. She also likes a special treat of a cracker or bugs.

Lionel has never sired any infants, but Jackie has given birth to three before being paired up with Lionel. Due to their slightly older age, this pair may not produce an infant, but you can watch a video from 2009 of Jackie and baby Marcelo at the Oregon Zoo here:

The saki monkeys live in an exhibit in the World of Reptiles and Friends. During the spring, summer and any warmer days, they have an outdoor exhibit outfitted with trees, ropes, perches and boxes to climb on, and are often spotted hanging onto the monkey mesh to get a closer look at guests. During colder weather, they spend their time in their indoor exhibit where they can be found eating, exploring and climbing around. Be sure to stop by to see the pair on your next visit to the Zoo, or zoodopt them in honor of Monkey Day (every year on December 14) and contribute to their care for one year!