By:  Madelyn Darrow

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The Saimiri, our little friend, the squirrel monkey, is still probably the most common of all New World monkeys in his native jungles in Central and South America; but sadly, his vast numbers are thinning as his environment vanishes under the inroads of man.  They live in large troops of one to five hundred members along the river-banks where the high canopy jungle drops down to smaller trees and a thick tangle of flowering vines and shrubs.  Here, they can find plenty of food to support their large communal groups.  They eat flowers, leaves and fruits but the most important part of their diet is based on insects of all kinds and frogs, land and tree crabs, grubs and spiders with occasional birds and eggs.  Although they are they are arboreal, (from the American Heritage Dictionary 1. Relating to or resembling a tree. 2. Living in trees; arboreous.) they descend to the ground more often than many New World monkeys to seek grubs and land crabs, but always hurriedly as if aware of danger there.   It is important to note the very high protein diet natural to them and try to give them an equivalent amount in captivity.  Eggs, lean beef, chicken, fish, insects, other than flies or roaches and high protein monkey chow should be offered. 

Since they come from along the river banks of jungles that are very humid to begin with, they require in captivity even higher humidity then woolies, spiders, and capuchins to avoid respiratory problems.  The squirrel monk is now, according to Clive Root in his "APES AND MONKEYS", classed with the prehensile (from AHD 1. Adapted for seizing, grasping, or holding, especially by wrapping around an object.) tailed monkeys, the Ceboids, though their tails are NOT prehensile!  Ivan Sanderson in his "MONKEY KINGDOM" places them with the Pithecoids which include Uakaris, Sakis and Douroucoulis, which they do seem to be more akin to anatomically.   However, in behavior they appear closer to the Ceboids and are often found in the wild in close association with capuchins.  The shape of their skull is unique among primates, the brain case bulging out backwards beyond the point where the backbone joins it, and being larger in relation to the overall size of the animal than other monkeys.   However, the brain itself is comparatively smooth so that its great size does not lead to genius, the main development being in those portions which control physical actions and movements.  They vary greatly in size not only in different sub-species, but individuals in the same troop may be twice the size and four times the bulk of the average.  This may apply to females as well as males though the male is somewhat larger.  At times in conjunction with a long and vaguely defined mating season, giving him the look of a miniature King Kong.  Coloration varies as much as size, the most colorful from inner Peru is vivid green on head, back sides and tails which is black tipped as in all squirrels, the face is white with black "spectacles" (most are white around the eyes); it has the usual black nose and chin circle.  The throat, belly and underside of the basal (American Heritage Dictionary 1. Of, relating to, locate at, or forming a base.) portion of the tail are brilliant daffodil yellow.  The usual color is grayish green with orange arms and legs and yellowish-white under parts, varying in intensity of color throughout the common species (S. sciureus).  Two sub-species have dark or black caps.  There is one other species (S. oerstedii) from Central America, quite different in color, having a bright orange-red back, sometimes brownish-red, with a black cap on its head and a black tipped gray tail.  This is commonly called the red-backed squirrel monkey and is much rarer than the species we see in captivity.  In fact, I read somewhere recently that it has been placed on the endangered list. 

In captivity, the Saimiri will breed fairly well in zoos and private homes and usually rear their young successfully.  They are intelligent and reasonable hearty pets but very high strung.  Some allow themselves to be picked up and even held and cuddled, but most will bite if they so much as suspect you have that intention, although they often enjoy being on your lap or shoulder of their own free will.   I once knew one that lived completely free in the house even when nobody else was home and never destroyed anything or knocked over the knick-knacks.  She always relieved herself on the tiled floor of the bathroom and not all over the place, but she was rather special.  Some can be trusted to play free outside in the tree, catching insects and occasionally robbing bird's nests, but be sure that yours doesn't have the wanderlust before you leave him on his own.  One way of testing it is to fasten a long piece of the kind of plastic tubing used to aerate fish tanks-ten to fifteen feet-to a waist collar or harness.  It should not catch on twigs or branches and is so light weighted the monkey usually doesn't mind it at all, but it gives you a better chance of catching him, should he decide to take off.  There are few things to be aware of in keeping a monkey.  Unless you have it looser and with you a greater part of the day, it should have the largest cage your space will permit with perches, swings, and toys.   Often he is happier and healthier if he can have a cage-mate.  Too often these little creatures, because they are small, are kept in small cages in which they can not thrive.  Another thing if that when confined in too small an area so that he comes in contact with his feces, he can develop sores on his hands, feet, legs and tail, due, Sanderson believed, to fungicidal spores not destroyed by their rapid rate of digestion.   Special care should be given to cleaning and sterilizing shelves, perches, and the floor of their cage daily.

The last part:  is on diet:  Diet, with supplements, especially of vitamin D and calcium, is important as is as high a humidity as possible.   Be careful not to expose him to paint fumes, insect sprays, or the slightest leaks of gas of monoxide fumes that you wouldn't notice.  Don't let him outside if your local mosquito-control people have been spraying.  Don't keep his cage close to a colored T.V. set; and if you are a heavy smoker, try to do it away from his living quarters.  Finally, if your veterinarian is not one who has treated many monkeys as small as the squirrel, warn him to check his dosages very carefully.  By weight, it usually cannot take the same amount as the same weight pup or kitten.  Many squirrels die from worming because of the lack of experience on the part of the owners and the vets.   Also don't let him give the monkey a shot unless he has treated squirrels and is doing it as a last resort.  Many have died from shock within twenty minutes of receiving a shot (no matter what kind).  However, don't panic.  Although many people have lost their pets from not knowing about these special peculiarities of theirs, most who have good nutrition and plenty of activity are hardly little creatures.  One of our members reports that hers is active, healthy and an exceptionally happy little thing at the age of twenty-one.